Bruce Ward is no stranger to community projects in John Day — he was involved in the project several years ago to upgrade the intersection of highways 26 and 395 that now hosts the Corner Cup.
“I love doing community projects and want to see my community prosper,” he said.
Ward is the president-elect of the Grant County Chamber of Commerce and will be installed as president during a ceremony at the John Day Golf Club on Nov. 8.
He will succeed Jerry Franklin. Franklin served as president in 2007, when the chamber acquired and remodeled its current office on Main Street, and again for the past two years.
Ward’s wife, Kimberly, is the John Day-Canyon City Parks and Recreation director. They have three grown children in Portland and four grandchildren. Ward enjoys riding motorcycles and snowmobiles, two areas that fit into the chamber’s plans for tourist promotion.
The owner of Sunrise Construction, Ward was born here and spent 40 years in construction in Salem before moving back about nine years ago. In addition to yardscapes and driveway grading, he focuses on constructing steel-frame commercial and residential buildings. He is currently working on a steel-frame home in Canyon City.
“My interest in community projects grew out of the Grant County Economic Council started by Les Zaitz,” he said. “I was interested in their activities and came to head up two projects.”
The first project involved converting a closed gas station on the corner of Canyon Boulevard and Main Street. The council raised $9,000 from the community for the nonprofit project, Ward said.
“The council provided the Western-style false front for the place,” he said.
The second project involved clearing land north of the Timbers Bistro into a space for RVs, trucks and large vehicles to pull over in town. The council raised $10,000 for the project and the Ford Foundation provided $5,000.
“It was an extensive makeover that took six months of working with the Oregon Department of Transportation for a new highway approach,” he said. “There were a lot of volunteers involved and donated materials.”
Ward recalled removing trashed furniture from the site one very hot summer day when a pickup pulled up and an arm emerged through the driver’s side window holding an ice cream cone. It was Jerry Franklin.
“I knew who he was, but we hadn’t been formally introduced,” Ward said.
Ward also started working on the former Oregon Pine mill site after the DR Johnson Lumber Co. gave him permission to clean it up and keep the weeds mowed. ODOT participated by cleaning up some of the rights-of-way along the highway.
“I believed the mill property could be the center point of the community,” he said.
Ward thought about the former mill site over the past three years and mentioned his ideas to John Day City Manager Nick Green. The city acquired the 53-acre site in September and is now developing extensive plans for the site as the Innovation Gateway project.
“This is the most exciting thing that has happened in this town in a long time,” Ward said.
Ward took on the job of moving the city’s welcome sign from downtown John Day to the former mill site.
Future plans call for placing symbols of the ranching, mining and timber industries near the sign, including an aluminum, life-sized steer, ore cars and logging equipment.
Ward, who joined the chamber more than a year ago, considers himself a “project guy” who handed off projects to Franklin as chamber president. He wants to see a major cleanup and restoration of John Day so residents can be proud of their city and the city can attract visitors.
“Bruce is a mover and shaker when it comes to cleaning up town,” Franklin said.
While the chamber represents all of Grant County and its cities, and Ward is “technically a resident of Mt. Vernon,” he is unabashed about his focus on cleaning up John Day.
“John Day is the most recognizable name for the area,” he said. “Many people have heard of John Day but not Grant County. By promoting John Day, you’re promoting all of Grant County.”
Ward notes that oftentimes residents get enthusiastic about volunteering to help the community but slowly lose interest.
“I’ll have no trouble keeping up my interest,” he said. “I want John Day to live up to its potential.”
Promoting tourism for Grant County — from snowmobiling, motorcycling and bicycling to special events — is a major goal of the chamber. And Ward’s next project is a heavy one — mounting the new interactive touch-screen kiosk on the front of the chamber office, a joint tourism information project with the Forest Service.
“This will take a couple people to lift,” he said, looking down on the electronic device.