The Rev. Dr. Katherine L. Ward was born on September 29, 1934, to Corella and Johnny Black in New Orleans, LA. Growing up in the segregated South, Katherine was a precocious child. Her intellectual capacity and musical talents were recognized early on by educators who counseled her parents to provide opportunities that would develop her gifts to their fullest potential. Despite societal and financial limitations, Katherine’s parents provided a loving and nurturing Christian home and always supported both her interest in music and her unquenching desire to learn. She received piano and flute lessons and consistently ranked at the top of her class academically.
Katherine was educated in the New Orleans Public Schools attending McDonough 27 Elementary School and she later received a scholarship to Gilbert Academy, an elite school for Black students seeking a college preparatory education. She graduated with honors from L. B. Landry High School and received a music scholarship to Jackson State University. It was at Jackson State that, as a Music Education major, she excelled academically and honed her music skills as a member of the Marching Band and Orchestra. She was involved in numerous organizations and joined Delta Pi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Throughout her education, her teachers or community benefactors recognized her talents and funded her participation in concerts and other extracurricular activities.
After graduating from Jackson State, Katherine married George Herring and to this union two children, Kurt Neal and Alys Claire, were born. She worked in the public schools in Mississippi for several years before moving to Oakland, CA. Katherine worked as a records clerk for the Alameda County Courts prior to joining the Oakland Unified School District.
In 1969, a mutual friend introduced Katherine to John Ward, and after a three-year courtship, they were married. John’s children, Germaine and Carmen, were embraced by Katherine and her family and she nurtured and supported them as she did her own.
Rev. Ward’s reputation as an educator in the Oakland Public Schools is legendary. She taught music at Madison Junior High, McClymonds High, and Fremont High schools and in each she developed award-winning instrumental and vocal music programs and productions. She believed that music was a universal language and all students needed to understand its importance to being a well-rounded citizen. She later served as a counselor at Bret Harte Junior High School and principal of Hamilton Junior High School. It was her leadership that galvanized the community to change the school’s name from Alexander Hamilton to Calvin Simmons Junior High School in honor of the first African-American conductor of the Oakland Symphony Orchestra. As Director of Professional Development in the Oakland Unified School District, she developed and implemented programs to establish standards of performance for classified and certificated employees and supported them in improving their skills. Katherine’s impact in educating young people positively influenced generations of families throughout Oakland
A lifelong learner, Katherine earned Masters Degrees in Education Administration and in Counseling from California State University, Hayward and pursued additional studies at Holy Names College and University of California, Berkeley. She received a Doctorate in Education Leadership and Administration from Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Upon her retirement from Oakland Schools, Katherine entered Church Divinity School of the Pacific and received the Doctor of Divinity Degree in 1994. She was ordained as an Episcopal Priest in 1995. She subsequently served as Rector of St. Augustine Episcopal Church and later as clergy to Our Saviour, St. Anselm’s, and St. Stephens Episcopal Churches and Chaplin at San Francisco State University. She also served as a minister at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church. Most recently, she was Assisting Priest at All Saints Episcopal Church. While she ministered to many congregations throughout the Bay Area, it was at All Saints that she found the community that would become her church home.
Rev. Ward was active in numerous educational, civic and religious organizations. She served as Chair of the Oakland Symphony Advisory Board, Member of the United Administrators of Oakland Schools, Oakland Black Educators Association, Marcus A. Foster Education Institute Board of Directors, Jet Set 20 Civic and Social Club, Union of Black Episcopalians (Life Member), Jackson State University Alumni Association, and a Golden Life Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. She was a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority for 64 years and was President of both Berkeley Bay Area Alumnae and Oakland East Bay Alumnae Chapters.
Rev. Dr. Katherine Ward passed peacefully on October 12, 2018. She was preceded in death by her mother, Corella Black; father and stepmother, Johnny and Ruth Black; sisters and brother, Thelma Black, Shirley Louis and Vincent Black; and husband, John A. Ward. She leaves cherished memories to her children, Kurt N. Herring, Alys C. Herring, Germaine Robinson and Dr. Carmen Ward-Sullivan; her grandchildren, Ashleigh and Courtneigh Sullivan; her chosen sisters, Carolyn W. (Elbert) Getridge and Dolores J. Ward; and her chosen daughter, Margaret Morris. During her final days, she was surrounded by her nephews, Donald (Laura) McGinnis and Vincent (Emily) McGinnis; her nieces, Yvette Weber, Monica (Sylvester) Puryear; Valerie Miller and Amy Bell; her friends and neighbors, Donna Lack, Huan (Mei) Tran, Sylvia Keys, and Linda Coleman; and her caregiver and companion, Sosaphina Katoa. She is also survived by a host of nieces, nephews and friends.