CASSOPOLIS, Mich. — Nell Ward beamed with joy when the voice of a small child asked, “Will you get the rabbit out of the cage so I can pet it?”
Ward operated the Baby Animal Barn at the Cass County Fair this year. The 2014 fail will probably be her last since her health is failing. The fair ended Aug. 2, and Ward sat at the barn in a comfortable chair all week long while hundreds of visitors viewed the baby animals and talked to her as they petted a baby kitten or rabbit.
Ward, 75, has operated the barn for 40 years.
“I think it’s one of the most popular barns at the fair,” she said.
Ward says she has loved animals since she was 10 years old but has decided to hang it up this year as superintendent of the barn since her health isn’t the best.
Fairgoers usually don’t miss an opportunity to check out the 50 or more baby animals in the barn. Seven-year-old Lola McDaniel of Edwardsburg excitedly asked Ward if she could take the kitten home. With her customary smile, she said “yes” to the child.
Ward, who has not missed a day at the fair since 1950, was born on the second floor of a doctor’s office in Dowagiac since there was not a hospital in town at the time.
She grew up on a farm in Dowagiac, where she currently resides in the same farm house. As a little girl, she had no brothers or sisters to play with so she played with the animals. She was not able to show animals at the fair since she only had ponies.
“They were smarter than I was,” she said. “They always tried to knock me off under a tree limb. There were only draft horse classes at the fair anyway.”
After graduating from Western Michigan University, Ward taught for more than a decade at schools in the Berrien County area. She left teaching, got married and took up a life of farming. At the peak, she milked up to 50 cows a day.
While Ward is retiring from the Cass County Fair, she’s not leaving behind her animals. At home, she’ll continue caring for her goats, sheep, cats, dogs, chickens and one llama.