HAZELWOOD: Ford's legacy is everywhere in Norwalk

Mark Hazelwood • Updated Sep 25, 2019 at 8:41 PM

Where does one even begin?

That alone may speak to the legacy of Scott Ford, who died on Monday at the age of 71.

Ford was a pillar of the Norwalk community as a teacher, and the commissioner of the Lefty Grove Baseball League for parts of four decades. There are so many thoughts going through my head, it’s really hard to know where to start.

But there is one thing I keep going back to every time my mind gets lost in the countless contributions and impact Ford made on the Maple City: He was the greatest human being I’ve personally known.

That cannot be understated. Neither can the fact that Ford absolutely disliked any bit of attention — yet he was a public servant for his entire adult life.

As the sports editor here, if I ever needed anything at all from Lefty Grove, where Ford was commissioner for 32 years, he would often point me in the direction of someone else.

Anyone else, in fact. One of his most endearing qualities was how little credit he ever wanted for anything. He often begged off being recognized.

And so with that in mind, I’m going to honor a dear friend and titan of the Norwalk community by showing you what he meant to so many of us in this city.

With all due respect to the hundreds of educators in this community during the past 40 years, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more respected and revered.

It’s not hard to find a former student of Norwalk Middle School, where Ford was a longtime eighth-grade English teacher, who would say he was their favorite teacher.

Even as a student at St. Paul during that time, my friends at Norwalk Middle School would speak in adoring tones about Ford. Even then, at the age of 13 and 14, I knew how popular he was. But the truth is I had already known that from years earlier when he told the Gardner’s Cardinal Bantam Division team I was on how incredibly fortunate we were to receive the league’s sportsmanship medal.

I’ve known Amanda Moore for the better part of 25 years. She’s a friend of mine who has always been avid in 4-H, horse riding and musicals.

What I didn’t know was how responsible Ford was for some of that. Amanda was nervous about auditioning for the eighth-grade school play in 1994. But Ford kept encouraging her to try out, because “you miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

She tried out, got a lead role and even included her horse as part of the show. She continued to stay active in musicals and student council, an avenue she was also encouraged into trying by Ford. By the time she was an adult, Moore was confident in leadership positions in both 4-H and her line of work.

Nora Knople was an eighth-grade student in Ford’s class during the 1985-86 school year. To this day, she and just about anyone from the NHS Class of 1990 can recall “The Flag Project” under Ford.

Each U.S. hostage in Lebanon was represented with a flag and plaque at the local VFW, the location of the Lefty Grove ballfields. When each hostage came home, the flag was taken down and sent to each one.

When the last hostage was released in 1991 (Terry Anderson), several classmates returned to the VFW to take the flag down. They had already graduated from high school, but Ford made it important to them to see it through.

As a kid, I grew up knowing T.J. Horner as a star volleyball player at Norwalk. What I didn’t know was future T.J. Thomas, a current teacher in Norwalk, grew up disliking her given name of Tanja.

But Ford refused to call her T.J. He simply believed Tanja was too beautiful a name to ignore, and he reminded her of that often. She never minded when he did, either, because he always made her feel important.

Influenced by Ford, when she returned to Norwalk as a teacher, Ford greeted her in a way only he could do: “Now that you’re an adult, I guess I’ll have to call you T.J.”

There are countless current teachers who grew up in Norwalk and had Ford in class. Almost all of them will tell you he played some type of role — if not the central role — in their decision to become educators.

In every walk of life, Ford was constantly thought of or referenced in some fashion by past students. As mentioned, I never had him as a teacher, yet I feel almost as if I did. For decades, people have mentioned his passionate teaching of “The Diary of Anne Frank” so often that I feel as though I were in class with them.

As for his passion for youth baseball, it wasn’t hard to find Ford during the summer months. If he wasn’t at home (the only place you could call him because he didn’t believe in cellphones), he was overseeing the baseball action.

Even there, he was always teaching kids. Whether it was sportsmanship, a better batting stance or just simply being a good teammate, Ford’s influence was everywhere.

When I came “home” to the Reflector in August 2017 after a decade working in Sandusky, I knew my time was coming to work directly with Ford.

He didn’t disappoint.

I’ve kept every single email and voicemail from Ford regarding Lefty Grove business. It’s roughly two dozen since March 2018. Sure, they pertain to league news — umpire and scorekeeping clinics, registration and other aspects of Norwalk’s unique youth baseball organization.

But guess what else was in every email and phone call? Compliments and positive reinforcement. Every single one.

As if his email title didn’t speak enough (hopeful65), Ford was constantly trying to give me credit. He would tell me he’d watch people turn to the sports section first, and that was somehow because of me.

Ford invited me out to Opening Day for the league last year. Why? So he could tell me to look at the kids on the field and realize that I was part of the reason they were there … from running league announcements in the newspaper.

He would always tell me I was creating a lifetime of memories every time there was a photo or simply a young child’s name in the paper for hitting a single on some random July night.

When I had a health scare that put me down for a few weeks in late May and into June, Ford was, of course, checking on me. Here he was at age 71 — just over two months ago — concerned about the health of someone 30-plus years younger.

And in classic fashion, he’d offer a joke, reminding me there were easier ways to get time off from work.

The point of our interactions is this: Scott Ford made me feel like I was the best person at my job. He made everyone feel that way. Every student, every ballplayer and every co-worker he came across.

Scott Ford cared about you. That’s also why you’re reading this. It’s going to take a long time to accept this giant of a man is no longer here. There is a huge hole in the fabric of our little town.

But I know, in my own way, I’ll keep him alive by doing my best each day at finding the good in everyone, no matter what. It’s what he did his entire life.

And with that, I’ll start by quoting Mr. Ford’s sign-off to all those messages he sent me:

“God bless you and your family.”

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