Civic leader Ward Burke dies

Photo source: Burke Center
Photo source: Burke Center

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Ward Burke, a longtime civic leader and co-founder of the Burke Center, died Thursday morning. He was 94.

According to the Burke Center Web site, Burke co-organized the Lufkin Workshop and Opportunity Center, the Association for Retarded Citizens of Angelina County and the Texas Council of Community MHMR Centers. He has also served on the Board of the Texas State Hospitals and Special Schools and on the Board of the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation.

Burke's work with the Association for Retarded Citizens of Angelina County led to the creation of the Lufkin State School, now Lufkin State Supported Living Center, a 24-hour residential facility for people who have mental retardation with varying degrees of abilities and disabilities.  Ward Burke and his wife, Anna Belle, also co-founded the Lufkin Workshop and Opportunity Center, which provides a sheltered workplace for individuals with mental and physical abilities and disabilities.

Burke served on the Burke Center's Board of Trustees from 1974 until 1995 and as chairman from 1974 to 1979.

In 1999, Burke and his wife received the "Service Above Self" award from the Angelina Rotary Club for their countless efforts spent helping children with disabilities.  In 2000, Burke was recognized by the Angelina County Citizens Chamber of Commerce as the first recipient of the group's "Eagle Award" for his work and support of the Citizens Chamber.  In 2005, the Burkes received the "Angelina Award" presented by the Lufkin/Angelina County Chamber of Commerce.  That award is given each year to someone who has displayed a lifetime of community service.

Burke was born in Lufkin and attended Lufkin High School. He received a Bachelor of Law Degree from the University of Texas. He served in the Marine Corps from 1942 to 1946.

Retired Angelina County State District Judge David Walker recalls Ward Burke as being a true role model.  "I will remember Ward Burke as a fine individual, a fine lawyer, and I was very pleased to have made his acquaintance."  "He assisted me in many ways when I was a judge.  One of the things he would do is always call me up and remind me to take time for myself, especially after I'd had a tough trial or a big docket.  That just shows how very thoughtful he was."  "He was a great man and he will be missed," said Walker.

Long before Walker joined the ranks of the Angelina County judicial staff, Burke was himself Angelina County District Attorney.  After serving in the military, he returned to Lufkin and opened a private law practice. He was later elected district attorney for the Second Judicial District of Texas.

In 1978, he was named vice president-law of Temple Eastex, Inc. He most recently served as trustee for the T.L.L. Temple Foundation.

"He was the best person I've ever met," said Buddy Temple, a longtime friend of Burke's.

As a member of the LISD school board, Burke was instrumental in creating the first class for the mentally handicapped. Rev. Bettie Kennedy, who taught the class, described Burke as a very soft-spoken and kind man.

"He gave disabled students an opportunity," she said.

Services for Burke will be held at 4 p.m. Monday in the Sanctuary of Lufkin's First United Methodist Church, with Reverend D. Nick Sholars, Senior Pastor, and Dr. Jack Shoultz officiating. Interment will be in the Garden of Memories Memorial Park.

Immediately following the service, friends are invited to visit with the family in the Church Fellowship Hall until 7 p.m.

Burke's family has requested that no food or flowers be sent. Instead, memorials may be made to Lufkin's First United Methodist Church, 805 E. Denman Avenue, Lufkin, Texas 75904; or to the Lufkin Workshop and Opportunity Center, 1305 Tulane, Lufkin, Texas 75901.

Burke was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 63 years, Anna Belle Dill Burke.

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