Meet Tom & Colleen Ward


By Christina Chittenden, Viera Living East Edition, March 2023
Photos by Nerissa Johnson, LadyBlue Photography

Tom and Colleen WardTom & Colleen’s story began in 1999 after meeting at Suntree United Methodist Church. The two were attending a grief share program at the church that allowed them both to see a different perspective on life and love. Having both previously been married several years before, they found much value in the program, specifically in learning what a healthy relationship should look like. What they didn’t realize was that the program would ultimately prepare their hearts for a new love story that was brewing.

Upon completion of the 48-week program, Tom and Colleen decided to give back by serving as co-facilitators for the next 12 months of the program. It was during that time that they began to date, and on New Year’s Eve, as the year 2000 rang in, Tom proposed by saying, “Since the world didn’t end, why don’t we get married?” Colleen laughed. Despite the Y2K rumors and speculation, no major crises happened in the world, and the two tied the knot on August 31, 2000.

The Wards are long-term residents of Melbourne, and if you ask them, they have no intention of ever leaving. Tom, upon retiring from the USMC, moved to Melbourne Beach in 1983, and Colleen, after being recruited by Health First in 1997, relocated to Suntree. For the past nine years, they have lived in Viera and love calling the Indian River Colony Club (IRCC) subdivision home.

In 1959, Tom graduated from the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He immediately joined the Marine Corps, where he served for the next 22 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. As the son of a retired Army Colonel, one can imagine his father’s disapproval of Tom’s decision to join the Marines, but for Tom, there was no other branch of service he would rather serve in. “The Marine Corps was everything to me,” he said. His duty stations included Hawaii, San Diego, and, eventually, during the height of the Vietnam War, on board an aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. “My most memorable experience on board was when I trained and served as Officer of the Deck,” recalled Tom. “As it was a position typically held by naval officers, I was appreciative of the opportunity it gave me to do something different. I studied, passed the exam, and became one of the rare Marine officers to serve on an aircraft carrier under way, in country, at time of war.” Two years later, he was off to Vietnam, where he served as a Marine Advisor to the South Vietnamese Marine Corps. “Living full-time in the field with these Marines taught me what true dedication to freedom was,” he added. “Growing up in the ‘Land of the Free’, freedom was somewhat taken for granted; something we never feared losing. I lived with them in tents, ate their food, and fought with these men for 12 months straight, never leaving the field. To me, these men were some of the most dedicated people I had ever met, and their sacrifice was much more significant than mine, as they were fighting for independence.”

Though Tom prefers not to talk about his accomplishments, it’s worth mentioning that while in Vietnam, he was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars with Combat V, the Navy Accommodation Medal with Combat V, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and the Vietnamese Honor Medal, 1st Class.

Following Vietnam, Tom completed his military career primarily in Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon. Upon retiring from the Marines, he relocated to Melbourne and served as the Senior Officer of the Palm Bay High School JROTC program for the next 18 years. He grew the program from 100 to 220 students and won numerous state and national competitions with his drill, color guard, and rifle teams. In addition, he also coached PBHS football, track, and cross country. In 2002, he retired from teaching with his heart set on having more time to focus on his love of running and physical fitness training.

Colleen Ward and their Golden Retriever, GracieColleen is a registered nurse who graduated from Citizens General Hospital School of Nursing in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. “I loved being a nurse; it was my childhood dream,” said Colleen. “While the ca retaking aspects of nursing certainly fell right down my alley, little did I know how empowering nursing could be and all the places it would take me.”

In the early 90s, when hospitals were moving toward installing Hospital Information Systems, Colleen was presented with an opportunity to work on a project that represented the Nursing Department. “Back then, many community hospitals were primarily still on paper, so I laughed when I was first asked to participate on the project because of my limited knowledge with computers and information systems,” Colleen said. “I was a great nurse, but computers – not so much!” Colleen was reassured that it was her competence in nursing that determined her selection, as she knew the hospital’s process inside and out and was a quick learner. Stepping through what she refers to as ‘open windows of opportunity’, Colleen’s career transitioned from one of direct patient care to a career in Information Technology (IT).

In February 1996, she was recruited by the IT Department at Desert Springs Hospital in Las Vegas. As a single mother of three boys for eight years, she gathered her kids and informed them they were going on an adventure to Las Vegas. One short year later, another window of opportunity opened when Colleen was recruited by the IT Department at Health First in Melbourne. “At first, I had never heard of Melbourne and assumed they were referring to Melbourne, Australia,” laughed Colleen. “Having visited Florida and seen ‘real palm trees’ with my parents years before, I decided I was going to live here one day. I interviewed and accepted the position, and the boys and I moved to Melbourne.”

Colleen loved her career at Health First, especially the friends she made there that she is thankful to still stay in touch with to this day. One of her career highlights was serving as the Viera Hospital Operational Project Manager. “It was exhilarating working in a trailer, in a dirt field, wearing a pink hard hat,” she recalled. “I still remember Viera Hospital’s opening day on April 2, 2010. Good memories for sure.”

Tom might be 86 years young, but you’d never believe it with how physically fit and actively involved in sports he has been and still is to this day. During high school and college, he played football and excelled in track and long-distance running. He has completed countless marathons and long-distance running events throughout the years. Finishing 87th in the Boston Marathon and completing the Old Dominion Ultramarathon – where he ran 100 miles through the Virginia mountains in 22 hours and 45 minutes straight – stands out among them all.

Tom Ward with his bicycleUpon moving to Brevard, Tom joined the Space Coast Runners and Running Zone teams. One of his last running accomplishments was in 2018 when he was inducted into the Space Coast Runners Hall of Fame for his dedication to the sport. At 74, Tom took his passion for running to the next level and added biking and swimming – positioning himself to now compete in triathlon sprints. “Running and biking are nothing, but swimming is the toughest sport I ever had to do,” he said. After placing first in 99% of his races after years of 1st place wins, their home has accumulated many medals, plaques, and awards. The house rule is that only those earned after 74 and awarded after a triathlon or marathon win can be displayed! Tom may have hung up his running shoes, but he remains active in cycling with a great group of friends and weightlifting at the gym.

Tom and Colleen have a lifetime of great memories between them, from hosting parties at their home to annual trips to Charleston, SC and Asheville, NC with their Golden Retrievers. Colleen, being 20 years younger than Tom – though you’d never know it – didn’t retire until 2021, while Tom has been retired since 2002, so scheduling travel up until that point was a bit of a challenge for them. They feel fortunate to be able to begin cruising the past few years and have enjoyed seeing some of the most beautiful places, including Alaska and the Caribbean. This past November, they took a cruise to the Panama Canal. To date, their most memorable cruise was a three-week trip to Scotland, Germany, and Iceland in celebration of their 22nd wedding anniversary in August 2022. This past year, they celebrated their 23rd anniversary with a trip to Niagara Falls, a place Colleen had visited with her parents and later her sons, but Tom had never experienced it until that point. “Tom and I love the outdoors and much prefer open-air adventure over the crowds you can experience in the big cities,” said Colleen.

As for kids, Tom has two grown children, two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, all of whom live locally. Colleen also has two grown children and a son-in-law who lives locally. Her oldest son, his wife and daughter live in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Wards' Golden Retriever, GracieTogether, they have raised four fur children, all Golden Retrievers, over the years. Currently, they have one Golden named Gracie, who is 10 years old. Both adore Goldens, and all their dogs have been certified therapy dogs with Therapy Dogs Inc., making many trips to children’s events, libraries, schools, assisted living facilities, and Hospice patients. Gracie, sadly, has gone blind, but thanks to excellent veterinarian care from Dr. Madya at Viera East Veterinarian Center, she is a happy, healthy girl who loves everyone – she just sometimes bumps into things.

As for community involvement, Tom and Colleen definitely stay busy. The couple regularly attends church at the IRCC Chapel and are actively involved in volunteering as ushers, greeters, and communion servers. They enjoy attending the many organized events coordinated by their Residents Activities Council (RAC) and love dressing up for Oktoberfest, Halloween, and St. Patrick’s Day. Tom is also involved in his IRCC cycling group and is the fitness center representative on the Athletic Advisory Committee. He is dedicated to making IRCC’s fitness center topnotch. He also served as the IRCC Marine Ball Chairman for six years. Colleen has volunteered on several different committees at IRCC, including the IRCC Marine Birthday Ball, IRCC RAC and the IRCC Chapel Foundation. She also served as a member of the IRCC Marketing Committee and the Planning & Policy Committees for three years. In 2022, she was elected for a three-year term to the IRCC Board of Directors, and this year, she is honored to serve as the 2024 Chairman of the Board, making her only the second woman in the 38-year history of the community to hold that role!

The Wards moved to Indian River Colony Club (IRCC) nine years ago from their previous home in Melbourne Beach. It was difficult to get Tom to leave the beach life, but as soon as they rode around the community, it felt like home. They enjoy the sidewalks, trees, and friendly neighbors and love having their own clubhouse with a full-service restaurant, among the many other activities and amenities such as the golf course, tennis courts, pool, and onsite RV storage park. Both Tom and Colleen agree, though, that one of the best parts of living in IRCC is the on-site maintenance program with a full-time staff who manages everything for them.

“This is the kind of neighborhood where you can borrow an egg or a cup of sugar and not have to worry about paying it back,” Colleen said. “The kind that says, ‘Hey, we made extra for dinner, come on over and eat with us!’ We have block parties and activities galore. IRCC is a 55+ community that ranges in ages, skill sets and interests. Everyone you meet has a story that just seems better than the last. We truly love the camaraderie that we share and the ‘never leave a man behind’ philosophy that is had by many of us who reside here. Yep, that’s my kind of place.”


“Being a bit older than many of our younger families here in Viera, our thoughts are to encourage them to step through when the window of opportunity comes. Don’t wait too long thinking about it, though, because before you know it, it may just close. Stepping through those windows of opportunity is what brought Tom and me here to Viera, which we are glad to call our forever home.”

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