Born in 1936, Kim Ward grew up in a boat. His father and uncle, Bill and Chick Ward were inventors of the flat bottom welded seams aluminum boat. Original ideas and ways to make them a reality were his birthright.
Working for his father's company, Dura Craft, Ward learned every aspect of boat manufacturing. This is one of the foremost reasons for his great success as an aluminum boat producer. He started as a welder and soon made his way through all other fabrication departments. Then, he tried his hand at sales and again found success. In 1962, he would move up to sit in management, where he began a diversification program of all Dura Craft products. Overseeing production on many new, fresh models that created a wave of excitement in the marine industry.
At the time Dura Craft was building flat bottom aluminum jon boats, Ward introduced the concept for a stylish family runabout. The runabout became the hottest item in aluminum boating until fiberglass came into the market. With aluminum runabout sales declining, Ward went to Washington, D.C. to learn a new business: government contracts.
Kim Ward began building all welded aluminum boats for the US Coast Guard and the Air Force. One of these boats was involved in the recovery of the space capsule Apollo. Ward began building boats for civilians using the all welded hull method he had used in his government contracts. By taking out the rivets, aluminum boats were stronger and more reliable than ever before.
His confidence grew and so did his contracts. Ward began designs on an insulated fish transport tank with quick cam release gates. The tank would become a huge success among fish farmers, state fisheries and federal fisheries. Eventually, the tanks were used for transporting fish throughout the country. In the most unusual case, a customer from Virginia used these tanks to transport eels overseas aboard the Flying Tiger Airlines.
Many know Kim Ward as an outstanding marine innovator; however, few are aware of his skills as a promoter. He is passionate about the marine industry and his sincerity allows him to be a great spokesperson. In 1968, Ward originated and coordinated a national outdoors writers' event that drew over 50 writers from leading national outdoor publications. The event would bring together 30 different aluminum boat manufacturers and was a tremendous boost for the aluminum boat industry. In addition, the event announced the Arkansas River as a navigable waterway. The publicity drew many industries and tourists to the state.
A few years later, he would use his strong voice again to persuade the National Marine Manufacturer's Association to re-certify stick steering. What may seem like a small step is actually a giant leap for stick steering, the effects of which are still present in the industry today. Kim Ward arranged a meeting of all the NMMA head engineers along with engineers from several leading motor companies in Florida. There he gave a powerful demonstration that convinced the NMMA to change their regulations towards stick steering.
In 1978, Kim Ward became the nations' largest producer of aluminum bass boats. This impressive feat was accomplished with the help of Ray Scott, founder of the B.A.S.S. organization and professional tournaments. Ward and Scott developed a relationship, which led to a series of B.A.S.S. tournaments where popular professional fishermen, such as Bill Dance and Roland Martin, fished from aluminum Dura Craft Bass Champ boats. Ray Scott, the father of professional bass fishing, remembers his relationship with Ward, " he was the most important in putting metal bass boats on the water. I have nothing but fond memories of his cooperation and expert help."
In 1984, years of working with his hands caught up to him and a dreadful bout with arthritis pushed Ward to sell the company his father had founded. However, it would not be the last time a Ward boat would be put in the water.
The first War Eagle Boat was built in 1992. Kim Ward was there, but this time he was teaching instead of building. His sons, John, Roger and Mike Ward, were students in the greatest boat building school available -- their father and grandfather's lifetime of knowledge and experience. Since then, War Eagle has been the originator of the wings transom, the t-lock cap rail system and the low front deck. War Eagle was the first aluminum manufacturing company to mass-produce camouflage patterns licensed by Advantage, Mossy Oak and Realtree professional camo companies.
In 1998, War Eagle Boats developed a relationship with the waterfowl conservation heavyweight, Ducks Unlimited, by becoming their official aluminum boat. This title carries many responsibilities to the waterfowl community that has helped elevate War Eagle to the benchmark it is today. According to the July/August 2005 issue of Ducks Unlimited magazine, " The eight year relationship between War Eagle and DU has generated more than $500,000 in support of DU's conservation mission." Most recently, War Eagle hosted a fundraiser that totaled over $100,000 for the expansion of the Seven Devils Wildlife Management Area. A water control structure will be built and named in honor of Kim Ward by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, which will help to triple the size of the area that will be used for public hunting.
Next year the Ward family will commemorate 60 years of building quality marine products with thousands on the water today. At 69, Kim Ward still comes to work everyday. The aluminum boats that he has dedicated his life to building, and believes in so passionately, are still being built just a few feet from his office.
In 2005, Kim Ward was inducted into the Legends of the Outdoors Hall of Fame.