Saturday’s festivities in the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake area would have been perfect for Dan Ward.
And that’s exactly the hope of the organizers who now put on the annual Community Day and DanRan 5K and 1-mile run.
Ward, who died unexpectedly in 2009 at 54, left his mark on the Burnt Hills and Ballston Lake communities with his passion for the area, his love of local sports and more than two decades behind the bar at Carney’s Restaurant in Ballston Lake, where he developed his own well-known catchphrase.
“Everybody loved him because he was the consummate bartender,” remembered Michael Hale, one of the organizers of Saturday’s events. “Everybody loved Danny. He was befriended by all.”
After he died, friends and family were looking for a way to honor his legacy and it ultimately brought a community together for a tradition that had faded away.
Before Ward died, the annual community days, which had been organized by the Ballston Lake Fire Department, where he was a member, had become a memory of the past.
“After he passed away, we thought, ‘How can we memorialize him,’ ” said Hale. “We decided we would bring the community days back because it had been a number of years ... since it happened. It used to be a big event in the community.”
The first year’s event raised enough money to buy a new scoreboard for the high-school football team, which Ward loved to watch.
The event soon expanded to include the 5K race and 1-mile fun run, which are now in their third year. Hale said the races are also an homage to Ward, an avid runner.
To put Ward’s touch on the T-shirts given to runners this year, his catch phrase was on the back.
“Whenever you ordered a drink he would say, ‘Excellent choice.’ Every time,” said Hale.
Explaining the community’s affinity for Ward, his niece Sarah Best said, “At his wake, it was raining and cold, and the line still went out the door. It went more than an hour longer than planned.”
She said he would have liked the direction the community days is taking, becoming more inclusive, with games for kids creating a more family-friendly atmosphere. There are steak dinners, live music, a 50-50 raffle, a paintball game and a bake sale.
The event also is growing.
“This was our first year for fireworks,” Best said. “We used to do them years ago and we thought, let’s slowly try to build this event back up.”
Funds raised by the runs and community day fund a scholarship in Ward’s name for high school seniors who want to pursue a career in the hospitality industry, whether studying culinary arts or hotel management. Hale said the cause is a perfect way to honor Ward.
“If you looked up hospitality in the dictionary, it would say Danny Ward.”