By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
MILFORD – A Milford family dynasty is born, in both politics and business.
In the political sphere, Susan Ward is retiring 18 years on the Milford Central school board, the past eight as the board’s president.
Tuesday, May 21, her son Will, 22, won the seat in a five-way race three days after he graduated from Skidmore College with a BA in political science, becoming the youngest person in the county elected to a school board.
At the same time, Susan was passing her political torch to Will, the two were starting a new family business, the Sanctuary Farm Brewing Company, LLC.
It will be a combined microbrewery and large-events venue on the family’s “250 lavish acres” in Milford, as stated on the company’s Facebook page and seen in a promotional video made by Susan’s son, Joe Jr.
Susan and husband Joe Sr.’s five other adult children will also be involved in the business, lending their different expertise.
Susan and Will serving on the school board and starting a business as serving their same goal: giving back to the community and making it better.
“The school board is like an extended family in Milford,” Susan said. “Everyone comes to the board from different perspectives, but we all focused on our goals and vision, which was to make the district the best rural school district in the state.”
She first ran for the board in 2001, two years after she and Joe moved their family here from Watchung, N.J.
At the time, Will was only 4, the second youngest of seven children. He grew up absorbing his mother’s work on the board – “the policy, functionality, faculty and staff development.” And her work on the Milford Education Foundation, which has raised $2 million since its founding in 2014.
Susan said the funds are used to “build an alliance between businesses and education, to develop great opportunities and internships” for students.
Studying political science and seeing friends run for office also pique his interesting in succeeding his mother.
“Young generations are getting involved in politics all over the country,” he said. “We want to make positive impacts on our communities and shape the future for ourselves.”
In Milford, Will “thought the board should have a young person’s perspective, who knows technology and how it is changing.”
“I was walking the same halls as the students here,” he said. “They need a voice, to have someone who’s been there, who can connect them, give them positive feedback, and be a role model to other students.”
Will used his tech knowledge for his campaign, creating a Facebook page on which he encouraged family and friends to spread the word about his run for the school board seat and to support him.
Susan made campaign posters, with the heading, “VOTE! ForWARD” and Will’s headshot below it, and Will used #ForWARD on his social media posts.
As for the new business, Will wanted to open a microbrewery after he “got hooked” on brewing in college and learned Upstate New York was “becoming the Silicon Valley of craft beer.”
He submitted his microbrewery idea to a business plan competition at Skidmore last April and won $1,000. In late March, he started the Sanctuary Farm Brewing Co. Facebook page and website, with a logo and merchandise for sale. The taproom is projected to open in May 2020.
Susan said the events idea came “after two of my daughter had successful weddings at the farm.”
They broke ground a couple of weeks ago, with Susan’s husband Joe, a construction contractor, overseeing the renovation of the Wards’ large barn, built in 1903, for the events venue. Susan predicted the renovation will be finished in late summer.
Will said Sanctuary Farm Brewing Co. eventually having a barroom and restaurant as well, but said they are “taking it one phase at a time.” He also envisions holding events such as food truck and musical festivals. He eventually wants to have He also plans to grow hops on the land to use for the microbrewery.
Will’s six siblings have expertise to help build the family business and are becoming involved. His sisters, Sedon is a horticulturalist, Eden a photographer, Isis, a holder of a Wharton MBA, Ruby, a financial expert, and Avalon is a events coordinator. His brother, Joe is a videographer.
Susan and Will want both their service on the school board and the new family business to help Milford’s economy and future as well, to help reverse the declines in student enrollment, housing, and employment.
“Milford is our family, our community,” said Susan. “We want to take care of our community.”