In honor of the city’s theme for this year’s Labor Day celebration, “The Future of Bellevue,” Labor Day Celebration Chairwoman Heather Johnston wanted to look to the next generation in choosing this year’s grand marshal for the annual parade. The decision was Diesel Ward, a 14-year-old Bellevue resident who just started his first year at Wood River High School in Hailey.
Ward, who is on the autism spectrum, said he was very excited to be chosen and considered it an honor. He’s currently fascinated with U.S. presidents, and mentioned that he would be riding in an open-top car, much like President John F. Kennedy did. To Ward’s mom, Kory, this was just one more acknowledgement from the community that her son is accepted and embraced.
“You know when I was growing up, the kids that were in the special classes, they weren’t even looked at. There’s been this change and turn in special ed now and people are so accepting,” Kory Ward said. “I certainly am so grateful that people accept Diesel for who he is.”
For Ward, being accepted by so-ciety is important, his mom said.
“He knows he’s different. He knows he does things differently. He knows his brain works differently,” she said.
However, she said, he accepts it and rolls with it.
Active all his life, Ward loves drama, acting and singing. He said that this year, as a freshman, he’s excited to join B-Tones, the boys choir group. He also came home from his first day in high school last week, excited to try out for the school’s fall production of “Get Smart.” Kory Ward said he stays busy, regardless of the season.
In the winters, Ward skis; he’s active with Higher Ground year-round, and in the summers, he attends Swiftsure Ranch Therapeutic Equestrian Center. He swims in the spring and raises a pig over the summer for 4-H along with his older sister, Sailor, 16, and his twin sister, Jette.
Kory Ward, a stay-at-home mom, said when they first learned about their son’s diagnoses, they faced the challenges head-on.
“We accepted it and took the bull by the horns, sort of,” she said.
Kory Ward said she believes that because they began to work with him early on, something recommended by medical experts to give a child the best possible chance of developing into his or her full potential, Ward is who he is today. Unique compared to other children with autism spectrum disorder, Ward is animated, loves to sing and isn’t shy about speaking to strangers. Last spring, he gave the eighth-grade advancement ceremony speech at Wood River Middle School to his 270 classmates and an auditorium full of parents and family members.
“It’s been a really great time just to be me,” Ward said.
“Because we got in there early and worked with him and had great resources with the school and Higher Ground, it’s made things a lot easier,” Kory Ward said.
Kory and Billy Ward—Diesel’s father who works as a contractor—share a goal that one day their son will be able to live a semi-independent life.
“If that’s the case, we’re going to be perfectly happy, and if not, he’s going to live with us,” Kory Ward said.
Though Ward is at the grade level appropriate for his age, his curriculum is less rigorous than that of a typical freshman in high school, because his academic skills and maturity level are lower than an average freshman.
“Is college in his future? Perhaps. But we don’t know when,” Kory Ward said.
Kory Ward shared stories about her son while wandering their property on state Highway 75, just south of downtown Bellevue, a homey terrain with hunting trophies and paraphernalia, chickens roaming freely and a gate fencing the driveway with a sign that reads, “We don’t call 911” garnished with two pistols carved out of metal.
She and her husband had celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary the day before, and as she counted off the livestock on the property—two horses, two dogs, lots of chickens and turkeys—she concluded with something that Ward himself holds true: “You can tell by our place, this is home.”
Ward said he believes the city of Bellevue will continue to grow bigger, but that at its heart it will remain a welcoming and close-knit community. He intends to continue calling it his home for as far into the future as he can see.
“It’s my ‘Idahome,’” he said.
As far as being chosen grand marshal, “It’s just an honor,” he said. “I’m lucky.”