tampabay.com

Through love, peace flows freely

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published May 21, 2007


ZEPHYRHILLS - Gary and Glendal Ward live in a yellow Sears Roebuck cottage built in 1930.

In the front yard garden, paths wind beneath the shade tree and Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the breeze like colorful quilt scraps.

It is a place of peace and utmost solitude, where creativity and conversation flow, where you are welcomed with a hug and an "Aloha" and can be yourself for a few blissful hours.

Here is their story:

The Wards moved to Zephyrhills 11 years ago from Miami. They had come up for years to visit friends on the weekends and had fallen in love with the town for its rural beauty, friendliness and slower pace.

"We liked it because people don't cocoon here, you can know your neighbors as well as the people in City Hall. It's quiet and you can still see the stars at night," says Glendal, 58, who works as a licensed massage therapist for a local chiropractor and also teaches a weekly study group on Mahayana Buddhism.

Finding a house to live in was easy.

"I was driving down the street and saw this house and knew this was the house Glendal would want," explains Gary, who holds a master's degree in jazz and plays around the Tampa Bay area in the band, Two Plus Two. He is also the band director at Sligh Elementary School in Tampa.

Late on a Wednesday afternoon, he played a Miles Davis tune on an old upright 1800s piano in his music room, which also serves as a recording studio.

When she was a teenager, Glendal worked organizing Beatles fan clubs, as well as special events in the Southeast. Tall, blond and willowy, she wears jeans, a T-shirt and an elegant bracelet made from wooden mala meditation beads.

She's an artist in her own right, trained in scrimshaw, a technique she once used to decorate mastodon tusks. She dances to Gary's music with the family's dog, a standard poodle named Bella Grace.

She's all about love, real love, something perceptible even to a visitor. Her voice mail recording instructs callers to take a deep breath and relax and her e-mails always end with: "Sharing the best we have come to know, and that is love, please champion a better world."

The Ward house thrums with energy. It is a cozy, beautiful place, cast in mossy greens and earth tones, with swatches of bamboo fencing attached to the living room walls for texture. The house is decorated according to the principals of feng shui, the Chinese practice of arranging objects. The walls are vibrant with art created by couple's grandson, Jacob Alexander, 7, as well as their adopted son, Tony Guerrero, and their daughter, Brice Bain.

Tony, who escaped Cuba on a raft in 1992, came to know the Wards as an adult. According to Glendal, they fell in love with him.

The Wards informally adopted him into their family one night over a bottle of wine.

And for anyone who thinks they are not a real family - think again.

"We all made a commitment a long time ago that we would always live close to one another," Glendal says.

Now Tony, Brice and Jacob live as housemates one block away from Gary and Glendal. They share a business, Creative Minds, faux-painting the walls of houses with murals and textures that look like leather, striated wood or aged metal.

Their paintings on canvas are equally striking: In the living room of the Wards' home hangs Brice's multimedia piece with the three-dimensional face of the sun seeming to push through the center like a mask.

Tony's painting of Mother Earth pouring water from a pitcher while the tall palm trees of the tropics grow in her body, is also amazing. He is also a singer and songwriter who loves to spend evenings with Gary playing music and writing songs.

"We really celebrate one another here," explains Glendal, who is traveling with Tony to Nepal in November to study at the Kopan Monastery for a month.

Photos of the Wards' Buddhist teacher, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, are displayed throughout the house. The also includes a meditation room where Glendal holds her study group, which typically attracts about 15 people, most of them local.

You can't help but want to visit the Wards' house. An orange sign on a fence beneath a trellis of jasmine, says: "Heaven on a Sunday."

It should say "Every day."

"I couldn't have a better life," Glendal says. "I love experiencing my kids and grandson on a daily basis. If I wasn't their mom, I'd still want to know them. They are compassionate beings and love us so beautifully that we feel it."

Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at ebettendorf@hotmail.com.