Joe Ford was an individual who gained his love for nature by growing up in the middle of it on his family's small farm in Sorgho, Kentucky. By day, he walked the fields observing and catching animals, and by night, he read any nature-related book he could get from the library. As he got older, people in the area would ask Joe questions about "this animal" or "that plant that looks like a weed". If he didn't know the answer to their question, he would read on it until he found the answer. In this way, Joe became known as "The Answer Man". This quest for knowledge of the natural world opened many doors for Joe as he was asked to speak about nature-related topics at many civic clubs and gatherings.
Joe Ford was the driving force behind the start-up of the Owensboro Area Museum and remained its Director for twenty one years. He wrote articles for newspapers on nature-related topics, was named Owensboro's Official Naturalist in 2008, and was the inspiration for all that Joe Ford Nature Center is and will be in the future.
The history of, what is now known as, Joe Ford Nature Center goes back to when Joe was the Director at the Owensboro Area Museum. The 14-acre Joe Ford Nature Park was given to the Owensboro Area Museum to establish outdoor classrooms. In 1986, there was a building constructed in the park to provide another area to educate children about nature. Many people and businesses donated toward the project to support Joe and all he had done and would continue to do for the community. The names of those donors can be found on various plaques and the bricks on the front wall of the building. After Joe retired from the museum in 1987, the Owensboro Parks Department accepted the park as part of their system.
With Joe's quest for knowledge came large collections of artifacts, books, articles, and more which led to needing a place to store and display all of these items. After many efforts with different organizations, Joe's wife, Grace, secured an agreement with Brescia University to house Joe's collection. With Joe's support, Grace set up the area, prepared for the grand opening, and on October 9, 2005, the Joe Ford Library opened in Room 131 of the Science Building at Brescia. Many visitors passed through the doors to see this library, visit with Grace, talk with Joe, and ask many nature and non-nature related questions. All the questions were directed to Joe and he continued with his tradition of leaving no question unanswered. Joe greeted each visitor with a smile and the warmth of a true friend.
Feeling the need for community support, Grace sought approval from Brescia to establish a Board of Directors for Joe Ford Library. Two years later she met with individuals who had supported Joe through the years and set up a Board that assisted with further development.
The Joe Ford Library continued at Brescia University until 2010 when the, then existing, Board determined the need for JFL to become a non-profit organization apart from Brescia University. After many "what do we do now?" sessions, the details were finalized and in July 2010, JFL moved to the building located at Joe Ford Nature Park. On October 10, 2010, more than 250 people attended the grand opening of Joe Ford Nature Center that houses Joe Ford Library.
Unfortunately, Joe had a stroke in August before the grand opening, and this was the beginning of his reduced involvement with programs and activities at Joe Ford Nature Center.
Joe Ford passed away in July 2014, but his legacy will be carried on by the staff, volunteers, and community that are involved at Joe Ford Nature Center.
Joseph M. Ford, son of Maurice H. and Ethel C. Ford, was born in Kentucky on February 8, 1925. He attended a one-room school at Sorgho that is now located at Panther Creek Park, and completed his eighth grade at the new Sorgho School built next to Pleasant Grove Church. He graduated from Daviess County High School (1942) and attended the University of Kentucky where he studied geology. One year later he farmed, and in 1944 he joined the Merchant Marines and served for two and a half years. For the next twenty years he was a produce farmer. He married Nancy H. Boyle and they had one child, a daughter, Nancy Dianne Ford. Following the death of his wife Nancy, Joe married Grace Carter. Joe and Grace, as a team, continued his work as naturalist, teacher, lecturer, and student of our natural surroundings.
Naturalist and nature educator Joe Ford spent his lifetime consumed with learning and teaching about nature's wildlife, trees, and plants.