- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Collecting isn't merely a part of life for Jean Ward of Rockville. It is her life.
Ms. Ward's passion for the Kingston Trio has led her to travel from Washington, D.C., to Washington state with stops in at least 22 states in between to hear the music live. It prompted her to develop skills ranging from computers to carpentry, which have helped her catalog and store what is possibly the largest collection of Kingston Trio memorabilia anywhere.
"It's a labor of love that borders on insanity, I think," says Ms. Ward, 63. Although she slowed her collecting pace in the 1990s, she spent a solid 15 years as probably the world's foremost Kingston Trio collector.
She first saw the trio in concert at Crystal Beach in Vermilion, Ohio, on July 26, 1959. Almost exactly 20 years later, the collecting bug hit.
The date was June 19, 1979. Ms. Ward knows because it is one of 2,140 concert dates in a searchable database she developed of Kingston Trio appearances. The place was Wolf Trap in Vienna.
The database is still a work in progress, but Ms. Ward planned to have a printout of it and some other mementos available to fans at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, during this weekend's sold-out World Folk Music Association tribute to the folk group. The group, which celebrates its 45th anniversary this year, is led by original member Bob Shane. Its first hit in 1957, "Tom Dooley," helped lay the groundwork for such folk artists as Peter, Paul and Mary; Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; and others in the early 1960s.
Former Trio members John Stewart and Bill Zorn, as well as the Brothers Four, the Limeliters and the Shaw Brothers were also scheduled to perform at the tribute concert.
Back in 1979, seeing the Kingston Trio live again was a life-changing event for Ms. Ward. Within the year, she went again to see the trio perform in Burke, Va. An amateur photographer, she snapped some pictures and had them printed. Then, at a concert a few months later at Charlie's in Georgetown, she presented the photo to trio members, seeking autographs.
"They never had two shows alike, and that's one of the things that kept me going," she recalls. "It was just fun."
In between shows, she started collecting records, tapes and CDs. But she didn't stop there. She found videotapes, posters, newspaper clippings and magazine stories. She took some pictures herself and collected "official" publicity photos and magazine covers. Objects had to be related to the Kingston Trio.
"That was just a simple guideline," she says. "If it had the trio's name on it, I wanted it. It's more of a search, because collecting is a part of me."
Indeed. In her search for the thousands of items she has preserved of the Kingston Trio's 45-year history, Ms. Ward found the Gold Mine collector's magazine helpful so helpful that she started collecting and preserving the magazines, too. It has helped in her other collections as well. She has devoted a large measure of energy to cross-stitch needlework, cookbooks and Wedgwood pottery items, though not on the scale of the Kingston Trio collection.
"The collecting part is natural for me. It's who I am. And to combine collecting with seeing them in live performance is ecstacy for me," she says.
Ms. Ward can't say exactly how many items she has, but she has devoted much of her home to housing her collections. Her office, with its three computers including an early 386 computer on which her concert database is stored also contains a wall-size, glass-enclosed bookcase of loose-leaf binders in which she has cataloged her collection. More items are stored in filing cabinets. In a closet are more than 500 vinyl LPs, kept in plastic wrap with color-coded tags.
Ms. Ward says she became fascinated by the different labels that would appear on the albums, and the different versions that would be released in foreign countries. Hence, she has 14 copies of the trio's first LP release.
She has 12 copies of album No. 5, 1959's "Here We Go Again," for example. One has a promotional radio sticker; one is a demo; three are monaural on different labels; five are in stereo on different labels. She also has Canadian and Japanese releases of the record.
Ms. Ward found that she needed acid-free containers for many of the paper-based parts of the collection songbooks and sheet music, among other items. Although the plastic containers worked well, they were odd sizes and didn't fit in standard storage containers off the shelf. So, Ms. Ward learned basic carpentry and built storage bins for the items herself. She also started researching and compiling histories of the songs the trio performed.
Keeping track of the collection prompted an interest in computers early on, Ms. Ward says.
The collection "kept leading me into different avenues. It led me back to college and got me involved with the campus newspaper there really, because of this," she says. At Montgomery College, she synthesized the skills she had developed collecting trio mementos and ultimately undertook preservation of 50 years worth of the college newspaper. Along the way, she earned a certificate in office technology.
Ms. Ward answered an ad several years ago for a volunteer office clerk for the fire company in Kensington. She put her computer skills to work there, where she continues her membership, her self-proclaimed "other passion," as an associate volunteer.
"Records and radio have always been a part of my life," she says, but for Ms. Ward, nothing beats seeing the Kingston Trio in concert.
"I've logged a lot of miles," she says. "Usually, there was a relative somewhere and I kind of used them as an excuse to travel. It was a lot of fun."
As for favorites, Ms. Ward says she is fond of the album, "Live at the Hungry i." But when if comes to concerts, she is hard-pressed to choose.
"One of my favorite venues is a renovated church in Charlotte, North Carolina," she says. "It's small enough, the acoustics were great it was just a beautiful, beautiful venue. But what do you pick out? Carnegie Hall or a tent with stripes that match their shirts? They are all so varied. There's really no favorite venue because any atmosphere they were in, they enjoyed themselves and everyone else did, too."

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