Ira Wade, above, accepts his award from Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen at the opening ceremony of Wadesville on June 29 in Cruz Bay.
Each year the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization singles out one person on which to bestow a great honor — the naming of Festival Village, the hub of activity for the Fourth of July Festival celebration.
This year it was almost a no-brainer for the organization in choosing to honor Department of Public Works Deputy Commissioner of Operations Ira Wade, explained chairperson Leona Smith.
“We chose Ira because of his dedicated services to the Festival Organization and the community as a whole,” said Smith. “He’s a very hard working individual and we are proud to honor him. Of course we have our differences from time to time, but we always come together for the common good.”
Twenty-two years ago, Ira Wade arrived in the Virgin Islands with the intention of relaxing and enjoying retired life after a 30-year military career, which took him to Germany, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand.
Little did he know that his military training — in particular, the past 12 years he’d spent as a command sergeant major in logistics — would prompt him back to action when Hurricane Hugo devastated the islands just three months after his arrival on September 17, 1989.
After Hugo left a shattered Virgin Islands in its wake, Wade came across a flyer at Nisky Center on St. Thomas seeking employees to help with FEMA’s effort to restore life in the islands.
“They interviewed me on the spot, and about 15 minutes later, the lady came out and says, ‘I think we have a job that would fit your military experience,’” Wade said.
And just like that, three months into his retirement, Wade was thrust back into the working world, verifying documents that came into FEMA from residents applying for assistance. The transition was easy, Wade explained.
“I think it just came naturally,” he said. “We all want to retire and take the easy life, but if you’ve been working most of your life, you become bored if you’re around doing nothing.”
Wade eventually traded in his position at FEMA for a job with the Department of Human Services, where he worked as the territory’s claims and accountability officer for the food stamp program.
Finally, in 1995, Wade assumed the position he still toils at daily — Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the V.I. Department of Public Works for the island of St. John.
The island of St. John could not have hoped for a better person to come on board just before Hurricane Marilyn. Wade drew from his military experience, and recalled lessons he’d learned from Hugo as Marilyn bore down on the islands in September 1995.
Wade now counts the recovery from Marilyn as one of his proudest moments.
“I believe it was my destiny,” he said. “I got the education from Hugo, and from the elderly people of Coral Bay who gave me a lot of information on how to prepare for storms. I used a military technique called prepositioning, where you get all your logistics in place before the storm arrives.”
Within less than five hours after Marilyn tore through the territory, Wade and his crew had all of Love City’s roads open to traffic. Progress in the cleanup effort was visible on a daily basis, he explained.
Sixteen years later, Wade’s work ethic is no less strong than it was when he first came on board with DPW.
“I come to work every morning around 5:15 a.m., and I leave when the day is finished,” he said. “Some days it’s early, some days it’s late.”
As if his job with Public Works doesn’t keep him busy enough, Wade also volunteers with an organization he holds near and dear to his heart — the Love City Pan Dragons. Wade has worked with the youth steel pan band for the past 17 years and beams with pride when he speaks about them.
Wade has also served on the St. John Festival and Cultural Organization for the past 10 years and oversees construction of the professional village stage each year as well.
Although Wade shied away from praise at the opening of Wadesville on Wednesday evening, June 29, his character was lauded again and again by various speakers during the opening ceremony, and the crowd heartily applauded while the Love City Pan Dragons rang their drums in honor of the man who works tirelessly for Love City.