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Ward Laboratories, Inc. Mourns the Death of Co-Founder Jolene Ward 

KEARNEY, NE – Ward Laboratories, Inc. announced today that company co-founder, Jolene Ward, has passed away at the age of 82. She died peacefully on Friday, September 15, 2023, at Brookestone Gardens in Kearney.

Jolene was an integral part of Ward Laboratories from the beginning, working with her husband, Dr. Raymond C. Ward to bring their vision to fruition. For over 40 years, Ward Laboratories has provided quality analytical results so customers can make informed decisions about their operations.

Horner Lieske McBride & Kuhl Funeral Home is providing final arrangements with services pending. The family shared the following obituary.

Jolene Faye (Spohn) Ward was born in rural Elmwood, Nebraska on December 6, 1940, the second daughter of C. Lamoyne and Laree C. Spohn. Her childhood on the family dairy farm east of town gave her an appreciation of agriculture and later, inspired a collection of Holstein tchotchkes. She excelled in school, sang with her sister at the Elmwood EUB church, and enjoyed 4-H at county and state levels.

After graduating in 1958 from Elmwood High School, Jolene enrolled at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, living on East Campus in Fedde Hall. It was there that she met a soil science major three years her senior who became her lifelong partner March 10, 1960. Jolene put her career aspirations on hold to become a wife to Raymond and mother to four children. The family relocated to Brookings, SD for Ray’s post-graduate studies then to Redfield, SD, Stillwater, OK and Dodge City, KS. In 1983, Jolene and Ray selected Kearney, NE as the location of their own business. As co-founder, she worked alongside Ray as Ward Laboratories, Inc. got off the ground. Jolene was the all-around support staff, receptionist, coffee-brewer, and customer service representative. She officially retired in mid-‘90s but never stopped promoting the business.

As her children grew, she took on part-time jobs as varied as packing for a moving company and high school receptionist. She instilled in the family the importance of service to the community as a 4-H leader, band booster, and church volunteer. In Kearney, the list of organizations touched by her spirit of generous giving includes CHI Health Good Samaritan Hospital, Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce Envoys, Daughters of the Nile, First United Methodist Church, Gateway Farm Expo and Kearney Kiwanis Club. Jolene’s involvement in Kiwanis International extended to the position of Lt. Governor of Nebraska-Iowa Division 24 in 2010. She also enjoyed being a member of the Friends of the (Nebraska) Governor’s Residence.

Jolene proudly completed a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kearney State College in 1987.  Her love of history and travel were evident, and she reveled in solo trips to Boston and San Francisco. Kiwanis and Ward Laboratories both offered opportunities to travel the world; highlights include trips to China, New Zealand, Taiwan, South Africa, Brazil, Paraguay, and many European countries including twice to Ukraine. 

Perhaps her most rewarding moments were those spent as mom, grandma and great grandmother. She was fiercely proud of her family and never failed to brag about the careers, education or school activities of each “Ward kid.” She leaves behind a legacy of love and learning, having never met a stranger, and always sharing her good humor.

Jolene is survived by her husband, Ray, of Kearney, Nebraska; sons Mark (LuAnn), Wamego, KS and Tim (Teresa), Sioux Falls, SD; daughters Karolyn (Alan) Michalewicz, Meeker, CO, and Kristin (Scott) Camp, Omaha, NE; grandchildren Nick (Brooke) Ward, Kearney, NE; Tyler (Monica) Ward, Wamego, KS; Chelsie (Brandon) Kopf, Lexington, NE; Lauren Michalewicz (Tamoi Taylor), Denver, CO; Joe (Emily) Michalewicz, Grand Junction, CO; Karli (David) Toft, Lincoln, NE and Clark Ward, St. Paul, MN; and great grandchildren Allie, Maggie, Bailee and Charlee Ward; Kitra and Kree Ward; Walter and Raye Kopf; and baby Michalewicz arriving in January.

The family wishes to thank the staff of Brookestone Gardens, Kearney, NE, for their devoted care of Jolene as she battled Parkinson’s disease over the last three years.

Memorials may be directed to the Kearney Area YMCA (https://kearneyymca.org/give-back/) or the Nebraska 4-H Foundation (https://www.ne4hfoundation.org/give-to-4-h/)

Memorial service details are pending.

Ward Laboratories – hometown roots, worldwide growth

Ray and Jolene Ward founded Ward laboratories all the way back in 1983, initially operating out of a three-bay garage here in Kearney, Nebraska.

Our team of highly qualified scientists, agronomists, livestock experts and other agriculture professionals have spent nearly four decades analyzing millions of samples and steadily earning a reputation for excellence with our domestic and international clients. Along the way, we gradually expanded our operations to meet the needs of our growing customer base.

Today, Ward Laboratories occupies a nearly 32,000 sq. ft., state-of-the-art facility that allows us to process a high volume of samples and ensure the highest standards of accuracy and quality.

We outgrew that three-bay garage a long time ago, but everything we do is still inspired by Ray and Jolene’s foundational principle – to provide quality analytical results so customers can make informed decisions about their operations.

Our Mission

To provide accurate and diverse laboratory analysis swiftly and affordably through commitment to advancement and client relationships.

Our Vision

To be the most trusted and proven laboratory resource to guide food producers around the world.

Our Objectives

  • Honor Ray and Jolene Ward’s founding principal to provide quality results so clients can make informed decisions
  • Create an environment where our people can grow personally and professionally and continue to promote the advancement necessary to stay ahead of the curve
  • Aim beyond the cutting edge in the technology, processes, and services we provide to our current and future customers
  • Create opportunities for our organization to foster and build new relationships based on trust, integrity and passion, in and around the communities we serve throughout the world
  • Strive for excellence in our results and proactively hold ourselves accountable to accept, resolve and eliminate errors
  • Ensure that the producer can continue to have the necessary information to confidently make decisions that benefit their businesses, families and communities
  • Active involvement in professional organizations to provide support and collaboration, while continually learning from other industry leaders

Meet Our Staff

Raymond C. Ward

Chairman of the Board , CPSS, CPAG, CCA

Dr. Ward (Ray) founded Ward Laboratories in 1983. Ray received B.S. and M.S.  Soil Science degrees from University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 1959 and 1961 and a Plant Science Ph.D degree from South Dakota State University in 1972.

Nick Ward


Dr. Nick Ward received his B.S. and M.S. in Agronomy from Kansas State University in 2007 and 2010 and Agronomy Ph.D degree from University of Nebraska – Lincoln in 2015.

Patrick Freeze

Soil/Soil Health Customer Support and Technical Specialist

Dr. Patrick Freeze received his Ph.D in Soil Science from Washington State University in 2023 with an emphasis in soil chemistry. There, he focused on soil health and environmental quality as a USDA NIFA Needs Fellow, and then abroad in Thailand as a U.S. Fulbright Scholar. His B.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Nevada – Reno centered on forest soil biogeochemistry and heavy metal(loid) remediation in soil and water.

Rebecca Kern-Lunbery

Feed Testing Product Manager and Strategist, MS, MBA, PAS

Rebecca joined Ward Laboratories in 2016. Rebecca graduated from the University of Wyoming in 2012 with a B.S. in Animal and Veterinary Sciences and again in 2014 with a M.S. in Animal Nutrition.

Ryan Dennhardt

Human Resources/Business Manager

Ryan joined Ward Laboratories, Inc. in the fall of 2019. He received his Bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska-Kearney and has an MBA with HR emphasis.

Terry Buettner

Account Development & Agronomy Support Manager

Terry joined Ward Laboratories in fall of 2017. He graduated from University of Nebraska-Kearney in 1983 with a B.S. in Business Administration. He has been involved in production agriculture and seed sales in the Kearney area for 34 years.

Makayla Fox

Makayla (MiK) Fox

Account Development & Agronomy Support Manager

MiK joined Ward Laboratories in the fall of 2021. She received an A.A.S. in Agriculture in 2016 from Ivy Tech Community College – Fort Wayne. She graduated from Kansas State University in 2019 where she received a B.S. of Agriculture majoring in Communications and Journalism.

Nikki Kuhr

Laboratory Manager

Nikki joined Ward Laboratories in 2006. She graduated from Southeast Community College-Beatrice with an Associates of Science-Biology Degree.

Stephanie Wootton

Soil Health Supervisor & Microbiology Lead

Stephanie joined Ward Laboratories in 2020. She attended South Dakota State University where she received her B.S. in Biology in 2016 and then her M.S. with specialization in Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology in 2019.

Melissa Schwarz

Senior Customer Service Representative

Melissa joined Ward Laboratories in 2017 and has worked as our Receptionist and Customer Service Representative. She will be attending CCC in Kearney to pursue an AAS Degree in Business Administration.

Sadie Shannon

Log-In Supervisor

Sadie joined Ward Laboratories in the summer of 2017. She graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2017 with a BS in Animal Science.

Carrie Putnam

Feed Supervisor

Carrie joined Ward Laboratories in 2013. She graduated from College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO with a B.S. in Animal Science.

Jordan Westengaard

Quality Assurance/Quality Control Manager

Jordan joined Ward Laboratories, Inc. in January 2020. He received his BS in Chemistry from the University of Nebraska-Kearney in 2010.

Willie Pretorius, MS

Soil Health Consultant

Willie Pretorius received B.S. and M.S. from the Universities of Pretoria and Stellenbosch in 1966 and 1970 respectively majoring in Fruit Science, Horticulture and Plant Physiology. He also obtained a Hons. B from the Stellenbosch Business School in 1984. His background is agricultural research, managing food companies, and soil health.

Our Commitment to You

Ward Laboratories, Inc. is committed to the continued enhancement of analytical result excellence and service through the dynamics of its quality assurance system, the integrity of its people, and the professionals engaged in the agricultural analytical testing we provide.

We have an extensive system for maintaining the highest possible standards for quality control of your samples. Your analytical results are our highest priority and everything we do is managed with that in mind. We employ professionals in the fields of chemistry and biology, and we work with many proficiency programs to ensure the quality of each analytical result.

Certifications & Licenses

  • Nebraska Licensed Laboratory
  • Iowa certified
  • MAP certified
  • NFTA certified

Proficiency Programs

  • Agricultural Laboratory Proficiency (Soil, Water, Plant)
  • Association of American Feed Control Officials
  • National Forage Testing Association
  • North American Proficiency Testing Program (Soil, Water, Plant)
  • Magruder Fertilizer Check Sample Program
  • Distillers Grain Technology Council Laboratory Proficiency Testing Program
  • – Animal Feed Scheme
  • – Mineral Scheme


  • Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • American Chemical Society
  • American Oil Chemists Society
  • American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists
    – Professional Animal Scientist
  • American Society of Agronomy
  • American Soybean Association
  • American Registry of Certified Professionals in Agronomy, Crops, and Soils (ARCPACS)
    – Certified Professional Agronomist
    – Certified Professional Soil Scientist
    – Certified Crop Advisor
  • Association of Official Analytical Chemists
  • Bio Nebraska Life Sciences Association
  • Colorado Cattlemen® Association
  • Council for Agricultural Science & Technology
  • Independent Agricultural Consultants of Colorado
  • Kansas Agribusiness Retailers Association
  • Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Missouri Agribusiness Association
  • National Alliance of Independent Crop Consultants
  • National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
  • National Corn Growers Association
  • Nebraska Alfalfa Marketing Association
  • Nebraska Craft Brewers Guild
  • Nebraska Cattlemen
  • Nebraska Chamber of Commerce
  • Nebraska Diplomats Inc.
  • Nebraska Farm Bureau
  • Nebraska Independent Crop Consulting Association
  • Nebraska Poultry Industries
  • NIRS Forage and Feed Testing Consortium
  • Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association
  • Practical Farmers of Iowa
  • Rocky Mountain Agribusiness Association
  • Sigma Xi
  • Soil and Plant Analysis Council
  • Soil and Water Conservation Society of America
  • Soil Science Society of America
  • South Dakota Agribusiness Association
  • South Dakota Cattlemen Association
  • South Dakota Independent Crop Consultants Association
  • South Dakota Soil Health Coalition
  • Texas Ag Industries Association
  • Wyoming Livestock Association

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