Irene Ward always liked Christmas a lot more when her six children and 13 grandchildren were around.

But even after that big family spread out around the country, Ward, of Cape May Court House, still enjoyed her Christmas preparations.

“She was the Present Lady,” says her husband, Ronnie Ward. “She bought presents for everybody.”

Irene died about a month before this Christmas, at 78, following a stroke.

“But she had been as healthy as a horse before that,” says Ronnie, and so Irene’s death was a shock to her family and friends.

One friend, Rose Marie Pavese, of Ventnor, says the two of them were scheduled to go to New York the day Irene got sick. But bad weather canceled that tour.

Shopping wasn’t the trip’s main goal, “But there would have been some shopping involved,” says Pavese, 74. “We’d go shopping all over. ... We Christmas shopped all year, actually. She loved a bargain.”

These two friends met in the Seashore Mothers of Twins Club, of which Irene was a founder. She qualified for the club after she and Ronnie started their family off at double speed in 1956, by having identical twins Valerie and Denise.

“We didn’t know we were having more than one,” says Ronnie, whose career as a golf pro then had his family living in East Stroudsburg, Pa. “So that was a real surprise.”

One of the twins, Denise Ward-Lawrence, now of Boulder, Colo., says her mom was just 22 when she became the mother of two. But Irene was a natural for her new role.

“She was all about family, that's for sure,” the daughter says. “Her children and grandchildren were her pride and joy.”

She loved being a mom right from the start. Pavese, her friend, says Irene already had a big family when they met — which was after Pavese had her twin boys, 47 years ago. But they didn’t let all those kids keep them home.

“She had five then, and we’d take them out all the time,” Pavese recalls. “We’d go to Steel Pier, Garwood Mills, the boardwalk rides. ... Especially in the summer, we really went out all the time.”

Irene worked as a waitress and volunteered at church, among other places. But she did slow down some when her kids moved away — Valerie and Irene are both in Colorado now; Jeff spends a lot of his time in New York; Shawn is in Florida; Kelly is in Washington state; and Michael lives in North Carolina.

But wherever they were, whenever December was on the way, Irene had all her kids — and all their kids — right in the front of her mind.

“She was the kind of shopper who, if she found a bargain, she’d buy 10 — just because it was a bargain,” says her daughter, Denise.

Then again, she had lots of people to share her shopping victories with — especially at Christmas.

A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.

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