Dr. Wilbur Ball, Founding President and President Emeritus of McLennan Community College, died on Wednesday, December 15, 2021.
Wilbur was born at home in the little ranching community of Berclair, Texas, September 30, 1928, on the eve of the Great Depression, the son of Arthur Lee Ball and Dolly Roxanna Dorsey Ball.
He graduated from Goliad High School and entered the US Army Air Corps for three years to earn the GI Bill as a means to afford a college education. Upon his honorable discharge in 1949, he entered the University of Texas at Austin, earning a B.S. in education followed by an M.Ed. in administration.
Though he began his career as a high school English and Spanish teacher, Wilbur was inclined to academic administration and took a job as a registrar’s assistant at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi. With the encouragement of Del Mar’s leaders, he was awarded a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant and returned to UT to earn his Ph.D. in community college administration.
While visiting a friend, he spotted LaWanda Gersbach, an English education major, sitting on the apartment floor working on a lesson plan. He began to court her and said he treated LaWanda to many steak dinners, after which she always had to get back to her lesson plans. In 1962, Wilbur asked for her hand, purchasing an engagement ring that “cost four calves,” as he put it.
The Balls made their home in Corpus Christi but soon moved to Wharton, where Dr. Ball was hired as Vice President and Dean of Wharton County Junior College.
In 1965 the Balls learned of a new community college to be organized in McLennan County. Dr. Ball was excited at the prospect of building a new institution from the ground up in Waco; he applied for and was offered the top job.
In March, Dr. Ball moved his family – LaWanda and daughter Christi – to Waco and soon afterward, son Jason was born. The MCC board set a bold goal to start classes in six months’ time. Dr. Ball said he could make it happen, and so it did in September, when more than 800 students enrolled in classes taught from a renovated Air Force barracks. Soon to follow was the selection and development of MCC’s campus site on the former Cameron estate.
Dr. Ball served as president of MCC until his retirement in 1988. An opinion piece in the Waco Tribune-Herald said Dr. Ball would be hard to follow. “Ball had the vision to carry the community college concept far beyond what the citizens of McLennan County expected,” it said.
In his retirement years, Dr. Ball was honored with the dedication of MCC’s Ball Performing Arts Center. He loved to tend his ranchland and read all the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende in Spanish, which he spoke fluently. Dr. and LaWanda Ball traveled throughout South and Central America, as well as to Europe, Fiji, and Australia.
Dr. Ball served on the Vestry of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit, which his family attended for many years. He was active in the Waco Rotary Club and Philosophers Club.
His family recalls wonderful long road trips through Mexico, the southwestern U.S., and to our nation’s capitol in the Bicentennial summer of 1976, with Dr. Ball at the wheel of the station wagon while LaWanda provided navigation and coffee. There were deer hunting trips to Berclair and many weekends spent fishing, swimming, and looking for fossils at the ranch. We will always love him for his loud renditions of the country classics, enthusiasm for Longhorn sports, loyal devotion to his family and dear friends, and commitment to the cause of easing student access to MCC and other public institutions of higher education.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his sister, Alice Lawrence; brothers, William, Alton, and Herbert; and brother-in-law, Kenneth Gersbach.
He is survived by his wife of 59 years, LaWanda Gersbach Ball, of Waco; daughter, Christi Lee Ball Nichols, and husband, Joel, of Seattle; son, Jason Allen Ball and wife, Deidra, of Austin; and grandchildren, Lillian Margaret Nichols, Dustin Allen Loso, and twins, Isaac Allen Ball and Sophia Elena Ball.
The family offers grateful thanks to Flavio and Angelica Martinez for their care and friendship, and to the staff of Lakeshore Village Healthcare and Kindred Hospice.
A visitation will be held from 2 to 4 pm on Sunday, December 19, in the Garden Room at Wilkirson-Hatch-Bailey Funeral Home in Waco. Graveside services and burial will be at 2 pm on Monday, December 20, at St. John Lutheran Church in Bartlett, with Pastor Jeremy Ulrich officiating.
A meaningful memorial would be a contribution to the McLennan Community College Foundation, 1400 College Drive, Waco, TX 76708.
The family invites you to leave a message or memory on Dr. Ball’s “Tribute Wall” at www. WHBfamily.com.