By Paul Rozycki
It may have been a chilly, blustery day, with a hint of rain in the air, but those who gathered at Ballenger Park for the “Ballenger Park Celebration” on Saturday Oct. 26, shared warm memories of their time there, and shared that warmth with William S. Ballenger III, the grandson of the man who created the park and has supported it for many decades.
The event brought together several dozen friends, neighbors and supporters at Flint’s Ballenger Park to unveil a statue of William S. Ballenger Sr., who created a trust fund that has supported the park since the 1930s.
As a part of the dedication and unveiling ceremony, a number of individuals spoke of the significance of the park to the city, and the importance of the Ballenger family and the Ballenger Trust in supporting the park.
Pastor Jeffrey Hawkins and April Hawkins, of the Prince of Peace Baptist Church, served as master of ceremonies, and welcomed those who spoke at the dedication. They included Teresa Roach, Active Communities manager for the Crim Fitness Foundation, who spoke of the success of the park; and Tom Mitchell, Sr. vice president of Huntington Bank, who oversees the Ballenger Trust, and who introduced William S. Ballenger’s grandson, William S. Ballenger III.
Ballenger spoke of his family’s history and its commitment to Flint as did his partner, Susan Steiner Bolhouse. Ballenger served in both the state House of Representatives and the state Senate, was a Michigan racing commissioner, and director of the Department of Licensing and Regulation. He was deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education & Welfare under President Gerald Ford.
He also is editor of the Ballenger Report, and a regular guest on the Off the Record public TV program on Michigan politics. State Rep. Sheldon Neeley and former state Rep. Lee Gonzales presented Ballenger with a resolution from the State of Michigan honoring the event.
Several local residents spoke warmly of their memories of Ballenger Park, where they learned ice skating, basketball and tennis as young teenagers. Many spoke of the large neighborhood gatherings and festivals that were a part of the park’s history for many years.
At both the presentation, and at the statue unveiling, they were joined by sculptors Sam Selou and Jane Trotter, who collaborated on the creation of the statue of Ballenger Sr.
Unlike most city parks, Ballenger Park and Memorial Park, are owned and supported by the Ballenger Trust.
William S. Ballenger Sr. (1866-1951) came to Flint from Indiana, in 1888 to work with the Flint Wagon Works as a stenographer and bookkeeper. Later, he was one of the five individuals who organized the Buick Motor Company and brought it to Flint in 1905. Over the years he served a secretary and/or treasurer of Buick, Chevrolet, the Little Motor Car Company and Flint Wagon Works. He played a major role in the formation of General Motors.
He later served as Chairman of the Board for Citizens Commercial and Savings Bank—what is now Huntington Bank, Genesee County Savings Bank and the First National Bank. When he retired in 1926, and turned his interests towards philanthropy, he gave major support to what is now Mott Community College and McLaren Health Care Corporation. He also served as a member of the Flint Board of Education for six years.
Both Ballenger Highway and the Ballenger Field House at Mott Community College are named in his honor. The Ballenger Trust, created in the 1920s provided funds for Flint’s new development plans, which later included Ballenger Park and Memorial Park. On his death on 1951 the trust bequeathed $1,700,000 towards public welfare projects.
The dedication program included various family activities, tents where visitors could share their memories of Ballenger Park, tables for Genesee Health System, Community Mental Health, the Crim Foundation, Communities First, Inc., Huntington Bank, Applewood, and a newly formed Friends of Ballenger Park group. Food trucks, music and games were also part of the celebration.
Kettering University provided displays of some historical documents and photos on the life and impact of William S. Ballenger III. As part of the afternoon activities a “park walk” invited visitors to take in much of the park’s happenings and beauty.
An hour later, after the unveiling of the full-sized statue at Ballenger Park a similar presentation of a bust of Ballenger was held at Memorial Park, just west of downtown Flint.
EVM staff writer and political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.