By Paul Rozycki
After unveiling statues of William S. Ballenger Sr. at Ballenger Park just a month ago, and at Memorial Park, William Ballenger III was joined by family and friends Nov. 25, as he dedicated one more remembrance of his grandfather — a bust at the Ballenger Fieldhouse on the Mott Community College campus.
In his remarks, Ballenger said that, while his grandfather was a “numbers man” and the first treasurer for Buick and Chevrolet, his life reflected several major characteristics that began with the letter ‘I’.
He was impressive, inimitable, an immigrant (from Indiana), and with a smile, Ballenger said he was an also impostor, because his grandfather wasn’t really the most senior Ballenger. There was a William Ballenger before him, who was born in 1833, who died at a very early age. The current generation is the fifth generation named William Ballenger. He said that “next to Mott, (his grandfather), was Flint’s best philanthropist.”
The event was attended by many family and friends of Bill Ballenger, as well as staff and students from the college. Mott College President Dr. Beverly Walker-Griffea and Associate Vice President Dale Weighill, introduced Ballenger and guests.
Michael Freeman, chair of the MCC board of trustees, discussed the history of the Ballenger Trust’s contributions to the college, and introduced the other members of the board.
The bust is the result of months of collaborative work between sculptors Sam Selou and Jane Trotter–the same two artists who created the recently unveiled Ballenger bust at Ballenger Park. Trotter spoke of the challenges of doing a sculpture only from from old photos of Ballenger Sr.
Though the campus is named for Flint philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott, who donated the land and funds to create the college’s current campus, the Ballenger family and the Ballenger Trust have played a major role in the growth and development of Mott College over its nearly century-long history.
William Ballenger Sr. was a member of the Flint School Board in 1919, when the decision was made to purchase the land where the college was located from the 1930s until the 1950s. The Flint Public Library is now located in that area.
Frank Manley, head of the Mott Foundation in the 1950s, said that the Ballenger Trust was “the stimulus to creating the Court Street campus,” for what was then called Flint Junior College.
When the college moved to its current location on E. Court Street in the mid-1950s, the first building was the Ballenger Fieldhouse.
Begun in 1955, the Ballenger Trust has provided funds for Ballenger Lecture series, where a long list of well-known speakers have come to campus to speak to students and the community.
Among those who have been part of the Ballenger Lecture Series have been: Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity movement in Poland, musician and civil rights activist, Harry Bellafonte, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson, rocket scientist Werner Von Braun, journalists Alistair Cooke and Peter Jennings, talk show host Geraldo Rivera, writers Alex Haley, George Plimpton, and William Buckley, humorist Art Buchwald, filmmaker Spike Lee, musicians, Dizzy Gillespie and Ramsey Lewis, and black activists, Julian Bond and Dick Gregory.
In the past, the Ballenger funds also enabled the college to hire faculty who would serve as leaders in the community and the college. When Ballenger died in 1951, he left a trust of $4 to 6 million to fund “Chairs of Learning” at the college to hire those who would be involved in community learning in the broadest sense.
The “Ballenger Chairs” facilitated the transition of the college from simply a transfer- oriented college, to a full community college offering occupational programs as well. In recent years, the Ballenger Lecture Series has honored faculty for their leadership in their areas of expertise. Susan Steiner-Bolhouse, who served as chair of the Ballenger Lecture Committee, described the “quiet strength of William Ballenger Sr.” in her presentation.
Today, the Ballenger Trust typically provides about seven percent of the college’s operating budget.
EVM Staff Writer and political commentator Paul Rozycki can be reached at email@example.com. He is a retired professor of political science at MCC.