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McLennan Community College’s founding president dies, remembered for accomplishments

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Posted at 9:42 AM, Dec 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-16 10:48:12-05

WACO, Texas — The founding president of McLennan Community College has died after a brief illness.

Dr. Wilbur Allen Ball, who served as MCC’s president from 1966 until his retirement in 1988, passed away Wednesday at age 93, according to a news release.

“He was the builder who laid the foundation for the college and set the vision to provide an affordable, quality education for students, while supporting the community,” current president Johnette McKown said in the release.

Born in 1928 in Berclair, Texas, Ball is survived by his wife, LaWanda Gersbach Ball, daughter Christi Lee Ball Nichols, son Jason Allen Ball, and four grandchildren. Services are pending, the release said.

[See complete news release below for more information]

By McLennan Community College

McLennan Community College’s founding president, Dr. Wilbur Allen Ball, passed away after a brief illness on Wednesday morning, Dec. 15. Ball served as president at MCC from 1966 to 1988, when he retired. “He was the builder who laid the foundation for the college and set the vision to provide an affordable, quality education for students, while supporting the community” current president Johnette McKown said.

Ball was born in 1928 in Berclair, Texas and graduated from Goliad High School. Upon graduation, he served for 3 years in the United States Army Air Corps, which earned him an affordable higher education through the G.I. Bill. In 1949, Ball enrolled at the University of Texas, earning a bachelor’s of science in education in 1952 followed by a master’s of education in administration in 1953. Later in his career, Ball was awarded a W. K. Kellogg Foundation grant and returned to the University of Texas to earn a Ph.D. in higher education administration.

After college, Ball taught high school English and Spanish in New Braunfels, Texas, from 1952 to 1953 and in Corpus Christi from 1953 to 1955. Ball started his tenure in higher education in the registrar’s office at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi and later as an assistant to the college president. He continued in higher education at Wharton County Junior College in Houston as vice president and dean until he was appointed president of the new community college in Waco, McLennan Community College.

Ball was one of 30 candidates for the new presidency at MCC. Founding board members said, “Ball had an unbridled optimism that he could hire a staff, set a curriculum, and find a location for the permanent campus within the next 9 months to open for fall classes in September 1966.” On Feb. 22, 1966, the board unanimously voted to hire Ball, who become MCC’s first president on Mar. 1, 1966, leading the college for the next 22 years. On Sept. 19, 1966, MCC opened its doors to approximately 800 students and was temporarily located in the barracks on John Connally Air Force base. Ball and the board were soon planning the permanent campus location on the former Cameron Estate in north Waco. Upon his retirement, Ball was honored at MCC with the dedication of the Wilbur A. Ball Performing Arts Center.

According to MCC’s 40th anniversary history book, ‘The board and Ball agreed to establish an open-door admissions policy and [stressed] the importance of attracting students from all races and cultural backgrounds to the new school as well as providing continuing education courses for working adults.” Ball said, “A community college has to have something for everybody.” Ball left an indelible impression upon the college and thousands of students with his leadership and vision for higher education in McLennan county.

Retired history professor, Paul Holder, said, “[I] lost a friend today, but the people of Central Texas lost even more – a powerful voice for an affordable quality education and a better life for all.”

Ball is survived by his wife, LaWanda Gersbach Ball, daughter Christi Lee Ball Nichols, son Jason Allen Ball, and four grandchildren. Services are pending.