Volume XXVII · Number 2 · Winter 1973-1974
Ball of Wellsville
--ERNEST A. PAVIOUR
In these days of general economic stress, colleges and universities which find themselves on a sound financial footing owe much to a host of dedicated, thoughtful, and generous friends. Raymond N. Ball, University of Rochester Class of 1913 -- Alumni Secretary, Treasurer, and Trustee -- was one of these to whom this University owes special gratitude. Another friend and former trustee of the University, Ernest A. Paviour, frequent contributor of articles to local publications and newspapers and one who knew Raymond Ball well, writes here of why this is so.
Captain Raymond N. Ball, U.S.A., World War I, in 1919 became executive and alumni secretary of the University of Rochester. That was the beginning of a distinguished career in education, banking, and public affairs. As a matter of fact, it was the same year that Captain Donald B. Gilchrist began his twenty years in the development of the University library.
President Rush Rhees had come to the conclusion that a strong and aggressive alumni association was a major need in the growth of the University. Events proved that he made no mistake in picking Ray Ball, U of R '13, to do the pioneer work.
The old Society of the Alumni and the Associated Alumni, with alumni paying a few bucks a year in membership fees and meeting once a year at commencement, was inadequate. Alumni could be big factors in recruiting students, raising money, and spreading the name and fame of their alma mater. College spirit -- then a recognized adjunct along with the coonskin coat -- could be more than buying a season ticket to the football games and singing about "The Fair and Famous Genesee" in front of Anderson Statue.
Things began to happen as Ball assumed his new job in 1919, which was also the year the war ended and Prohibition began. The Campus, the undergraduate weekly, established an alumni department under the editorship of Hugh A. Smith, '07, former newspaper reporter and advertising manager of Bausch and Lomb. Alphonse Sigl, '05, memorialized in Sigl Center, was another alumnus editor. Smith later was to succeed Ball as alumni secretary.
The new alumni secretary did everything but fingerprint the alumni. He made a card index of all graduates, planned a new alumni catalog, issued a war service record, and wrote to alumni secretaries of other colleges to find out what they were doing, if anything. He spoke before ten high school assemblies the first year to tell the U of R story.
Secretary Ball became manager of a successful $1,000,000 Victory Endowment campaign in 1919 to raise the salaries of the underpaid instructors. The campaign slogan was "A strong faculty makes a strong college." J. Warrant Castleman, '89 and Joseph T. Alling, '76, were chairmen respectively of the alumni and trustees divisions.
Seven years before this drive, George Eastman had changed his evaluation of higher education and had given $500,000 to a quietly conducted million dollar endowment effort. This time he threw in $100,000, and $50,000,000 more was to follow in years to come.
In his first year Ball began to lay the foundations of the present impressive, nationwide alumni-alumnae organization, demonstrated his money-raising ability, and became friendly with the University's greatest benefactor.
In August of 1919 Dr. Rhees announced a $3,500,000 gift by Eastman to build the Eastman School of Music. The following year the Kodak genius and the Rockefeller General Education Board pledged $10,000,000 for a medical school. Rochester was on the way to greatness.
Then came the big challenge. Could the Arts College continue to grow and prosper on Azariah Boody's cow pasture on University Avenue?
George W. Todd, of Protectograph fame, didn't think so. He proposed the removal of the men to a new and beautiful site on the Genesee River, so rhapsodized about in song before the days of pollution. It was the acreage near the entrance of Genesee Valley Park occupied by the Oak Hill Country Club. It was also the location of a smallpox pest house in the epidemic of 1902, known as Hope Hospital. Medical Inspector (later Health Officer) Dr. George Goler closed it, then burned it down, when a new contagious disease hospital was built on another location. One of the newest university buildings bears the name of this battler of disease, impure milk, and ratty slums.
Alumni Secretary Ball in 1923 was treasurer of the University. The University could no longer operate with a part-time treasurer recruited from trustee membership, such as Joseph T. Alling, Kingman Robins, and William B. Hale. The boy from Wellsville was now face to face with momentous decisions. He always examined both sides of a question and he began a careful scrutiny of the removal proposal. I was one of many he sought for opinions on the expansion of the University Avenue-Prince Street Campus, the University's removal to Oak Hill, or Harper Sibley's plan for locating it in Webster on Lake Ontario.
Despite the cemetery, park, railroad, and river limitations for development, the golf club land on the Genesee seemed highly desirable. With the South Campus south of the Barge Canal and the acquisitions on Mt. Hope Avenue and nearby streets, the present campus now stretches three miles.
Ray Ball was to have a big part in the approaching $10,000,000 campaign to implement the Rhees educational philosophy of coordinate colleges for men and women. Susan B. Anthony and her friends fought for admission of women to the University Avenue-Prince Street campus before 1900, and the women now, more than a quarter of a century later, are studying there in peace.
President Rhees was somewhat appalled over the size of the money drive. Here was a small college of 800 undergraduates and 2,500 alumni seeking $10,000,000, the largest amount ever sought by a university in a short campaign. Treasurer Ball had the vision of Rochester's future and the determination to get the money. He gave courage to Rush Rhees to proceed in November 1924, assuring him that the objective was in sight.
Not only did Ball step on the starter, but he had much to do with the successful campaign organization and development of the site. He was a member of the building committee along with former Mayor James G. Cutler, Edward G. Miner, and Joseph T. Alling. Forty-seven plot plans were drawn up before the architects and committee were satisfied. Ray Ball advocated early landscaping and music in the library tower. Later, the Hopeman memorial chimes furnished the music.
During construction, the old clubhouse was used by the Hopeman contractors for an operations' office. It caught on fire. Ball went out to the scene and met Public Safety Commissioner Curtis W. Barker.
Commissioner Barker said: "We are doing all we can to save the building."
"Why do that?" was Ball's reply.
The building was a total loss and the insurance companies paid $59,000. The fire might have been called a "friendly" one because the building was in the way of the development and its only suggested use was removal to another location for a faculty club.
When I was chairman of the Trustees' Nominating Committee in 1939, Trustee Ball sent me a letter suggesting the consideration of a woman for trustee membership. Some trustees were reluctant to upset precedent. In 1943, however, Mrs. C. Luther Fry, widow of a distinguished university sociologist, was the first woman elected to the board. This was in the administration of Alan Valentine, ninety-three years after the University was established. Mrs. Fry, too, was the suggestion of Ball. Strange as it may seem, there was no real pressure in those days from the women for a place on the board.
In 1952 the boy from the southern tier became chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University, succeeding M. Herbert Eisenhart. He had previously been a member of the trustees' committee which picked Alan Valentine to succeed Rhees and he was now to help find Valentine's successor. As a matter of fact, Ball himself had considerable support for the presidency as Rhees's successor in 1935.
Wellsville now rated Ball, next to oil, its finest product.
Joe Alling, trustee for forty-two years, was credited with finding Rush Rhees at Newton Theological Seminary, while thirty-five years later he, too, was a member of the committee which selected Valentine, the 33-year-old Yale master.
Soon after Cornelis Willem de Kiewiet was inaugurated in 1951, sentiment was developing among some of the trustees to support the president in another $10,000,000 removal project. It was proposed to abandon the Prince Street campus as the College for Women and provide the necessary facilities for the women at River Campus.
Ray Ball took again an active part in the money drive of 1953. He was head of the corporate committee, de Kiewiet was the man who sent the women up the river, and Ball helped finance the move. The U of R was recognizing that women and men had to study together just as they had to live together. Separate campuses, moreover, constituted expensive duplication.
I worked closely with Ray on a dozen university and civic projects. He agreed with me that the University needed a sound publicity program, not mere handouts to the papers, but stories of educational and scientific progress and achievement. The University was full of them and the press associations were anxious to get them. This was long before the establishment of a news bureau.
Rhees was wary of newspapers, and some of the medical school leaders said, "The best publicity is no publicity." They wouldn't cooperate in the early days.
As a trustee, Ball felt that board members shouldn't serve until death, but should be retired to make way for younger people with new thinking. The by-laws were changed to provide for honorary trustees, to get rid of deadwood. I was one of the first to go off the board under the new order.
The U of R has been fortunate in having top chairmen of the board this century, including Lewis P. Ross, shoe manufacturer; Dr. John P. Munn, life insurance executive, and Joseph T. Alling, wholesale paper dealer with many interests. Alling was succeeded in 1938 by Edward G. Miner, who never went to college but conversed like an LL.D. Herb Eisenhart, Princeton graduate, held down the fort while Valentine's successor was being sought. Aside from Ball, there were Joseph C. Wilson, the Xerox magician; Mercer Brugler, who started his career in the University administrative office and then grew up with the Pfaudler Company transformation into the Sybron conglomerate. Donald A. Gaudion is the present able leader in the difficult period now facing higher education.
In 1929, just before the great Depression, the Lincoln-Alliance Bank and Trust Co., the Kodak bank, needed new leadership. George Eastman, bank trustee, tremendously impressed by Treasurer Ball's handling of his gifts to the University, told Rhees that Ray was the man for the job. Using income from the $10,000,000 gift from Eastman and the General Education Board, and profit from the sale of some of the stocks, Ball built the $4,500,000 medical school, leaving the original $10,000,000 intact. Eastman liked this.
At 38, Ball was too young for a bank president in the nineteen thirties. Banking tradition meant nothing to him. He was far removed from the symbol of a frozen smile and heart of flint who came up the bank assembly line from messenger to president. He was full of new ideas for banking. He believed that banks had wide community obligations to help infant industries and keep the control of large industries in Rochester. He expected the banking personnel to get involved in community affairs.
He early expressed a belief in state-wide banking, way ahead of its start, and advocated banking research to plot a new and better course for the whole industry. He exemplified a new type of banking genius.
When Thomas H. Hawks (his wife is currently a University trustee) took the presidency of Rochester Savings Bank in 1951, he was only 35, even younger than Ball at his "matriculation." He too, believed in the bank's involvement with the city. So did U of R Trustee Elmer B. Milliman at Central Trust when he spearheaded veterans' housing, financed by the banks, following World War II. Changes in banking leadership and functions came fast after Ball's entry into local banking.
Four days after Banker Ball started to work in a small, unpretentious office off the main banking floor, the stock market crashed right in his lap -- October 29, 1929 -- the prelude to the great Depression. By 1932 the banks -- nation-wide -- were in serious trouble by the reduction in security values. Four thousand banks suspended operations.
As chairman of the second New York District of the National Credit Corporation and secretary of a special committee of the Rochester Clearing House, Banker Ball had a leading part in saving nearby weak banks, issuing scrip for currency when President Roosevelt declared the Bank Holiday, and allaying public fears. All Rochester banks survived.
In the same Depression year of 1932, Ball proved his thesis on local control of industry when he succeeded in separating Rochester Gas and Electric Corporation from Associated Gas and Electric Corporation. To do it, he had to raise $8,500,000 to refinance a mortgage bond issue. I lived with him at the University Club part of that summer, when his family was at Cape May. I was impressed with his ability to withstand great pressure, face reverses, and retain optimism.
A year later, it was the City of Rochester which was in deep trouble. It didn't have money to meet its payrolls and lacked borrowing ability. Who but Ball would come to the rescue? He had helped raise millions for the University, pulled G and E out of pawn, and now another $8,000,000 was needed to keep City Hall open.
With his characteristic energy and driving power, he worked out a plan of attack through the Clearing House.
On April 29, 1933, screaming headlines announced that Percival D. Oviatt, distinguished trial lawyer, was the new mayor of the city, and Theodore C. Briggs, sales manager of Lawyers Cooperative Publishing Company, was the new city manager. In addition, a committee of businessmen would act as advisers to the Briggs-Oviatt administration.
In return for this new set-up, the banks would furnish the necessary financing. It was the first time in municipal history that a self-appointed group virtually seized the city government without firing a shot.
Lamenting the procedure, and lack of protest, the Hearst Journal mused:
"Oh happy is the moron
He doesn't care a damn;
I wish, I were a moron
My God. Perhaps I am."
The new administration lasted from April to the end of the year. At the November election the politicians of both major parties ganged up and defeated the bankers and businessmen. But the purpose of the coup was accomplished.
In July of this year (1973), Theodore Briggs was tied up and robbed in his East Avenue apartment. The local papers gave the incident a paragraph and didn't identify the victim as a former city manager who commanded headlines forty years ago. Briggs was a director of Ball's bank. Oviatt, of the Briggs-Oviatt administration, was once president of Associated Alumni of U of R.
Just to prove that his ability to raise money didn't diminish with age, Ray Ball, as chairman of the Second District War Finance Cornmittee, sold $670,000,000 in war bonds in seven drives in the days of World War II. As a bond-selling publicity stunt in 1941, he built a bridge from the bank to the other side of Main Street.
It seems superfluous to list the numerous corporations which Ray served as director and the numerous awards given him. Of course he was a president of the Chamber of Commerce and ran Community Chest campaigns in 1947 and 1948. It was the Lincoln-Rochester Trust Company when he retired as president in 1961, having picked up a couple of banks on mergers.
At no time in his career, which ended with his death October 8, 1966, at age 75, did he lose interest in his beloved alma mater. As he was a good-sized piece of River Campus, so also was he a good-sized piece of Main Street. But he never forgot his native town, Wellsville, to which he returned from time to time for honors and meetings.