Wilbur Ball, MCC’s founding president, remembered

By Lisa Elliott

McLennan Community College’s founding president, Dr. Wilbur Allen Ball, passed away after a brief illness Wednesday morning, Dec. 15. Ball served as president at MCC 1966-1988, when he retired.

Wilbur Allen Ball, Ph.D., founding president of McLennan Community College

“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,” said Dr. Johnette McKown, MCC’s current president.

Ball was born in 1928 in Berclair and graduated from Goliad High School. He served for three years in the U.S. 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 degree in education in 1952, followed by a master’s in education administration in 1953. Later, 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 1952-1953 and in Corpus Christi 1953-1955. 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.”

“A community college has to have something for everybody,” Ball said.

He 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.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email the ALW team — [email protected].