When you see Wendell Ball walking about town wearing his Pittsburgh Steelers hat, he’s laughing, joking and encouraging everyone around him. Ball has been an important figure in the City of Roanoke for years. His impact on education and the students he has met along the way cannot be conveyed in words. He has taught generation after generation, and he says, “I enjoyed every minute of teaching.”
Ball, one of three sons born to Robert Earl Sr. and Susie Ball, was born Nov. 17, 1942. He was reared in Millers Tavern, a small community in rural Virginia near the coast. Growing up in the country, he developed a love for baseball and fishing. With two brothers and his father and he would eventually try his skills as a hunter. Ball says the goal was a squirrel – the result was an empty box of shotgun shells. “I used a whole box of shells trying to get that squirrel,” Ball says. That would be Ball’s last time hunting. He would prove to be a much better educator than hunter.
Growing up in segregated schools, Ball says the teachers he came across really cared for the students they taught. The majority of the teachers lived in the same neighborhood as their students. Ball credits seeing them grow up as the reason he never had an issue with living in the same neighborhood as many of his students. Mr. Reed (don’t remember his first name), one of his high school teachers, inspired him to enter the profession. Ball said he admired the way Reed carried himself as a man and as a teacher. Those attributes made him want to become a teacher.
With two loving strict parents, going to school and continuing his education was a must. He graduated from Central High School and attended St. Paul University for a semester. He then transferred to Norfolk State University. Attending Norfolk State would prove to be a great move for young Wendell Ball. Here he would meet his lovely wife Carolyn Hale of Roanoke. His roommate at the time, who also was from Roanoke and knew Hale, introduced the two. Their first date would be to the movies. After graduating from Norfolk State University, he would move to Roanoke.
His career began as a fourth grade teacher in Big Island. In 1968, he would begin teaching sixth grade at Westside School in Roanoke. It was in Roanoke Ball would make a name for himself over the next 21 years influence the young lives that came through Westside. Many of the students he had at Westside still talk about the impact he made on them 40 years ago. Now retired, Ball frequently volunteers at Westside Elementary School.
Wendell and Carolyn Ball were united in marriage at the home of Carolyn’s parents on Staunton Avenue. From their union was born one son, Wendell Jr. They were married for 47 years. If you know Mr. Ball, you know how much he loved and adored his wife. His granddaughter Jamyra said of her grandfather, “My Granddaddy was the best husband to my Grandma. Watching him love her, modeled for me what I want in a husband.” Jamyra recounts stories of Ball’s grocery shopping trips to Food Lion. “He did everything he could to make sure she never needed anything. If she wanted ice cream at 11 o’clock at night, he would make his third trip to Food Lion for the day just to make her happy.”
When the sixth grade became a part of the middle school curriculum, Ball, who had taught at Westside for 21 years, moved too. Doris Ennis then principal of Ruffner Middle School eagerly hired him to teach there. At Ruffner, just as at Westside, he would make a lasting impact. Many of his past students he sees today, still thank him.
“I was firm but fair,” Ball says in response to a question regarding his teaching style. Attributes, he says, his parents instilled. Ball’s son shared this recollection: “All my life I can remember people calling on him in times of need and him doing his best to accommodate them.”
When asked what he wishes his legacy to be, Ball said knowing that his students have lived a good and successful life in whatever they decide to do.
“Hundreds of people have had the pleasure of having Mr. Ball as an educator, but I am one of only a few who have the honor of calling him Granddaddy,” says Jamyra. “He puts the needs and wants of others before his own nine times out of 10 with no complaints. My friends call him the groups Granddaddy because he took them under his wing as his own from day one. He makes everyone he meets feel special within minutes. He hugs you, makes you laugh and gives you a nickname. He has a thousand nicknames in his head for his former students, my friends, his friends and family, and even at 76, he still remembers them. His memory is amazing to me. I promise, you will never meet a more genuine, caring, compassionate, loyal, hard-working, and unique man. I feel completely blessed to have the honor of calling him Granddaddy. God couldn’t have blessed me with anyone better.”