Robb ’64 and Julie Sims Ball ’64
Whitman was — and is — a shared experience for Robb ’64 and Julie Sims Ball ’64.
The couple, a retired lawyer and teacher respectively, met when they were Whitman sophomores, attended many of the same classes — including Professor Bill Soper’s history of philosophy courses — formed lifetime mutual friendships and married before their senior year. They have worked as active alumni on behalf of the college and attended Family Weekend as parents of a student.
"We never left the Whitman experience," Robb said.
And they don’t plan to anytime soon.
As they look to the future, Whitman and its students will continue to be part of their lives — and their legacy. Earlier this year, they established the Robert S. and Julia Sims Ball Family Scholarship Endowment, crafting it to provide maximum flexibility to be used for need, merit, diversity or to reduce the burden of student loans.
"We both recognize that resource disparities in our society are much greater now than when we were at Whitman," Robb said. "Family resources shouldn’t be the barrier for students who are well-matched with Whitman. There is a pressing need for scholarships for students who need financial help."
They also believe in the importance of merit scholarships "for students with special skills that are important to community and culture, whether those skills be in music, science, debate or drama," Robb said.
What is it about Whitman that inspires such fierce loyalty and support from the pair?
— Robb Ball ’64
"For me, it was the very personal and fully engaged relationships with faculty," Robb said. Professors like Robert Fluno, Arnett Elliott, David Stevens and Bill Soper "made a great difference in my education. They really extended themselves to me well beyond a professional faculty-student relationship and enhanced my development as a student."
"And as a person," Julie said.
"And as a person," Robb agreed.
Essential to Julie’s Whitman experience was easy access to the faculty and their involvement in campus life. For example, "Dr. (George) Ball (no relation) and Dr. Soper coming to the dorm and having regular debates related to the meaning of life. They challenged you to think while you were sitting in the freshman lounge," she said.
Their college years were filled with activities and accolades. He was a Phi Delta Theta, was president of the Political Union and the Order of Waiilatpu, and was awarded the coveted Chester Maxey Award in political science. She was a history major, a Tri-Delt (they met at a fraternity-sorority exchange) and active in student government.
The academic rigor "really started me on the path to analytical and critical thinking, and demanded extensive writing," said Robb. "Whitman was an excellent platform for me to go to law school."
Which is where the young couple headed after graduation. "(University of California) Berkeley in 1964 was a pretty tumultuous and exhilarating place," Robb said. "Yet I felt fully prepared. My educational underpinning matched up quite well with students from excellent schools around the country. It was then that I appreciated even more the importance of a liberal arts education as preparation for graduate school and a career."
Robb earned his law degree in 1967. He co-founded the law firm of Ball Janik LLP in Portland in 1982, and he was a senior partner there until his retirement in 2004. His professional and volunteer positions have included service as director of Schnitzer Steel Industries, and as board chair for Oregon Public Broadcasting and The Nature Conservancy in Oregon.
He also served Whitman, as an overseer beginning in 1986, then as a trustee, including a term as chair from 2000 to 2002. Since 2004, he has been a trustee emeritus. That same year, the Whitman College Alumni Association honored him with the Gordon Scribner Award for distinguished service to the college. He continues to serve in volunteer roles today.
Julie found her Whitman education equally good preparation for a career in education. She earned a teaching certificate at Portland State University and taught for 15 years in Portland Public Schools. "Whitman gave me the confidence and the inquisitiveness to expand and enrich a curriculum," she said. In 1996, she earned her master’s degree in teaching at Lewis and Clark College, and supervised student teachers there.
Julie has served on the Whitman Alumni Association Board, and the boards of The Library Foundation for Multnomah County and the "I Have a Dream" Foundation-Oregon, which works to ensure all children have the opportunity to pursue higher education. Together, Robb and Julie co-sponsor 53 "I Have a Dream" students.
Retired, with their children — Jeffrey Ball and Jennifer Ball Kaden ’89 — now grown, Robb and Julie see the Whitman scholarship endowment as the continuation of their longstanding support of education, as well as their contribution toward a solution to a societal concern. Whitman graduates are well positioned to address the need for "well-developed leaders in our communities and our country," Julie said. "Whitman provides a background for a broad understanding of what is needed and how to solve problems."
"Whitman fully engages students, is intimate and nurturing, and it brings out the best in people," Robb said. "The quality of its faculty and administration prepares students for whatever the future holds."
Although Robb is proud and appreciative of his and Julie’s Whitman experiences, he sometimes envies Whitman students today.
"As terrific as some of our professors were, I’ve been close to Whitman over the years, and I know that today’s faculty are more focused on teaching and scholarship. There are tremendous opportunities for students to participate in faculty research and collaboration. The faculty are much more engaged in the intellectual life in their fields, and the curriculum is much more interdisciplinary, more global," Robb said.
"I’m enthused about providing students the opportunity to have that experience, too."
— Lana Brown