Dr. George Ball offers heartfelt congratulations to Jonathan Walters, professor of religion, after the announcement that Walters will be recommended to the Board of Trustees as the inaugural holder of the George Hudson Ball Chair in the Humanities.
Thanks to the generosity of 533 alumni and friends, this past fiscal year a much-deserved tribute was realized: The George Hudson Ball Chair in the Humanities was established to strengthen teaching in the tradition of Dr. Ball, a humane scholar and an influential mentor.
In December 2009, Trustee John Stanton ’77 and his wife, Theresa Gillespie, came forward with an initial gift of $1 million to spearhead this effort and inspire others. An additional $747,000 in gifts and pledges promptly poured in, along with dozens of notes honoring this influential professor and student mentor. Funding for the chair was in place within six months of the announcement.
"Dr. Ball taught, advised, mentored, counseled and married thousands of Whitman students over five decades. He defined the ’Whitman Experience’ for three generations of students. It is fitting to celebrate his profound impact on Whitman students and the Whitman community by naming this chair for him," Stanton said.
President George Bridges followed up on the success of this initiative with a surprise announcement at the Sept. 1, 2010, faculty meeting: Jonathan Walters, professor of religion, will be recommended to the Board of Trustees as the inaugural holder of the Ball Chair. Walters has been a member of the Whitman faculty since 1992, earning numerous faculty honors, including the Thomas D. Howells Award for Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities, a Paul Garrett Fellowship, the Adam Dublin Award for Global Multiculturalism, the Arnold and Lois Graves Award in the Humanities, and four Perry Awards for student/faculty research.
When asked if he was truly surprised, Walters responded, "Yes, very. You can’t fake the color my face turned!" He added, "A named professorship or chair is always a great honor, but this one is especially meaningful to me because it is named for George Ball, the founder of my department and a living legend at Whitman. The great outpouring of alumni support for the chair is indicative of how beloved George is, which is a daunting legacy."
Dr. Ball’s legacy is daunting indeed. He first set foot on the Whitman campus in 1960, an ordained minister with a Ph.D. in religion from Yale University. Since then, he has taught, advised, counseled and befriended thousands of Whitman students. If you speak to alumni who graduated after 1960, many will point to the same gentle man as a confidant, father figure, moral anchor, inspiration and friend. That network of friends includes many former students hosted, housed and sponsored by George Ball and his wife, Nancy, from international students who lived in their home to those who took part in "cell group" discussions in the Ball living room. In fact, at 95 years of age, Dr. Ball maintains his office in Memorial Building, where he welcomes students, faculty and staff. Alumni returning to campus with children as prospective students or who come for reunions seek him out in droves. Dr. Ball’s influence on students and the overall ethos of Whitman earns him our admiration and gratitude.