Charlie Ball has made good use of his first 89 years.
He served his country as a World War II fighter pilot. He was successful in business ventures as varied as dry cleaning, real estate and insurance. He has perfect attendance for weekly Kiwanis Club meetings after 62 years with the organization.
He and his wife of 57 years, Dora, raised two sons and have been blessed with five grandchildren.
But there’s one goal that Charlie Ball never achieved — earning his college degree.
That goal was suddenly within reach a few months ago when Ball saw a television advertisement for the Arkansas Tech University Accelerated Degree Program, which offers individuals with 60 or more transferable credit hours an opportunity to complete a bachelor’s degree within 18 months.
He made note of the telephone number in the ad and called to see what he would need to do to complete his degree.
Ball was connected with Dr. Beth Giroir, assistant professor in the Arkansas Tech College of Professional Studies.
Upon reviewing his transcripts, Giroir found that Ball had already accumulated enough hours to graduate with the Bachelor of Professional Studies degree in public relations.
Now, the 89-year old North Little Rock resident will walk with his fellow members of the Arkansas Tech Class of 2012 during a 2 p.m. commencement ceremony at John E. Tucker Coliseum in Russellville on Saturday, May 12.
“I really couldn’t believe it,” said Ball of his reaction when he learned he had earned a college degree. “I had to call Dr. Giroir a couple of times and make sure.”
Ball’s path to college graduation began 75 years ago with a newspaper route.
The Batesville Guard paid him $5 per month, and for 32 consecutive months he used every penny of those earnings to pay off a $160 trumpet from Shook Music Company in Batesville.
It turned out to be a good investment. Ball used that trumpet to earn a spot with The Continentals, a dance band at nearby Arkansas College (now Lyon College). He parlayed that experience into a music scholarship at Arkansas Tech, and in the fall of 1941 he arrived in Russellville.
Ball joined a dance band named The Techsters and took a job raising and lowering the flag outside Williamson Hall for $5 per month. If one of his dance band gigs took him out of town, he would sub-contract those duties to his roommate for 25 cents per day.
“Five dollars…that was good money back in those days,” said Ball. “Before the war in 1941, no one had any money.”
Seven decades later, Ball still knows the words to a popular school song of the day:
Sing me a song of Arkansas Tech
Her glories yet untold,
Her battles fought and victories won
Beneath the Green and Gold.
Henderson has her Reddies
Ouachita may be fine
But as for me
Just give me Arkansas Tech for mine!
Ball also has distinct memories of Tech President J.W. Hull, Dean Alfred J. Crabaugh and Raymond “Rabbit” Burnett, who was his economics instructor.
Those carefree days were interrupted in December 1941.
“I remember we were all sitting in the old armory (now known as the Stroupe Building) when (Franklin D.) Roosevelt said that Dec. 7, 1941, was a day that would live in infamy,” said Ball.
In a matter of weeks, Ball was in Texas learning how to be a fighter pilot for the U.S. Army Air Forces.
“When you’re 19 years old, there isn’t such a thing as danger,” said Ball. “You don’t know danger. You got in your fighter, said your prayer and took off. You didn’t think anything about it. I didn’t.”
Following two years of training, Ball was deployed to England in 1944. His job was to clear the way for bombers as Allied forces secured victory in the European Theater.
Ball returned to Arkansas Tech on the G.I. Bill following the war. He transferred to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville to study electrical engineering. There he returned to the dance band scene as a member of The Collegians.
“When I was young and playing in those dance bands, I was really just going to school on the side instead of the other way around,” said Ball.
He completed the course work in his major field of study, but he stopped short of graduating so that he could move to North Little Rock and join his father, Cecil, in a dry cleaning business.
Ball spent two decades in that field before transitioning to a second career as a real estate broker and insurance agent. These days he keeps himself busy by working part-time at a North Little Rock pharmacy.
Now, 71 years after he first enrolled at Arkansas Tech, he is preparing to receive his college degree.
“I think it will feel a lot like the first time I took a solo flight in an airplane,” said Ball when asked what it will be like to hold his degree. “My goodness, it’s happening.”