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Feb. 1, 1926 – April 11, 2014: MISSOULA – Bill Ballard will be in his garden as usual this coming summer, though this time he will not be working. He did not leave specific instructions regarding his ashes, but his family members agree that his garden is where he would have liked to end up.

Bill was born in Yakima, Wash., to Edwin and Frances Ballard. He grew up on the family orchard near Zillah, Wash., where his father grew peaches and other fruits and his mother taught music and created many fine meals on her wood cookstove. In 1942, he graduated as valedictorian from Toppenish High School. That fall, he joined siblings Bob and Dorothy (“Boodie”) at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash. (another brother, Dick, also attended Whitman). He graduated from Whitman in 1946, majoring in mathematics and chemistry.

He was accepted as a graduate student at several universities, but only the University of Chicago offered him financial help, so it was to there that he hitchhiked in 1946 (passing through Missoula for the first time) and started courses for his master’s degree, which he completed in 1947. In 1948, he began teaching at Washington State College (now University) in Pullman. In his second year of teaching there, one of his students was Howard Reinhardt, who became a lifelong friend.

In the fall of 1950, Bill returned to the University of Chicago, where he had a teaching assistantship, to begin his Ph.D. studies. While still working on his dissertation under Saunders MacLane, he met and married Massachusetts native Lee Morgan, a U. of Chicago student in the School of Social Service Administration and fellow lover of Gilbert and Sullivan. During the Korean War, Bill joined the Air Force, and worked at the Institute for Air Weapons Research in Chicago and the Armament Laboratory and Air Force Institute of Technology, both at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

1957 was a big year for Bill. He finished his dissertation, was discharged from the Air Force, and was hired by the University of Montana. Bill arrived in Missoula in the fall of 1957 with Lee and their three young children. He taught at the University of Montana from 1957 to 1987, specializing in the branches of algebra that few of us are aware exist, but pitching in to teach lower-level courses as needed. A firm believer in the power of unions, he worked hard to establish a union for the University of Montana faculty members. His courses were not easy, but former students (if they passed his courses) say he taught them a lot of mathematics, and as a bonus, he helped them improve their grammar skills.

Bill loved mathematics, but he had many other interests, some of which were hunting, fishing, birdwatching, gardening, classical music, hiking, skiing and baking. His memory was prodigious; he was known for entertaining guests with the details of such topics as the history of soap-making, the intricacies of irrigation and the variations that exist within the Vaccinium genus. It was best not to introduce a topic if you were not really interested in it!

He was also a hardworking volunteer. He spent many hours assisting United Way, the Trades and Labor Council, the Five Valleys Memorial Society, the Boy Scouts, Audubon, the Missoula County Democratic Central Committee, the Mount Jumbo Stewardship Subcommittee, the Missoula Area Economic Development Corp., the String Orchestra of the Rockies and the Five Valleys Land Trust.

Bill is survived by his wife, Lee; his sons, Tom Ballard (Katie Fleming) of Patagonia, Ariz., and Henry (Lin) Ballard of Boulder, Colo.; daughter, Martha (Russell) Thayer of Missoula; three grandchildren, Megan and Brian Ballard, and Owen Thayer; and numerous nieces and nephews and their families.

In his honor, feel free to give a donation to a charity or political candidate (liberal only, please) of your choice.

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the life of: William Ralph Ballard
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