OWOSSO — Elected officials past and present, family, friends and colleagues Monday remembered former State Rep. Dick Ball who passed away at 87 on Saturday.
Ball wore many hats; he was an optometrist, politician, teacher and soldier, among other roles.
He was first elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 2004 and re-elected in 2006 and 2008. When Ball represented the 85th district in the State House, it included all of Shiawassee County and the townships of Bath, Victor and Ovid in Clinton County.
The district now includes Shiawassee County and Brady, Brant, Chapin, Chesaning, Fremont, Jonesfield, Lakefield, Maple Grove, Marion and Richland townships in Saginaw County.
Former State Rep. Ben Glardon held the newly redistricted 85th immediately after Ball.
“He was truly a distinguished representative of his community. He was particularly well suited with his connections to the business and educational worlds,” Glardon said. What I appreciated most was his bipartisan approach.”
Representatives from both political parties spoke highly of Ball.
“We’re saddened to hear of the passing of former State Rep. Dr. Dick Ball. He was an exemplary member of our community, a decent and honorable man in his professional life as well as in his years as a public servant in the Michigan legislature,” Shiawassee County Democratic Party officials said in a statement.
According to the secretary of the Shiawassee County Republican Party, Theresa Grace, Ball helped her get her first job in politics. “It was always a wonderful experience interacting with him,” she said. “He was actually my eye doctor when I was a kid so I’ve practically known him my whole life.”
Ball’s time in the Michigan House of Representatives overlapped with that of Congressman John Moolenaar.
“Richard Ball was a leader for Shiawassee County. It was an honor to work with him in the Michigan House where he was always gracious, kind, and warm-hearted. He was a thoughtful legislator who looked for the best in others and worked to find common ground to move our state forward. He was a true gentleman and my prayers are with his family and friends today as they mourn his passing,” Moolenaar said.
The family announced it would meet with friends from 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday at Nelson-House Funeral Home in Owosso. Other arrangements have not been announced. A cause of death also was not announced.
Ball lived in rural Laingsburg with his wife, Connie. The couple had two grown sons.
A native of Owosso, Ball was the son of the late Dr. L. Paul and Nell Ball. He graduated from Owosso High School in 1950, then earned a degree in optometry from Ohio State University in 1955.
Following his service in the U.S. Army, from 1955-57, Ball returned to college, receiving a master’s degree in physiological optics from Ohio State in 1958, the same year he started practice as an optometrist in Owosso. In 1963, he completed work for a doctorate in visual psychology at Michigan State University.
Ball also worked for a time with his father at Eye Care Associates of Owosso which his father founded more than 100 years ago.
“I was always his junior partner, but then he decided to run for the legislature,” recalled Dr. Roger Seelye who became Ball’s partner in 1972. “Ball is probably one of the most honest, trustworthy individuals that I’ve ever been in contact with, he and I practiced forever without a contract — just a handshake, that says a lot about an individual,” Seelye recalled when the two marked the 100th anniversary of Ball’s father opening the business.
Besides his practice, Ball taught part-time for 41 years in the fields of physiology, visual impairment and special education at MSU. In addition, he served 16 years on the Owosso Board of Education, six of those years as president.
In his first term in the state House, Ball helped craft the new high school graduation program as a member of the education committee. And while serving as vice chairman of the Agriculture Committee, he introduced and led to passage a methane digester bill that not only helps keep the environment cleaner but also provides a supply of methane used for alternative energy electric power generation.
He then went on to serve on the Agriculture, Health Policy and Senior Health and Retirement committees.
With his medical background, Ball often crafted legislation centered around health care issues. During his time in the House, some of the things he worked on included providing health insurance coverage for children diagnosed with autism, alleviating the increasing shortage of nurses and a variety of senior health issues.
As he announced his final run for the House, Ball said, “I sincerely appreciate the support the voters of the 85th District have given me over the years. I hope they will grant me the privilege of serving them for my final two-year term. I have completed a number of projects and goals that are now state law and policy. There are a number of additional areas I would like the opportunity to work on and complete in a final term.”
Ball was known for his bipartisanship.
“I continue a strong commitment on improving bipartisan cooperation and decreasing partisan political bickering. If everyone in the House of Representatives, the Senate and the governor’s office concentrated more on working together to solve controversial issues, the Legislature would be much more efficient and productive. The voters did not elect us to play political ‘king of the mountain,’ rather to provide Michigan with sound and workable public policy,” Ball said at the time.
The current officeholder in the 85th District, Rep. Ben Frederick, had a working relationship with Ball when Frederick was mayor of Owosso.
“When I think of Dick, I think of an approach that’s all too scarce in politics now. He was a person who was slow to talk and quick to listen. He was really a statesman more than a politician. I think people appreciate the fact that he was always trying to find a compromise between groups that disagreed and we’re really going to miss that. Were going to miss his presence in the community and his approach to public service,” Frederick said.