Committed beyond death

........................................................................................................................................................................................

A former New Mexico Tech math professor will be educating medical students at the University of New Mexico for the next two years.

Dr. Ralph Wayne Ball passed away on Aug. 2, 2012, at the age of 86. By his request, his body was donated to UNM’s School of Medicine, where it will remain for two years. After, the body will be cremated and returned to the family.

“He was always a teacher,” said daughter Shelly Rice. “Everything he did, he did as a teacher.”

Born Oct. 14, 1925, in Los Angeles, Ball spent much of his long life at the front of classrooms and lecture halls. Initially, he mostly taught music, not math. It was only after getting his doctorate in mathematics from New Mexico State University that math became his subject.

At first, he took that degree to Boone, N.C., and the Appalachian State Teachers College, but he, his first wife, Onetha Phelps, and his daughter moved to Socorro in 1967. Ball was offered a job by NMT’s then-President Dr. Sterling Colgate. He was to be head of the mathematics department.

“Dad thought it was quite funny that the math department — you know, algebra two was the highest class they had, so dad was instrumental in designing the program for Tech,” Rice said. “He hired the whole math department.”

Rice was 9 at the time, but she can still recall how close Ball’s department was.

“I can remember … that they did everything together,” Rice said. “If one bought a gun, they all bought a gun. If one went hunting, they all went hunting. If one bought a four-wheel drive, they all bought four-wheel drives. We’d have picnics together. It was a really close math department at Tech.”

Ball ran the department for five years and stayed at NMT for a total of 21 years. During that period, he went through a divorce and married again, this time to Eunice Lober.

As a passionate violinist, all sources report that music, not mathematics, was No. 1 in Ball’s life. At NMT, Ball also conducted the Community Orchestra and Chorus. He found time to build his own home and act in several plays, such as “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

After his time at NMT, Ball and his wife retired to Washington State. During his retired years, the couple took many cruises and saw much of the world. They sailed through the Panama Canal, saw all of Western Europe, visited places as far flung as New Zealand, Egypt, Malaysia, India, Thailand and many others.

“He had a good life,” Rice said.

Rice said it was his nature as a constant teacher that made him want to donate his body to science. Initially, she was reluctant.

“When I was younger and he said he wanted his body donated, it used to freak me out,” Rice said. “‘What do you mean, dad? What am I going to bury?’ It used to bother me. But when I found out they had a really good program there, I thought ‘Well, it’s something he wanted to do,’ and my brother agreed with me … He’ll be a fascinating specimen.”

Fascinating indeed — Ball lived with diabetes for 50 years of his life. Rice described his care for himself as diligent and very logical. At the end, he had dementia symptoms — possibly Alzheimer’s, Rice said. He was also a large man, standing at 6 feet 4 inches, weighing over 250 pounds and wearing size 14 shoes.

“We always teased him because he had this big gorilla head (with) all these brains in there,” Rice said.