Don Ball, founder of Ball Homes and a major Lexington philanthropist, died Friday. He was 81.
Ball helped reshape lives in Lexington and other Central Kentucky communities in 1993 with the founding of the Hope Center, which develops programs to address the underlying causes of homelessness, including addiction.
“In countless ways, Don Ball’s vision and dedication propelled the Hope Center to grow and thrive. In fact, the Hope Center probably would have had to close its doors decades ago if not for Don Ball,” said Cecil Dunn, executive director. “His life’s work was building houses. His life’s passion and purpose were helping others – particularly those who were desperately in need of a second chance. …Don Ball was a builder of homes. He was a rebuilder of hope and a rebuilder of lives. His contributions will be felt for generations to come.”
According to Ball’s obituary, he and his wife formed a nonprofit construction firm, Barkham, through which they undertook a number of charitable construction projects that they built at cost. Among them are Virginia Place, the Hope Center for Women, Chrysalis House apartments, Shepherd’s House and the Hope Center’s dining facility and supportive housing for homeless people suffering from mental illnesses.
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With his wife, Mira, Don Ball created Ball Homes in 1959, which has built thousands of Kentucky homes, according to the company’s web site. Still a family-owned business now in the hands of the second generation, Ball Homes helped to create the neighborhoods of Masterson Station in Lexington, Brannon Oaks in Nicholasville, The Landing at Pleasant Valley in Georgetown, and Cedar Ridge and Rose Ridge in Versailles as well as many others across the area. In recent years the company expanded to Louisville and to Tennessee and is now ranked as one of the top 100 builders in the country.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted on Friday night: “Kentucky has lost a business titan, successful innovator and generous supporter of the downtrodden, especially those looking for a second chance in life... Don Ball will be missed by many…”
Don Ball was a modern day Horatio Alger. Truly the self-made man. Yet he never lost the common touch and a heart for those less fortunate.
Lexington Mayor Jim Gray
In 2016, UK awarded the Balls with honorary doctorates of humane letters for extraordinary contributions to philanthropy, human development, education, or societal well-being.
“Don Ball spent his life quietly and steadfastly committed to building and re-building foundations – foundations of hope and healing, service and faith, business and education,” University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto said in a statement. “Don, a proud UK alum, and Mira, who chaired our Board of Trustees, would never seek the spotlight of acclaim and attention. They only cared about people and getting things done on behalf of those in need and for the Commonwealth. The result is a set of enduring foundations, built in service to others.”
Rev. C.B. Akins, pastor of First Baptist Church Bracktown, said there are “no finer people than Don and Mira Ball.”
“These were folks that were community-minded at a level that few people ever are,” Akins said.
He said the couple had been strong supporters of the BMW Academy, which stands for Black Males Working.
“They were sensitive to what it meant to be of a different ethnic background,” Akins said. “They just had a unique gift of loving and caring for people.”
P.G. Peeples, president of the Urban Leage of Lexington-Fayette County, said Ball helped the organization with one of its signature activities, providing affordable housing.
“Our housing corporation has done over $30 million in housing, and he was our coach, our guide, always giving of his time, his finances and his talents,” Peeples said. “There’s probably not an affordable housing initiative that’s taken place in this community that Don Ball did not touch, that Don Ball did not help with financing or that Don Ball did not conceive the idea for.”
The two served for years together on the Kentucky Housing Corp., which Ball chaired. Peeples said that even as Ball’s health failed, he attended the Urban League’s annual dinner, even when he had to come in a wheelchair.
“Don had a permanent smile,” he said. “Don was a Trojan.”
A member of the Kentucky General Assembly in the 1960s, Don Ball also served as co-chair of the Recovery Kentucky Task Force, which established a network of 17 residential recovery centers across the Commonwealth based on the Hope Center that Ball founded.
“In public service, business, and philanthropy, Don and his wife Mira touched countless lives with their kindness and generosity,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “Although Don always put his state and country first, he was truly a founding father of the modern Republican Party of Kentucky. His talents were only matched by his passion for serving those in need, especially in Central Kentucky.”
Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers said Ball will be greatly missed. “He helped countless Kentuckians launch their careers in either business or politics, including myself.”
Don and Mira Ball were honored with many awards for their community service, including by BUILDER Magazine, which recognized him with its first Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award. In 2000, both Don and Mira Ball were honored with the Optimist Cup Award, and in 2004 with the A.B. “Happy” Chandler Foundation’s Kentuckian Award. In 2011, Don and Mira Ball were honored to be the recipients of the W.T. Young Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lexington Chamber of Commerce. This award recognizes persons who have achieved unparalleled success in business and who have also made significant other contributions to the public well-being in Lexington and the state of Kentucky.
“Don Ball was a modern day Horatio Alger. Truly the self-made man,” said Lexington Mayor Jim Gray. “Yet he never lost the common touch and a heart for those less fortunate.”
Ball Homes and the Ball family are long-time supporters of Habitat for Humanity, the Hope Center, the Alzheimer’s Association, the United Way, KET, the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society, Relay for Life, Big Brothers Big Sisters, the University of Kentucky, Junior Achievement, the Junior League Horse Show, and a host of other charity organizations and events, according to the company’s web site.
Recent philanthropic efforts include support of Hoops for Haiti and UK’s Dance Blue marathon to benefit children with cancer and their families, and UK HealthCare’s Overture to Healing Lexington Philharmonic concert benefit. In 2009, Ball Homes sponsored the first annual Ball Homes Night of Hope, a benefit for Lexington’s Hope Center.
1n 2012, co-founders Don and Mira Ball were inducted into the Home Builders Association of Lexington’s Hall of Fame in recognition of service to the state of Kentucky and the homebuilding community.
The Balls also founded Donamire Farm, a picturesque Thoroughbred horse farm in Lexington that became the site of many charity events.
Don Ball is survived by his wife, Mira; sons Ray and Mike and daughter Lisa Ball.
Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at Calvary Baptist Church, with the funeral service at 2 p.m. Milward Funeral Directors is handling arrangements.