After devoting 43 and half years of his life to elective service as a councilman and mayor, Norman Ball received thanks and best wishes Wednesday during the lions’ share of a Tunkhannock Borough Council meeting.
Present Mayor Stacy Huber, who took Ball’s third ward seat on borough council, when Ball became Mayor in 1997, said, he wished to recognize “the size, scope, significance and sheer longevity of what I and lots of others would acknowledge as Mayor Norm Ball’s unmatched contributions to our borough.”
Ball, a native of Nicholson Township, grew up in East Lemon, and graduated from Tunkhannock High School in 1953. He married, left the area to raise a family and follow work, and returned in 1966 to accept an offer to work at the new Procter & Gamble/Charmin plant in Mehoopany.
It brought him back full circle to a place he loved to call home - Tunkhannock.
On Wednesday, he apologized that his tenure wasn’t longer on council.
He said that in 1967, Arthur ‘Hap’ Place had suffered what appeared to be a heart attack, and Ball felt called to serve.
He got all of the signatures to be on the ballot to represent the third ward of the borough, and to his surprise, Place’s health had improved to the point he felt he could continue to serve, and Ball said he dropped out of the race before that spring’s primary.
“I couldn’t do that to my neighbor,” Ball said. “He was a good friend and represented us well.”
Ball didn’t have to look very far to find other ways to serve, however.
He was active in the Tunkhannock Community Ambulance Association, physically answering calls, but also serving as its treasurer when a new ambulance was procured.
When he first ran for Mayor in 1981, he had more than 15 years affiliation with the Tunkhannock Baseball Association, which he had seen grow from four Squidget teams and two Little League teams to more than 30 locally sponsored teams which he was then overseeing as Little League Commissioner.
He also worked to promote the Tunkhannock Age Group Swim Team for nearly a decade and was a past president of its boosters.
And he was also active in the Tunkhannock United Methodist Church, serving as a trustee and chair of its administrative board.
Ball looked back fondly on his first ‘official’ race for council in 1975, and particularly on the preliminaries leading up to the primary.
Asked by the election registrar if he was registering to be in the Republican primary, “as everyone does that in this town,” Ball said, “If that’s so, I’m running as a Democrat.”
And, so it was for 11 more elections.
The following January, he and Mike Hudock - who lived in the first ward - raised their right hands not just as new councilmen, but as the only Democrats on a heavily Republican council.
“It really wasn’t that big of a deal,” he smiled. “While we had our differences, it seemed that we were always able to keep our eyes on moving the community forward. Isn’t that what it’s all about?”
Ball said he had some peak experiences as Mayor, not all of his own making, but was just lucky enough to be at the top of the pecking order when good things were happening in Tunkhannock.
On Wednesday, he thanked the borough police force for being “the envy of the region” in always helping to maintain good order in the borough. “You have all been like family to me and this borough and we thank you.”
Sgt. Bob Roberts, who was just elected to become the next Wyoming County Sheriff, pointed out that although he was sworn in by Ball’s predecessor, Mayor Gary Bluhm, everyone on the present police force had been sworn in by Mayor Ball.
That string broke Wednesday, however, after Mayor Huber swore in William Shane McCall as its newest part-time borough police officer.
Current Police Chief Keith Carpenter, spoke on behalf of his whole force in extending great wishes for Ball into retirement.
Riverside Park was another of Ball’s favorite responsibilities, and while he wasn’t on Council when Hurricane Agnes hit in 1972, he had taken a substantial role in helping to develop the former waterlogged subdivision into an attractive recreational spot.
Ball also remembered more than 20 years ago tractor-trailer rigs carrying products from the mammoth Procter & Gamble plant at Mehoopany five miles away had clogged Tunkhannock’s main thoroughfares - Tioga and Bridge streets - to the point in which normal business traffic was reduced to a crawl, taking a half hour to move just a couple of miles.
“Most people were trying to avoid town,” he recalled.
He remembers vividly Joe DeMarco, chair of the borough’s bypass committee, who once described his role in making a new bypass a reality as being “a burr under people’s saddles.”
Ball joked that in addition to DeMarco, the real clincher regarding easing stress on downtown traffic seemed to come when former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, a Republican, had visited town and stayed in the legendary Prince Hotel, and seemingly heard or felt the rattle of nearly every rig coming through town.
At the bypass dedication in 2001 Lisa Baker, then an aide of Gov. Mark Schweiker and now the region’s state senator, recalled Ridge saying, “I will stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Tunkhannock to get a bypass built.”
“That was great news for all of us in Tunkhannock,” Ball said. “Sometimes you don’t know how you’re going to turn the corner on a given project, but we would take it, and certainly don’t need the credit.”
Another good boost for the borough happened when Tunkhannock itself was ravaged by a flood in 2011 which saw water from the Susquehanna River get to its highest flood stage ever.
That the area economy - and particularly the gas companies who had invested heavily in the county from 2009 forward - had money in their pockets meant that clean-up efforts were expedited in ways that other river towns in the Wyoming Valley were not so fortunate.
Ball worked feverishly after the flood to match those who needed help with services, and certainly felt no desire to take any credit.
But, of course, there were other good things happening in the borough across his tenure - a streetscape project downtown, the renaissance of the Dietrich Theater, a new library, a new fire hall, and even the Tunkhannock Little League Softball All-Stars going all the way to the World Series in 2018.
He was quoted two years ago as saying, “I wish I could take credit for it all, but the truth of the matter is that we have great groups of volunteers who know how to act when they see a need.”
“I still believe that,” Ball said. “It’s been a great ride, and I thank the community for letting my family have a part.”
Huber said that he was proud to call Ball a friend and mentor. “His steady stand at the helm was constant and unwavering. He was a great advocate, manager and teacher, respected by all.”
Ball and his wife of 65 years, Peg, still reside in the borough, and have four children: Norm Jr., who died in 1981; Patti, Debbie and Brad; as well as six grandchildren.