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Interview with William (Bill) Ball, February 18, 2002 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with William (Bill) Ball, February 18, 2002
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February 18, 2002
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Interviewee:  Ball, William (Bill) Interviewer:  Billeaud, Rhonda Date of Interview:  2/18/2002 Series:  Southeast North Carolina (SENC) Length

 

Billeaud: The interviewers are Rhonda Billeaud and Harry Warren.

Billeaud: To start, I need you to please state your name and address where you’re at, where this interview is taking place, as well as today’s date.

Ball: Well, my name is William Ball. Everybody knows me as Bill. And uhh, my address is 274 Hillcrest Lane, Whiteville, North Carolina and today’s date is the 18th of February 2002. We’re in the forestry museum in Whiteville, sort of new place, first place I ever borrowed money in Whiteville, it wasn’t here then.

Warren: We can still offer you a good deal on a mortgage (laughter).

Billeaud: Wow, how long have you been in Columbus County? Are you originally from here?

Ball: No, we came here from Goldsboro and we came here in 1970. And we first lived in a place called Iron Hill. We lived there approximately a year and then we built a house in the Hillcrest subdivision here in Whiteville. We moved in there in early ’71.

Billeaud: What was your first forestry related job?

Ball: Well actually when I got out of NC State University in 1961, I went with the State Division of Forestry in Virginia. I was working for the state forestry organization just like we have state forestry organization here. And I don’t know if you want to know anymore about it. I stayed there about four and a half months or something like that and I got what to me was a better offer and I got a job with the U.S. Forest Service.

Then I got a better offer and so I went with let’s see, I’m having a mind blank, Armstrong Corp. Company. Now they call themselves Armstrong now. They made ceilings, probably didn't make this one, but they made acoustical ceilings like this. That’s mainly what the wood and stuff we were managing went for. A lot of the wood that went into those was a real light fiber wood and it collected sound real well. That was in Georgia.

Billeaud: See you were worried about answering too much and that was my next question, was how many jobs have you had related to forestry?

Ball: Well I had those three up until I came, well four until I got here so this made the fifth, Southeastern Community College. I left them in ’66 down in Georgia, Armstrong, and came to the college over in Goldsboro, Wayne Community College. It might have been Wayne Tech back then, I’m not sure cause a lot of them started out as technical institutes. Its Wayne Community College now, and I helped another forester begin the first forest technology program in the state of North Carolina. His name was Reed Folsom. He was a fine fellow.

Billeaud: All together how many years would you say you dedicated in your life to forestry or forest related?

Ball: Including school?

Billeaud: Well I’d count school too.

Ball: Well from ’56 to ’93, whatever that comes out to, about 7 years, something like that.

Billeaud: Well thinking back do you know or do you remember what it was that burned in you to make you choose forestry as your career?

Ball: I guess not really, but I grew up in the country. And early on I was interested in bugs and snakes and all sorts of stuff, but I got drafted in 1953 and went into the Army. I stayed in there for three years and decided I wanted to go to college and my brother who is 12 years older than I am, he was in electronics and so I went to N.C. State in electrical engineering simply for that reason and hated every day of it from the time I got into it until I got out.

So I took a series of tests and I give a lot of credit to the counseling center and NC State. It showed all my interest involving the outside and nature and that kind of stuff. Then it was interesting that the person talking to me said actually you’re rating pretty high in convincing people. He said you might like to teach and I said no, wouldn’t like to teach. So anyway that’s why I went into forestry and I really loved it, did well in it and came out and told you that story already.

Billeaud: And you ended up retiring from doing what?

Ball: I was an instructor at Southeastern Community College in charge of the forest technology program there. But actually I spent the first six years here as a dean. I’ll have to be honest. It was a good job. It thrilled me to be a dean, but I really wanted to get back to the classroom so in 1976 when I got an opportunity, that’s what I did. I went back to the classroom and headed up the forestry program and really enjoyed teaching.

Billeaud: I’m going to ask you another story. Can you think back, it can be forestry related, it can be bad or it can be funny, but can you think of a story that sticks out in your head that you just remember the most concerning forestry? A little job related to forestry? Or how about some interesting people. Can you think of any that have stuck out that you encountered?

Ball: Of course one of them that I mentioned earlier when we were just in conversation, Mr. Little, the older man that lived out on Black River. He was really interesting to me. I stopped by to see him. By my parents I was raised in Burgaw and so when I traveled back and forth to Burgaw, I’d always try to stop by him and talk with him a while. He was a very interesting man. He’d been involved in early logging and he died in about ’94 or ’95, something like that. But umm…

I guess the most interesting times concerning forestry for me was really when I took students on trips and stuff. I was fortunate enough with the forestry club once to take them to California and we got to see the giant redwood trees. That was something for me and them too because when you walk up to a tree that’s over 30 feet through and four and a half feet off the ground, that’s where we measure them, most of them, at four and a half feet off the ground, and it’s over 30 feet through. It’s like walking up to a wall.

That’s what the General Sherman tree looks like, a wall. Walk up to it big, visualize is hard. There are a lot of other large trees there too. The tallest tree that I know about, didn't get to see it, is a different kind of redwood tree. It’s called a redwood tree. The others are called sequoias which is the scientific name for redwood trees. If you cut it down at one goalpost, it would fall across the other goalpost and go beyond it several feet so you can just imagine how tall the tree is, over 300 feet tall.

Billeaud: I’ve seen pictures where you can drive an automobile through one. I think.

Ball: There was one out there like that. There was one.

Billeaud: Well what kind of changes would you say that you’ve seen from when you first started in the forestry field to today, the modern times? Have you seen many changes?

Ball: Yeah, there have been a lot. One of the reasons why I was asked to come to Wayne Community College was to start a forest technology program. The reason for that was that the professional foresters who were four year graduates from a place like NC State University were getting more and more involved in stuff that had to be done inside, office stuff, and beginning to work with computers a little bit.

So they needed people who were trained to do work in and around the woods sort of like the older foresters had been trained. So we saw a need we thought for people trained as technicians who would have less training, but they’d have a lot of on the ground training and in the woods training, working around loggers and planting trees and taking care of diseases in the woods and so forth.

So we started the forest technology program at Wayne Community College. We were really successful with it. I stayed there from ’66 until ’70 when I came here. And like I said, the reason I came here was because it was sort of a promotion within the North Carolina Community College system. I came here in administration, did that for about five or six years. Went back into teaching because that’s where my heart was.

Billeaud: Any regrets?

Ball: Oh no, smartest move I have ever made in my life. I just really love students. They made my day. I can’t ever remember a day when I went to work that I thought, gosh, I wish I wasn’t doing this. I taught more than just forestry. I was lucky enough somewhere along the way to meet someone from the North Carolina Outward Bound school which is outside of Morganton.

I got involved in that. It was established in this state and I went through repelling and rock climbing courses and stuff like that and sort of got trained to do it and to enjoy it. On weekends, I would teach stuff like repelling and rock climbing here if people wanted to go.

I’ll tell you one sort of interesting story I think. We had more than just young people going on these trips. We had one lady once, she was a black lady, a very sweet lady and she came to me and said, “Mr. Ball, I need to talk with you”. I was in my office and the thoughts went through my mind that she’s the mother of somebody and she doesn’t think I’m treating them fairly or something like that. I didn't know what she was going to say.

She said, “Mr. Ball, I’m 56 years old. I’m a lady. I want to repelling” (laughter). I said to her I think thats wonderful. But anyway she went and she went through all the preliminaries and learning how to do it and all that. When she got on the edge of the cliff which was about probably 85 feet straight down, I had the safety rope on her of course. I had a safety rope around me and I had a hold of her safety rope so she was safe.

We put her repelling gear on and all that. She got ready to repel and she said, “Mr. Ball, can I say a little prayer”. I said sure so we both bowed our heads and she said a prayer and said I’m ready with a big smile and she went. She really enjoyed that.

Billeaud: I can understand that repelling. You do want to say a little prayer before you go down (laughter). Do you still see forestry as a good job career opportunity in today’s standards?

Ball: Yes, it has to, I don’t really know the salary situation of forest technicians now. Forestry has to be one of those jobs, I’m going to be honest with you about the way I feel, it has to be one of those jobs that you just plain want to do. I don’t think most people go into forestry because they think they’re going to get rich. Some of them make a good living, but I think if they want to do that they’d probably go into some other field. If you’re a person that likes the outside and you like nature, it might be something people would be interested in.

Warren: But it’s hard work, I mean even today with all the machinery.

Warren: It’s still hard work unless you’re up at the executive end of it I guess or something.

Ball: It is and there’s time when people have to do a lot of walking. They have to be in and around mosquitoes and such as that, tics, but you get used to all that, and snakes. That’s another thing I did. A lot of people know me as a snake man in this county because I used to schools and talked about snakes because I felt snakes were another thing provided by nature and should be preserved.

Now I understand it’s against the law in most places to even kill a rattlesnake because they’re just beginning to die out. Everything has a purpose the way I see it. You just don’t want them to get a hold of your toe.

Warren: We used to have plenty of rattlesnakes in this area many years ago.

Ball: Yeah, we did.

Warren: I still don’t think you have to work too hard to find a water moccasin around here.

Ball: No, I could go find a water moccasin except it’s cold weather now, but in summertime you can find one of them easily. If you went to look for a rattlesnake, you might look several days before you find one.

Warren: Now you said you came here in 1970, that was your first time here? You had already started the forestry school in Goldsboro. The forestry school when you arrived at Southeastern was already established.

Ball: No, I started here too.

Warren: Oh really. Well could you tell us a little bit about how you went about that doing that?

Ball: Well when we started the one at Wayne Community College in ’66, at that time we were the only one in the state. Then there were a couple of others that sprang up in them six years. One was in the mountains up next to Waynesville and another one is up the coast, I can’t remember the name, up there around Elizabethtown and Elizabeth City, up that way somewhere.

So I had an opportunity to apply for an administrative job here and I was the right age to where it sounded like the very thing I wanted to do. And it did make me feel real good, you know, that I got it. So I had been here at Southeastern Community College only a short period of time when I guess everybody was interested in the school and all that had known what I did at Wayne and the program there had been very successful. It had over a hundred students in it when I left.

At that time we were thinking of programs that could grow and help the college grow and all that. So I was asked if I could start a forestry program here. And so we started out by calling it I think forest recreation I believe is what we called it. Then later on, it kind of broke into two programs or maybe recreation was already here then. I’m not absolutely sure.

Warren: Was there a lot of interest as far as the students go initially?

Ball: It was pretty good.

Warren: From the get go.

Ball: Yeah, we probably started out with 25 to 30 students and it grew and when I retired from there, I think it was running first and second year students. It was a two year program. I think it was running in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 students, something like that. I don’t know what it’s doing now. I would imagine it’s still successful though.

Our graduates went to work everywhere. There was probably more of a need in a way back then and maybe there is now because we’ve had so many of these schools start all over the country, so the need has been filled to a great extent. Then too since there were no forest technicians to speak of then…we weren’t the first forestry technician school in the United States, the ranger school down in Florida and one in New York state and so forth were ahead of us.

There was a pretty big need for people that were educated in the woods manner you might say. So when I was teaching students, I spent a lot of time in the woods and I liked it.

Warren: You recruited the first faculty then besides yourself. I mean are some of those folks still teaching?

Ball: Well one that I recruited was a fellow, his last name was Brown, and at the time that he started teaching forestry and then we had another guy who was teaching some in forestry, but mainly in recreation and that was Al Phillips that you may know.

Warren: Yes, he’s on our board.

Ball: And then I would teach some little courses myself even though I was still in administration. Buy anyway Brown, when he decided to leave, that’s when I decided to see if I could get back in education. So that’s how all that worked out. He came to me one day and said, “Mr. Ball, you know I’ve always wanted to work out west. I’ve got an opportunity and I’m planning to take it”.

So I went right straight and talked to my wife. I said I would like to get back in teaching. She said well whatever you wanted to do was fine with me. And it worked out and I got back in. So I went in and headed up the forestry program then and spent most of my time teaching forestry. Like I said, I taught some other things too like these weekend courses, repelling stuff and I taught some recreation courses too along with the others.

Warren: Have forestry students changed? Do you see any change in the kind of person who decides to go into forestry today or when you finished teaching youngsters? I’m sure you still have quite a few contacts with the student body over there as opposed to when you first started in academics?

Ball: Well I think so. I think there’s probably a change in people that are going to be professional foresters and technicians also. I think that they’re having to learn a lot more stuff about computers and stuff that’s going to keep them inside. Even technicians now. So I guess in my mind I don’t see them as people that like to stay in the woods quite as much as they used to.

I had students early along myself that could hardly sit still in a classroom. I had a lady once to say, she said, “Bill, I like your forestry students, but they’re the most wiggling bunch of people I’ve ever seen. It just seems like they can’t sit still in the classroom”. I won’t say her name, but I said, “Probably if you went with us on one of our trips in the woods and when they sit down on logs and so forth and mosquitoes and tics and occasionally a water moccasin and all that, you might find it difficult to sit still”. It’s the reverse, that’s where they want to be. They don’t want to be in the classroom.

But I think there’s been a little bit of shift toward maybe people who feel more comfortable in a classroom, maybe not wanting to stay in the woods quite as much although they must still like it or wouldn’t get into forestry. I think everything is going that way, more computers, more ways of doing things.

I always told my students that the day would come when they would have something like helicopters or platforms or something like that where they could go around over top the trees and land whenever they wanted to and they wouldn’t have to take these hour long walks sometimes just to get to where they want to go.

Warren: Any former students that stand out in your mind or that have gone on to bigger and better things in the world of forestry.

Ball: Yeah, there are several of them. I had one student that came to me and I guess maybe he had a pretty rough life not because of his family, just because he wanted it that way. He was sort of wild. I wondered you know if he’d even get through the program, but he did. Now he’s really high up in one of the private companies in this area especially for his education as a two year graduate. He’s in demand which is really good. I mean usually you don’t think technicians getting into management, but he’s done really good.

I’ve had other students that went back to NC State. One of them called me a few years ago and he was a Ph.D. I did 15 hours towards a Ph.D. and I quit. I just didn't feel like it was worth it to me with my family and go that route all the way. Anyway he wanted to tell me he was a Ph.D. so you see them going all ways.

There’s a lot of them that don’t work in forestry either. You know they’ve gone other routes. Got one that I believe is still with the nursery, may own the nursery now in the Wilmington area. When he graduated, that’s what he wanted to do because in forestry you learn, you take a lot of science courses dealing…like botany for instance that deals with plants. You take a lot of plant disease and insect courses. So you learn about those and how to control them, the chemicals used and so forth and the good things and bad things about chemicals. They go all different ways.

Warren: Was there a, or could you profile a type of person that might go into forestry? You mentioned the fellow that was a little rambunctious. Would that be typical? I mean I think of foresters as being very independent kind of people. Is there some type of profile in very general terms you could tack onto who might want to be a forester?

Ball: Well I think like I’ve said already it’s probably going to be a person that as they were growing up, they had a love for the outside. They probably didn't worry if they got their feet wet. They probably could take the cold, mosquitoes and that kind of stuff didn't worry them all that much. I imagine you could say they were sort of independent because of the type of living.

They might be people that like to hunt and fish. I think all these are indications that a person might like forestry. I can remember one guy that I got in forestry. I think it was at Wayne Community College. Shortly after he was in the program, he told me, he said, “Mr. Ball, I hate to say this, but I really do not like forestry.” He said, “The only reason I’m in it because my father wants me in it”.

I think his father was a consulting forester or something like it. He said he did not like it, but he finished the program and did I think pretty good the whole time. He’d been out a couple of years, something like that, and I heard from him again and he was full time in music and that’s what he told me while he was in school. He really wanted to be in music and so you see it goes that way too.

It’s sort of like me. The only reason I went into electrical engineering at NC State was because I heard my father tell people about my brother, and my brother this and my brother that, you know. So I said well I guess in my mind I felt like I did something as good as my brother. He was in electronics. He had been trained in the military to do that . So I decided to go into electrical engineering and like I said, I just really didn't like it and I couldn’t see myself being in an office somewhere most of the time figuring out how many kalongs of electricity it would take to run a building or a city or something.

Billeaud: How about any female students? Any stand out?

Ball: More and more females are going into forestry and I can not remember their names and may not want to say their names anyway, but yeah, I know several students that stand out. In fact, one of them over less than a comfortable situation, I saw just a while back and that was at a funeral.

This girl came to me and she said, “Mr. Ball, I want you to know that me and my husband own 20 some acres of land” and she says “I’ve got some Liriodendron tulipifera and I’ve got some Panestia” and all these trees, she as naming off scientific names. I said “Now you weren’t supposed to remember this”. She kind of laughed and said she wasn’t in forestry, but she still enjoyed what we learned. She did work in forestry for a while.

But there’s been several and we never could get as many girls as we really wanted into the program because it’s kind of like we never could get as many guys into nursing at Southeastern as we needed. You know people still saw that as more of a female type thing and they saw forestry is more of a male type thing.

Warren: When you started teaching, were there any females at all entering the profession or is that something that’s come about in the last 20 years or so.

Ball: They begin to come in one or two at a time later on. In the beginning, I don’t think in the first class there were any. Now in recreation, there were some. We’d see more females in that. These folks were trained primarily to go on and work in recreation in parks of various sizes, state parks, federal parks and so forth.

But I can remember, like I say, I can’t even remember names, I had so many different students, but I can remember some girls that as far as grades and what they knew about forestry and some of them went onto go to work and did really well. A lot of them outdid the guys when it came to grades and knowing what was in the courses.

I had one little girl about this tall, she wasn’t really that big. She went to California and worked two or three years. She wanted to come back home. I think eventually she got married and got into the family and I think got out of forestry, but I’m not absolutely sure about her either.

Now I’ll tell you about one other interesting thing to me was it’s been a couple of years ago, I saw this Cadillac drive up in front of our house and it had a big set of these chow horns on it, you know, longer than the car is wide mounted on the front hood. This guy started getting out of the car, had on a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and all that. I recognized him and he was one of my past students and he was working in Texas somewhere and so he came by to see Mr. Ball (laughter). A lot of them have over the years.

Warren: Still in touch.

Ball: And I always appreciate it. Several of them have asked me if we shouldn’t try to have some type of get together sometime you know, but we never have.

Warren: Perfect place right here at the forestry museum, really I’m serious.

Ball: Yes, it probably would be.

Warren: Rhonda, I’ve slipped in here and dominated it too much. You get back in here on your track.

Billeaud: Well I do know one of your students and I think she did have to leave the program because she was expecting a baby, but she went back 20 years later because she’s still out there now. She told me that she messed up and had to raise her family and everything. Her daughter was like 18 years old and she went right back to school.

Ball: So she’s out there now.

Billeaud: She is out there now.

Ball: Well I’ll have to go out and find out who she is.

Billeaud: If you could do your life over again, what would you do or who would you be?

Ball: You know I have felt so lucky in my life and it seems like every time I stepped out of one job, I ended up in another position. I was younger of course, but I probably wouldn’t be as brave as I was then. I wouldn’t change a thing, I really wouldn’t. I have enjoyed my life so much, just wouldn’t change a thing.

Even the time I spent in administration, I think it was just a growing period for me and it made me love everybody at Southeastern more. When I got back in to teaching, it was just putting icing on the cake so to speak for me.

Billeaud: I’ve always heard the horror stories about getting lost in the woods. Now when you took your kids out there to some of those overnight camping trips, did you ever have any experiences like that?

Ball: Well no, we never really got lost. Anytime I was going to be in a strange woods and it was big, I’d always have a compass and I’d always know in my mind which way we needed to go to hit the first road. When I was taking students hiking on the Appalachian Trail and places like that, I always had a map of the area in case of an emergency or something and a compass. I always knew which way I could go to hit a road the fastest.

Sometimes we would be within probably a quarter of a mile of a road. The students didn't know it. They’d think they were in total wilderness that would take you days to walk out, but now of course I guess most people hiking have telephones with them and everything. We didn't have them then because portable telephones, they weren’t around then.

I always tried to do the best I could at knowing in case of an emergency how to get us out. We were lucky, we just had a few students who got sick over the years, but not many. We’d have to find a quick way out. Very lucky.

Billeaud: No accidents?

Ball: Minor ones really. Over the years I took maybe a couple of students to the emergency room in various places because they fell and hit a rock or something, cut their leg or something like that. On all the repelling trips, the only thing I ever got was skinned knuckles and so forth.

Warren: Any snake bites or spider bites or anything poisonous like that other then, besides mere tics and chiggers and things?

Ball: No, no snake bites. I know one time out at Lake Waccamaw we had been walking in the woods behind the dam. Have you been out there?

Billeaud: Yes.

Ball: Ok, that’s pretty big woods back in there, but it’s really a nice place to go walking. Now it’s not as great because after the hurricanes we had, it blew down a lot of trees in there so it’s not as open as it used to be. Anyway I had 25 students in there one day and I was coming back out. We were coming, approaching the dam and all of us had walked by this coiled up rattlesnake that ended up being six feet long. I think it was the last couple of students that asked if I had seen the snake and I said no.

They sort of followed me in a line when we were coming out of a place like that. All of us walked by, it was the spring of the year. He was just laying there and we probably passed as close as from here to the camera. He laid right there. Then I had a lady one time, I had a group of husbands and wives on a repelling trip and we went to Uwharrie Forest up near Troy.

This lady came down, she told her husband, she said “I just stepped on a rattlesnake. He said, “No, you didn't”. She said, “I’m telling you”, I thought she was going to whip him. Anyway I heard him so I asked where it was. She took me up a little hill and sure enough there was a little rattlesnake about two or three feet long I guess coiled up. She said she stepped right on it, but there again, he was cold. Snakes just don’t try to seek people out anyway. If you pick at them and probably if someone else came along right after she stepped on it, then the snake might have been alert then, might have bitten that person.

Warren: That’s exactly what a logger who we had in here, Mike Gillan I told you about, I asked him about snakes and he said they never bothered him in all those years because they got away when you started going out there and making noise and clearing the woods. He said that if you left a pile of wood out there and came back a year or two later, then maybe.

You’ve been throughout the throughout the forest in North Carolina it sounds like. You’ve walked a lot of North Carolina parks.

Ball: From Manteo to Murphy.

Warren: No kidding. Do you have a favorite forest or could you tell us something about your experience with the totality of North Carolina forests? How have they changed?

Ball: Well I have to tell you what I think is an interesting story first before I tell you that because they have been in constant change over the years. I was at an overlook once in the mountains of North Carolina there. A man was there at the time who was about your age and he had mainly women around him.

Warren: As men my age like to have, yes (laughter). Please edit this from the tape.

Ball: You could see woods as far as you could see. Most of the trees in there, the woods probably ranged from 20 feet up to some of them 60 feet tall and all that . It was a well established forest. He said, “Now look out here. See those trees. It’s always been that way.” Trying to make them feel like preservation and everything, it’s always been this grand forest down there. I had to hold my tongue because that whole area had been clear-cut at one time.

Of course most people don’t like clear-cutting because it changes the looks of a place drastically. Of course in the mountains and places it can even cause erosion to occur and not nearly as much of it is done and not in the same forms as it used to be done. It’s cut more in designs and such especially up in the mountains and such so it doesn’t look as bad. Try to do it places where it won’t allow erosion to occur and that kind of stuff.

Anyway in talking about the forest in North Carolina, though we had to do an internship when I was at NC State and another company that I worked for was West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company that I didn't mention earlier, they owned land around Manteo, Manteo where the lost colony play is and so forth and Roanoke Island there and Deer County and such. I worked a whole summer for them and that was an experience because I was in research there with them.

There were places where we’d go take soil samples and such as that you know. There were areas of land that you could walk around on, but when you get down about three feet, it would be water. So we’d take samples and so forth and finally the thing we were taking to make a whole in the ground would just almost go out of sight.

There was a tractor once that was out there fighting a fire or something on some of this same kind of land, but it was thicker than that before it was water and it broke through in one place and all that was sticking out was part of an exhaust pipe. It took them a long time, I think over a month, to finally get that tractor out of there.

It seemed like a lot of what we did there was measure trees, see if they were growing and stuff like that. It seemed like some of them were going backwards almost instead of growing. In other words when they would add weight, the whole system would sink more. Well anyway, that was interesting.

Some of the most beautiful forestry land I think is in the mountains. Around Murphy for instance, Joyce Kilmer National Park or whatever it’s called, it has an area there that they say has never been logged. It’s got some giant trees there in North Carolina. Of course one of the biggest trees in North Carolina is right here in our county too.

Warren: Where is that?

Ball: I don’t know if you know it or not, but on 701 just beyond my house, 701N.

Warren: Is it the one you can see from the road that’s way on the other side of the field?

Ball: Yeah, you can see it now. You couldn’t see it before they logged. There were two trees there. One was hollow and I’ve had 25 students and myself inside that tree.

Warren: Really?

Ball: Now we were kind of cramped, but they all wanted to see if they could get in there and they did.

Warren: Did you get a picture of that?

Ball: Probably there’s one around the college somewhere of us looking out maybe and one taking a picture.

Warren: That tree was felled you say?

Ball: Those trees we figured must be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2000 years old. It might have been 1500. We couldn’t tell for sure because they were hollow. So we were going on measurements that we had taken from the outside in a thickness of about that much, you know, because the rest of it was gone on the inside. So they probably from 1500 to 2000 years old. I think a tree standing there all that length of time and it was still alive and then a storm came through and blew one of them, kind of hurt it up some and then a little later it fell.

Warren: Cyprus trees.

Ball: Bald cyprus.

Warren: Do you think Kilmer Forest is probably one of the best preserved forests?

Ball: That I know of in North Carolina, yeah. It’s a place close to Robinsville. That’s the closest town to it I think. It’s a place that anybody that’s interested in the forest and outdoorsy places, it would be an interesting place for them to go see. They have trails of course. Most of the really largest trees there are yellow poplar. Some of them are as big as from here to you about 8 feet through.

Billeaud: You mentioned tulip poplar twice. Which is your favorite tree, I know you’ve got to have one favorite, one favorite and why?

Ball: I hope I don’t hurt the feelings of anybody here because the favorite commercial tree here is loblolly pine. My favorite tree probably is tulip poplar and that’s the tree to look at. There are several different reasons. One thing is it’s an elegant tree, it prunes well and the trunk just goes slick and smooth looking with age and they get big. They also have a beautiful flower on them that most people don’t even know about cause they don’t start producing this flower until it’s on up in age, maybe 20-30 years old that you would notice them. It produces a flower that’s a tulip looking flower. It’s a combination of oranges and yellows. It’s kind of variegated, beautiful flower. It’s a member of the large family trees too, a lot of different trees in that family.

Billeaud: I just have one more question, then that’s it for me. If you had some students here that were going into forestry, what words of wisdom would you give to them?

Ball: Well I used to do this a lot when I would visit schools in this area primarily. I would tell them to think seriously about it. Think about if they had free time on their hands, would they rather go in a room somewhere and work a computer and be inside or would they rather go outside and just roam around maybe in a forest somewhere if they had a good one to go into.

If it was clear cut which they rather do, then that’s telling them something about themselves right then because if a person, like I said earlier, if a person just does not like the forest and doesn’t feel like they can stand the heat and insects and all that, then maybe they better look in another direction.

But, there again too, having said that, like I’ve said also that forestry is changing and more and more people are spending more and more time inside now. They use a lot of different techniques for sampling the woods now. It used to all have to be done by hand and now you can…cruising timber is a term that used to be used a lot and it’s called different things now. It meant determining the amount of volume of wood that’s in a forest. You would need to do that for tax purposes and for sale purposes too if you were going to sell the timber.

It used to all be done manually. People had to go out and do it right on the land. Now aerial photographs up to date, aerial photographs are used more and more now. You can use computers and all that, you can cruise timber in areas now without even going to the woods. I wouldn’t recommend it over large areas without going in and at least doing some spot cruising now, back up your data. More and more is being done from the inside now from airplanes and helicopters in some cases.

And there’s… One of the things that makes forestry interesting and I tell a potential student this too, there are a lot of different things you do in forestry, you might work a whole week and not do the same thing. You might fight a fire one day which doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d be beating at a fire, but using tractors and chemicals. Chemicals put out by aircraft and all that, fight to control a fire. The next day you might be going out to an area where you know you’ve got an insect infestation.

Figure out the size of it, how much potential loss you’re going to have out there and what you’re going to do about it. And then if you have to salvage all those trees or cut them to save them so it’s not a total loss, then what are you going to put back there. How are you going to get it back there, going to bring it in and plant it. Are you going to let it come in naturally or whatever.

The next day you might go out because there’s a line dispute somewhere between your company property and somebody else. You may deal in surveying. So there’s just a lot of different things you do. Of course, all that means that you need to know the name of all the trees that you deal with, know the names of a whole lot of insects, a whole lot of diseases that you have to cope with.

Warren: That was part of the curriculum from the time you started teaching forestry, being able to identify flora and fauna was always part of it and I’m sure it’s part of it today. What parts of the curriculum have changed? You’re alluding to a lot of it right now, like you’re saying, like cruising has changed a whole lot. Sounds like it might not be as hands on today as it used to be.

Ball: Well, I can’t really answer that in detail because I retired in ’93 and to my knowledge, it hasn’t changed a great deal. Our program here at Southeastern, it has probably gotten more heavily into computers. We had gotten into computers for the students before I left. It’s probably gotten more into that. They may not be doing quite as many hands on things, I’m not absolutely sure and I’d be afraid to say not knowing. Susan came in and she replaced me there, Susan Housman.

Warren: Are foresters still using some of the same basic tools?

Ball: Yeah, a lot of the same basic tools like if you want to call a compass a tool for instance. They still use those. They’ve got other devices now that are replacing compasses. Like when I was working in Georgia, we worked in areas of land down there where it was really large areas and you could get lost in. But, now even though I haven’t seen one, they’ve got devices that you’ve got in your pickup truck, anytime you get ready to come out to it, you can know where it’s at all the time. You can just beam right in on it and walk straight toward it.

Billeaud:

Ball: You’re probably dealing with that. This might be more of a homing device that might…like they track animals and stuff like that with collars on them. Yeah, GPS, I’m glad you mentioned that. I might mention my second son, he came through the program out here. I said after I had him, I didn't ever want to teach another one of mine (laughter). The main reason I say that is he was at the right age and everything and even though I would know that he was going to have a test the next day, he’d get in his car and leave and just be out. I couldn’t stand it you know.

Warren: Drove you crazy?

But he did alright in the program. Anyway he graduated and to my surprise he ended up going into forestry later on in his life at NC State, graduated from there and now he has a Master’s. His major field is dealing in GPS and such as that. GPS had been included in this program out here now too.

Warren: Is he still working in the state?

Ball: Yes, he works for a company out in Raleigh and he’s mainly involved with GPS and locating this and that, you know.

Warren: I want to revisit, we’re winding down here real quick, the origins of the forestry program at Southeastern since you were the one that started that. That’s probably one of the best known programs that they have out there. You find a lot of people in this state, state foresters that got their start right down the road here, southeastern. You were at Wayne Community College or technical school. Who approached you or how did that get started? Did somebody say, “Hey Bill, we’re down here in Columbus County. Can’t you come down here and tell us what we should do with our trees” or something like that, how were you approached and how did that come about.

Ball: Of course I believe you mentioned Wayne first and of course that’s in Goldsboro, Wayne Community College. I was a forester for Armstrong Corp. Company down in Georgia. Of course, I was a member of the National Society of Forestry at the time and I got a magazine. I’d always read some of the stuff in the magazine and always look at potential jobs, you know and all that. I was about 30ish at the time. I was always looking for something maybe that I’d want to do differently or go somewhere else something like that.

But anyway, I noticed in there one time, it was advertising for a forester who might be interested in coming to Wayne and helping another forester start a forest technology program. So at the time, I didn't have my Master’s. I was pretty much a woods forester down there for the company even though I had my own little district down there around Thomaston, Georgia.

So anyway, just on a whim so to speak, I decided to apply for it. Didn't really know if I’d like to teach to tell you the truth about it. I came up and applied for the job and I had a chance to be interviewed and so forth. Since I had had about five or a little bit better years of practice in forestry, we had always felt and I still feel the same way that if you’re going to teach forest technicians, that you need some experience yourself working in those kinds of jobs, you know, working around the woods and in forestry. You need more than just a college education is what I’ve always felt.

Anyway since I had that, I got the job and why, I think, I can’t remember the man’s name, but he was one of the men that had something to do with starting the community college program in North Carolina. Seems like he was, I could be wrong, but seems like he was from over around Kenansville. But anyway, it was an idea of someone like that, why don’t we start a forestry program. It wasn’t really me. But when it was determined that they’d start it, they started looking for someone to do it.

Warren: At Southeastern?

Ball: No, that was at Wayne in Goldsboro. Then I stayed there from ’66 to ’70, about four years, a little over four years maybe. Then I had a chance to apply for a dean’s job here, Dean of Occupational Education here. I came here and like I said I’d been here about two years. It might have been somebody at this college other than myself that thought maybe we ought to start a program here, I don’t know. Anyway I can’t remember exactly how it came about, but I was probably approached. Maybe it was someone on the board, maybe it was somebody already there, could have been the dean at the time.

There’s like a vice-president sort of, Walter Brown, I’m sure Walter wouldn’t mind me mentioning his name, but anyway it might have been his idea because he came here from Wayne Community College too and I knew him when I was at Wayne. He had even something to do with me coming here.

Warren: Who was president of the college?

Ball: At that time it was Dr. Cottingham. Dr. Cottingham, the first thing I ever heard of him, you look at him and you know you’re looking at a gentleman and a scholar (laughter). Anyway he went from here and went I think, I think he went to Appalachian up in Boone. I believe he stayed there until he retired. I hope he’s still living, I don’t know for sure, but he was an incredibly nice person. I thought a lot of him.

Warren: Was he supportive of starting a forestry program at Southeastern?

Ball: Oh yes, he was. I do know that on the Board of Trustees at the time there was, I can’t think of his name, there was a forester on the board that was with Federal Paper Company at the time, that’s International now, I wish I could remember his name. He might have had something to do with starting the program too or thinking that we should start it.

Warren: And they already had you in place. You’d been here a couple of years and you had the background and had started the program at Wayne, so it seemed like a natural thing. You were actually recruited here to start the program, you were recruited to be a dean.

Ball: You know it might have worked both ways. You never know what’s in the back of people’s minds. I never knew for sure. That might have been part of it, to start a program here. I just thought we were really lucky with the program too and it received a lot of respect and maybe notoriety in the whole county.

We were surrounded by woods and surrounded by forestry companies. All of them were just really nice people and I got to be friends with all of them. So their total woodland was our lab anytime we wanted. They would even set up things for us. If I needed, for instance, to show the students a burning situation like at the time it was Federal Paper Company, they’d set it up. It had to be during the burning season which is normally wintertime, they’d set it up.

If they needed to see a helicopter putting fire in the woods, that’s one of the main ways of burning big areas now, they drop out things that look like ping pong balls and they’re injected before they go out of the helicopter. When they hit the ground, they ignite so they can light a hundred acres in just a little while. It all burns up in a little while and it’s over. So they can do some really good controlled burning.

Federal Paper Company and Georgia Pacific and Canal Industries, all of them around here would work really hard with us to try to provide good labs. We used to go over to Federal Paper Company’s nursery over in Lumberton, outside of Lumberton, and they’d always have good stuff to tell our students you know about all the research they had been doing like growing trees.

As a matter of fact now with the research and all they’ve done, you can grow a loblolly pine now in the neighborhood of 15% to 25% faster than you could 30 years ago just from research. We used to have a joke I’d tell the students, I’d say when you plant these new loblolly pines, plant them and you had to jump back (laughter). They’d grow really fast.

Warren: What do you see as the single most important issue facing forestry today?

Ball: That’s a good question. I can’t tell you if I know the single most important one, but I know one that’s important and that is for forestry people, we’ve never been the best in the world at it, to be able to explain what we do, the reasons why we do it and why we think it’s good. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about forestry actually just like they have about a lot of fields.

A lot of people had the idea that foresters were people that were just interested in going and cutting trees down, you know. A lot of these people have never bothered to find out if any trees were being replanted or if the replanted trees might actually be better than the ones that were there already, but there’s a lot of people that feel like the only thing that’s better is what’s completely natural.

If we were completely natural about everything, well I’d probably be dead myself, but we’re not. So we try to improve everything and we’ve tried to improve forestry. The thing that we need to be better at in forestry is getting the word out that yeah, this is an old stand of timber out here that we own, and yes, we like to look at these trees, these stately trees even though some of them are getting disease, some are getting rot in the bottoms of them and stuff like that.

Most of them don’t put out nearly as much oxygen now as they used to into the atmosphere. Most of them don’t clean up nearly as many of pollutants out of the atmosphere as they used to. They’re older. So really the atmosphere and people and the whole natural environment would be better off if we started over in here and planted younger trees, more vigorous, wouldn’t be diseased, put a lot of oxygen in the air which we all need, clean up the air a whole lot, you know, and provide more of a lot of things.

So we need to get more of that out. Of course we’ve learned also from the public too. I remember the meeting I was at one time and we had a little lady that come up there to talk to us that could hardly see over the podium. They finally brought her something to stand on. She told us just like it was. She said, “You all see it one way and everybody else doesn’t see it your way. You need to learn from other people and you need to also try to help other people understand what you’re doing”. She was exactly right. That lady later on went into a little logging business herself.

Warren: Really (laughter).

Ball: And actually in some cases people paid her to come in and do some logging in their woods because they wanted certain trees taken out. She couldn’t have made any money off of it you know, she’d had to pay for it. She was just taking out this tree and that tree, really spotted all over. She absolutely would not tear up anything in their woods because of the equipment she used, and the skill. At times she could do it.

Warren: Was she able to make a profit by doing that? I imagined she charged probably a little bit more.

Ball: Well one other thing about this lady, her husband was a surgeon so maybe she didn't worry about it. I imagine she probably made something because like I said there were people who paid her to come to their woods to do work.

Warren: Well think that I’ve just about run out of tape here Bill. Thank you so much. Rhonda, thank you.

Ball: I’m glad to do it. Thank you for inviting me.

Warren: We appreciate it very much and I think that will do us right now.

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