By TOM BENTON
St. Albans Messenger Staff Writer
ST. ALBANS — Milton resident Jim Ballard was named the Rotary Club of St. Albans’ Citizen of the Year.
Rotary members and Ballard’s family convened in Franklin Lodge No. 4, St. Albans City’s Masonic Lodge, around noontime Tuesday, Nov. 13.
Those in attendance agreed Ballard’s work in the community embodies the Rotary creed of “service above self.” A few examples: Ballard’s Milton farm produces hundreds of pounds of produce for local food shelves, and he’s spent hours poring over historical records to preserve his town’s history.
Ralph Perkins, a Colchester potato farmer, said Ballard “may be my one and only hero. His stamina and dedication for any project he takes on is amazing.”
Perkins directs Tuberville, a non-profit organization growing potatoes specifically for donation. He praised Ballard’s “straightforward path to what he wants to accomplish,” be it picking 12,000 potato crops at 3 a.m. or taking a comforter from his own home to stop 700 pounds of produce from freezing en route to the food shelf.
“There is a certain uncanny way in which Jim teaches others and helps them fulfill their potential, without them seeing it coming,” Perkins said. He compared his relationship with Ballard to that of Mark Twain’s Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer.
Perkins said Ballard combines “Yankee pragmatism and Quaker humanism.”
“In Jim, I see a positive pride in doing what is right because it’s right,” Perkins said, calling Ballard’s a disappearing work ethic. “I would say, to know it still exists, one needs only to look at Jim Ballard.”
Ballard’s work with local youth is “planting seeds,” Perkins said, apologizing for the pun.
“These are seeds that they will find months or years from now when they need them,” Perkins said. “When they are searching for the way to think, not just what to think.”
Rotarian Tom Hungerford read a statement from the Milton Historical Society, of which Ballard is a member. Ballard previously served as the historical society’s president, vice president and board member at large and today is known as the town historian.
The historical society letter described Ballard as a person often found at the Milton town offices, “going through the many record books to read, organize and compile a list of those who have served the town in various capacities,” or “very thoroughly” studying 250 years of town history.
Ballard hosts workshops to educate residents on their historical resources, as well as historical society programs, recently, a history of Milton Town Meetings.
Retired Rear Adm. Warren Hamm read a letter from Ballard’s son, Edward, who said his father models “what it means to be a great citizen.”
Edward, in his letter, recalled the Ballard family’s annual road trip: “My dad made sure that we weren’t distracted by things like amusement parks or the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” Edward wrote. Instead, Ballard prioritized historic monuments, sites and battlefields.
Edward said his father was involved with nearly every local school function, organizing discussions to excite students about their civic duty.
“I will always look up to his honest and dedicated approach to life,” Edward wrote. “My dad has always been there, doing all he could to keep the traditions alive and help the community.”
Hamm himself said, “Of all the tens of thousands of people who have worked for me, this guy is one of the best that I have come across.”
The Rev. Rob Spainhour acknowledged Ballard’s work as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, an unpaid, “practically full-time” position. Ballard lovingly serves his parish, Spainhour said, and personally noted the Ballards were among the first at a memorial service for Spainhour’s daughter.
“He has been an ear for me, a confidante among ministers and a friend,” Spainhour said.
Ballard, who struggles with a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, thanked the Rotary and those who spoke.
“I just don’t know what to say,” Ballard said.
Instead, he took the time to share his revision of a famed Winston Churchill speech, which Ballard said he delivers to downtrodden students helping him harvest food.
“We will fight in the rows, we will fight in the hills — hills of cucumbers, and so forth… we will fight against the insects, the weeds. We will never, never surrender, and we will never be defeated.
“They look at me like, ‘Oh boy,’” Ballard said.