John S. Ballard, who led Akron as mayor during turbulent times from the mid-1960s through the 1970s, always “tried to do the right thing,” his son said.
Mr. Ballard, 89, who died Saturday night after battling Alzheimer’s disease for the past few years, showed his belief in public service in war time and in peace, John H. Ballard said.
“He was a deeply religious guy who believed in serving.”
An Akron native and graduate of West High School and the University of Akron, Mr. Ballard served as a combat infantryman and officer in Europe during World War II. After the war — his stint included time in Gen. George S. Patton’s forces — Mr. Ballard went to law school at the University of Michigan, then worked as an FBI agent in Baltimore for four years after graduation.
After returning to Akron with his family, he worked in private law practice before becoming Akron’s prosecutor.
Following unsuccessful runs for the state legislature and U.S. Senate, Mr. Ballard, a Republican, was elected Summit County prosecutor in 1956, holding the job until 1964. He won the race for mayor in 1965, taking office in 1966 and serving until 1980.
During his time in office, the city went through rubber industry strife — widespread strikes by the United Rubber Workers in 1967 and 1976 and the closing of rubber plants in the area — and racial strife with the Wooster Avenue riots in 1968.
“Every three years we had strikes,” Mr. Ballard told the Beacon Journal in its Wheels of Fortune project in 1997, referring to labor issues in the rubber industry.
While his tenure included those difficult times, he also was mayor when the Quaker Square complex opened and when the $75 million Goodyear Technical Center was announced in August 1978 in what had been Goodyear’s Plant 2 tire plant.
The Cascade Plaza project got under way a year before he was elected, and much of the work happened under his watch.
“I had a lot of admiration for John,” said James Alkire, who was appointed director of planning and urban renewal by Ballard in 1968 and served the city for 22 years.
“He was a stabilizing force during a very difficult time in the history of the city of Akron. We were losing industrial jobs and retail downtown. However, he was able to start the rejuvenation of Akron. His management style was strong but did not discourage dissent, for he wanted to understand all the issues.”
Democratic state Sen. Tom Sawyer, also a former mayor of Akron, said Mr. Ballard’s tenure as mayor happened during an “unusual” period and “the beginning of a huge transition” in the city.
He said Mr. Ballard was “like Clark Kent,” calling him a mild-mannered guy who stepped up big in challenging times.
Referring to the Wooster Avenue riots, Sawyer said Mr. Ballard “was unexpectedly called on to try to exercise political leadership that mayors in the city have not been called upon” to duplicate in recent memory.
Mr. Ballard is credited with helping to bring that turmoil to an end.
Current Mayor Don Plusquellic said “the people of Akron lost a great friend and public servant with the passing of Mayor John Ballard.”
Plusquellic first joined City Council 39 years ago, about midway through Mr. Ballard’s tenure as mayor.
“I know as well as anyone what it takes to be the long-serving mayor of a city and the problems that come with the job,” Plusquellic said Monday.
“He presided over our local government at a time of tumultuous social unrest in society and a dramatic shift of jobs in the manufacturing industries in the Midwest. Both of these movements created their own set of problems for Akron and Mayor Ballard.”
Plusquellic said he has great respect for Ballard “for his commitment to the city during these difficult times, and [I] have always respected him for his honesty.”
He also thanked Mr. Ballard for his support of various ballot issues over the years.
John H. Ballard said his father taught urban studies at the University of Akron for 15 years after he left City Hall.
“He wanted to help out and do things,” he said. “He was a humble guy. ... He was a good guy.”
Formerly married to Ruth Holden Ballard, Mr. Ballard is survived by his wife, Patricia (Whittenberger) Ballard; children Susan (Larry) Allen, Karen (Dave) Thomas, John H. (Mary Lou) Ballard, Mark (Kathy) Ballard and Ward (Karl) Ballard; 15 grandchildren; and other relatives.
Calling hours will be 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Billow Fairlawn Chapel, 85 N. Miller Ave. A private funeral will be held at a later date.
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.