For Richard Baller ’51, the subject of history came alive when he was in the seventh grade. His teacher at the time showed young Richard that history was not just a series of dates to be memorized, but rather a narrative to be understood. “That’s the secret to history,” he remembered. Richard, a lifelong Staten Islander, was inspired by his teacher, and when it came time to select a major at Wagner College, he chose history. After graduating he became a revered history teacher on Staten Island, retiring from Tottenville High School in 1991. Richard, however, never retired from his love of learning.
At Wagner during the post-war period of 1947-1951, Richard was challenged and fascinated by classes taught by “walking encyclopedias” like Professor Francis Fry Wayland and Professor Bertram Maxwell. He also admired the veteran students, whose maturity elevated the level of classroom discussions. He sought out more knowledge at talks by Wagner faculty outside of class. He reminisced, “I used to attend these lectures because you never knew what you’d be exposed to! They opened up this wider horizon of knowledge.”
After graduation, Richard served in the U.S. Army, including 13 months near the front lines in the Korean War. He then returned to Staten Island and to his ambition of helping young people appreciate history. Throughout that time, he faithfully made annual gifts to Wagner. But there was more to learn about giving, Richard discovered. A few years ago, Major Gifts Officer Frank Young presented him with an idea: endowing a scholarship. Richard agreed and created The Richard W. Baller Endowed Scholarship. He enjoyed the experience so much, especially connecting with the students he was supporting, that he eventually decided to endow three scholarships.
“The scholarship gift is an investment, and when I meet my young scholars, I realize what a good investment I’ve made,” he said at the time. “Many of the students come from families that could not afford the tuition and I am able to help them out. When I attend their graduation, it gives me a great sense of pride and satisfaction. It’s an indescribable feeling. I’m helping out someone who might otherwise not be able to attend Wagner College.”
In the 1990s, Richard decided to bequeath part of his estate to Wagner College because he wanted the gift of education to be one of his last acts on this earth. Sadly, Richard passed away in May 2020, but thanks to his generosity, his love for Wagner, and his dedication to teaching, his legacy will live on forever.