For Richard Baller ’51, the subject of history came alive
when he was in the seventh grade.
“At PS45, I had a very good teacher who knew how to teach history,” recalls the lifelong Staten Islander. This teacher showed young Richard that history is not just a series of dates to be memorized, but rather a narrative to be understood. “That’s the secret to history,” he says.
Baller became a Wagner College history major and then a history teacher on Staten Island, retiring from Tottenville High School in 1991. But he has never retired his love of learning, and he continuously shares this love with others through his gifts to Wagner College.
At Wagner during the post-war period of 1947-51. Baller 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. “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, Baller 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 the College. In the 1990s, he decided to bequeath part of his estate to Wagner College, and he started making larger annual gifts.
But there was more to learn about giving, Baller discovered. A few years ago, Major Gifts Officer Frank Young presented him with an idea: endowing a scholarship. Baller decided to give it a try – and he enjoyed the experience. In fact, he 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 says. “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.”