From the time of Richard Baller’s graduation from Wagner College in 1951 to the time of his passing in 2020, his life was dedicated to educating young people.
It was that dedication which led him to leave a $1.5 million endowment in his will that will fund the Richard W. Baller ’51 Professorship in History at his alma mater, in perpetuity.
“This generous gift will allow for the continued support of the History Department,” said Interim Provost Nicholas Richardson, “and reaffirms the college’s commitment to the humanities and the strong liberal arts education provided to all our students at Wagner College.”
Ever since the seventh grade, Richard Baller was an enthusiastic student of history. His teacher at the time showed young Richard that history was not just a series of dates to be memorized, but a narrative to be understood.
When it came time to select a major at Wagner College, he chose history.
Baller attended Wagner from 1947 to 1951, a period when many of his fellow students were G.I.s who had served in the military during World War II. The maturity of these older students, with their extraordinary life experience, elevated the level of classroom discussions, he said.
Also elevating those discussions were the “walking encyclopedias” who served in Wagner’s faculty, like history professors Francis Fry Wayland and Bertram Maxwell, who frequently offered lectures in addition to their regular classes.
“I used to attend these lectures because you never knew what you’d be exposed to,” Baller told David Martin, Wagner’s director of college relations. “They opened up this wider horizon of knowledge.”
After serving in the U.S. Army in Korea following graduation from Wagner, Baller became a history teacher on Staten Island, retiring from Tottenville High School in 1991.
It was this lifelong experience in education, as a student and as a teacher, that led Baller to create an endowed scholarship fund in his name at Wagner College, increased with multiple gifts over the course of his lifetime. The Richard W. Baller ’51 Endowed Scholarship Fund, which currently benefits several Wagner students each year, is distinct from the endowed professorship that was created after Baller’s death in 2020.
“The scholarship gift is an investment,” he told David Martin, “and when I meet my young scholars, I realize what a good investment I’ve made.
“Many of the students come from families that could not afford the tuition, and I’m able to help them out. When I attend their graduations, it gives me a great sense of pride and satisfaction.”