… starting in 1833, when the first William Sylvester Ballenger was born in Wayne County, Indiana, just west of Richmond. His son, my grandfather, was born Dec. 5, 1866, the year after the Civil War ended. This WSB arrived in Flint, Michigan, in 1888 as a stenographer/bookkeeper for the old Flint Wagon Works (a buggy manufacturing company). He became known as WSB, Senior, when his son, my father, was born in 1908. My father became WSB, Junior, and I became WSB, III, when I was born in 1941 even though I was really the fourth in a row (the original WSB, an attorney and ex-state legislator, had died in Indiana way back in 1872 and nobody in Flint knew him). My son, WSB The Fifth (V), was born in 1974.
I don’t think anyone called my grandfather, WSB, Sr., “Bill” — even his wife, Minnie. He was “W.S.” or “Will” or, usually, “Mr. Ballenger.”
Approximately 17 years after he arrived in Flint, William S. Ballenger, Sr., became one of the five men who organized and owned the Buick Motor Company, bringing it to Flint in 1905. He was elected secretary and treasurer of Buick until 1908 when the firm was purchased by General Motors, which he had also helped form two years earlier with the legendary William C. (Billy) Durant. Mr. Ballenger’s original employer, the Flint Wagon Works, was absorbed by the Little Motor Car Company. My grandfather also became secretary and treasurer of Little, and when the company sold out to Chevrolet in 1913, Mr. Ballenger was chosen as secretary of Chevrolet, a position he kept until his retirement in 1926.
William S. Ballenger, Sr., was a member of the Flint Board of Education for six years and made generous bequests to what was then Flint Junior College, later renamed Mott Community College. The main athletic facility on the campus, the William S. Ballenger Fieldhouse, was named in his honor. The Ballenger Eminent Persons Lecture Series, endowed by Ballenger for the college, has been one of the most prestigious forums for visiting speakers in Michigan during the past six decades.
My grandfather established two privately-owned parks within the City of Flint, Memorial Park and Ballenger Park. Ballenger Highway, near the western city limits of Flint, is named after him, largely because he was the principal benefactor of a major hospital, now McLaren Health Care Systems, located on Ballenger Highway. He was also chairman of the board of directors of Citizens Commercial & Savings Bank (now First Merit Bank but soon to be Huntington Bank). A year before he died in 1951, “Mr. Ballenger” was named chairman of the Flint Public Trust. His son, my father, WSB, Jr., became vice president and head of the trust department at Citizens Bank when that was still its name. He died in 1987. I own the house where I was raised in Flint and spend half my time there, so the Ballenger family has been in Flint for nearly 130 years.