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Manlius Pebble Hill’s Baxter Ball dies overnight Sunday; enrollment, endowment, campus grew under his leadership

Baxter Ball, the head of school at Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt since 1990, died overnight Sunday.

Ball, 64, had been suffering from a bad cold the past few days, but hadn’t been seriously ill, said Susan Gullo, speaking for MPH. He broke his leg before Christmas, but had recovered from that injury.

Faculty and staff learned of his death early Monday afternoon; teachers plan to talk to students Tuesday and have counselors available at the school for students and staff.

“He was visionary, and was a great believer in the potential of all kids,” Gullo said. “He wanted them to find their own niche. He never said no to students: if they wanted to start a bizarre club, he’d say go ahead. He was a defender of kids, and he was their advocate.”

Ball lived behind the school, and had three grown children: Donald, Jonathan and Rebecca. He was expecting his first grandchild, school officials said.

Ball came to MPH in 1990 from Albany, where he was head of the upper school at the Albany Academy. He made significant improvements at MPH since he came to the school. For example, MPH had only one building at the time; since then three buildings have been added: the Center for Early Learning, a science building and a humanities building.

Under his leadership, enrollment surged from about 200 students to about 600 today, and the school’s endowment went from several thousand dollars to $4.7 million, Gullo said. When Ball joined MPH, the school didn’t have any full-time performance arts faculty; he established a robust performing arts department.

MPH also was one of the first schools around to offer Chinese language instruction.

Ball loved American and European history and art and studied history at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. He received his master’s degree from Bowling Green State University.

He loved to read, knew a lot about antiques and loved to collect memorabilia from the old Manlius school, Gullo said. He taught classes about the history of MPH to students.

Tracy Frank, the school’s chief financial officer, will serve as interim head of school.