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MPH headmaster a champion for children, faculty

February 15, 2011

Described as a ceaseless champion for children, Baxter Ball believed in nurturing, not stifling, their innate curiosity. He created an environment in which mistakes were learning opportunities and risk-taking was expected.

Manlius Pebble Hill’s beloved headmaster for 21 years died in his sleep Feb. 13 at age 64.

“There is great sadness throughout the MPH community, said Susan Gullo, director of communications. “We have been flooded with calls and e-mails from alumni, former faculty and trustees, all expressing their affection for our head of school and their gratitude for his influence on their lives.”

Staff and students were notified of Mr. Ball’s passing in the early afternoon the next day. According to Gullo, he had broken his leg before Christmas, but recovered well from that injury. He had a cold for a few days prior to his death.

Though the school community learned of his death just yesterday, a wreath appeared today on the sign of his parking space, and kids have planned to dress up on what would be their “dress down” day tomorrow, in honor of Mr. Ball. Students are also writing notes of condolences and remembrance on poster boards to be given to his grown children once they arrive in Syracuse later tonight. Additionally, students are sharing stories and posting numerous messages about their late school leader on Facebook.

Gullo said that Mr. Ball was known to be a proud father who delighted in his children; he was looking forward to the birth of his first grandchild. He was a kind and generous friend, a historian, a reader, a learner and teacher. He enjoyed collecting memorabilia of the Manlius School, a predecessor school of MPH. He had a vast knowledge of antiques and was an avid collector of Czech glass. Mr. Ball had remarkable enthusiasm for learning and fought complacency in students and staff. He never said ‘no’ to students; he encouraged their zeal for a new sport, their idea for a new club; their desire for community service opportunities.

Mr. Ball was also a champion of his faculty.

“Nothing delighted him more than seeing a fledgling teacher blossom into a master teacher,” Gullo said. “He supported teachers in their desire to try new teaching methods, to develop new courses, to provide new experiences in and out of the classroom.”

Chief Financial Officer Tracy Frank was appointed today as interim head of school. Funeral arrangements will be made by his children. School officials expect to learn of the plans sometime tomorrow.