In 2000, Virginia B. Ball, philanthropist and active supporter of education, the environment, the arts, and the humanities, established the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

Although she died in 2003, Virginia was able to see her center evolve into a national and international model for innovative, immersive learning. She was particularly enthusiastic about her center’s ability to forge creative and productive relationships between Ball State University and numerous community partners.

Since her death, her center, sustained by subsequent gifts from the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation, has continued to provide life-changing experiences for students and faculty, and life-long learning opportunities for members of the community. Indeed, her center has become a leader in Ball State University’s goal to provide immersive learning experiences for every graduate.

A Tribute to Virginia B. Ball

Written by  Joe Trimmer , director of the Virginia B. Ball Center, this article was originally published in The Star-Press of Muncie, Indiana, on December 7, 2003.

Virginia Ball believed education transformed lives, energized communities and created culture. She would not have said it that way. She was too straightforward, too authentic to dabble in educational theories. But she was curious. She wanted to know what people were reading, thinking and learning. In particular, she wanted to know what the faculty and students who walked by her home were doing at the university across the street. She was reluctant to intrude in the daily business of education, but she was interested in creating genuine and intelligent relationships with the people who made it work. She attended faculty lectures, corresponded with those whose creativity she admired, and asked many of us, with some regularity, what we found exciting and memorable about our teaching.

She was equally fascinated by students—where they came from, how they found Ball State, and what they perceived as powerful and unique about their learning. She attended their musical performances, theatrical productions, art exhibits and research presentations. Always at ease in their company, she talked to them as if they were adults, asking them about their achievements, their goals, and, perhaps most importantly, the contributions they hoped to make to their communities once they graduated.

For Virginia, education and community were interconnected. And for that reason she worked to create bridges between scholars and citizens. More to the point, she worked to enable scholars to become engaged citizens, and citizens to pursue life-long learning. She devoted herself to this work—in the arts, the environment and the humanities—in her home community. But Virginia conceived community as a series of concentric circles—local, regional, national and international—that constantly enforced and informed one another. So, during her extensive travels, as she met some of the world’s best minds, or became involved in some of the world’s most innovative organizations, she collected information she could use to broaden and deepen the connection between the citizens of her hometown and the faculty and students at the university across the street.

There is ample evidence of Virginia’s bridge building in Muncie—the Minnetrista Center, the Muncie Children’s Museum, Cornerstone Center for the Arts—but perhaps the most dramatic example is the center which she founded and which bears her name: the Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry.

Each year, Virginia’s center sponsors four interdisciplinary seminars in which faculty and students create a major product—an exhibit, a theatrical production, a film, a book. These products are designed in collaboration with community sponsors and are presented in a community forum for discussion and debate.

Since its founding in 2000, Virginia’s center has established a national and international reputation for innovative and inspirational education. The many unsolicited letters Virginia received about her center contain enthusiastic testimonies from the faculty, students and community sponsors who have worked together. All acknowledge the transformative, energizing and creative impact the center has had and will continue to have on their lives.

In the last few months of her life, Virginia referred often to these letters and to the living legacy they promised. And she looked forward, always curious, to the exciting and powerful educational experiences her center would create for the faculty, students and citizens of her community.