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Remembering Contributions of Dr. Louis Ball

(Word came today that Dr. Louis Ball passed away after a brief hospital stay. Along with Mary Charlotte, his wife and fellow C-N faculty member – who died in 2010, Dr. Ball was a major figure in sacred music across the region and in Baptist life. This piece was first published in the Fall 2000 issue of Journey,)

Mary McDonald '78 thanks her mentor Dr. Louis Ball at the concludion of last year's Composer's Festival.  Several alumni were on hand to thank Ball for his role in their C-N experiences and careers.


by Mark Brown (Journey magazine, Fall 2000)

There is hardly a better testament to the significance of the symbiotic relationship Carson-Newman has with local churches than the story of the connection between Louis Ball and James Penn.

More than a decade ago, Dr. Ball, then chair of the music department and dean of fine arts, served as interim minister of music at Penn’s church, First Baptist, Maryville. Mr. Penn sang in the choir while his wife, Dorothy, was a dedicated and observant member of the congregation. A friendship developed between the men and their wives, resulting in a decision by the Penns to financially support Carson-Newman through establishing the Louis and Mary Charlotte Ball Institute of Church Music (BICM).

After Mrs. Penn, who survived her husband by two years, passed away in January, the significance of the relationship was realized in monetary terms. A recently dispersed trust provided $1,007,000 that will permanently endow the Institute.

Beyond the magnitude of the gift lies a wonderful story of how Dr. Ball’s act of service to an area church became a cyclical relationship by which churches and the kingdom of God will be served in perpetuity. This gift will ultimately elevate Carson-Newman to national rank in terms of serving worship leaders through the Ball Institute.

“I was surprised by the size of the gift,” declared Ball, who said he expected his friend’s financial planning would create an endowment of about half the size of the final amount. “The truth is, I think even Jim would be surprised by how much it has grown."

Penn, a North Carolinian whose father’s surveys and assessments helped bring Alcoa to its present location, went to work for the corporation in 1940 and returned to its employ upon his release from the Navy at the close of World War II. He remained unmarried for most of his life and continually invested in the aluminum giant for which he worked. In the mid-1970s the bachelor met and married Dorothy, a widow without children.

They initially became acquainted with Ball in the late 80s when he began what would become a three-and-a-half year interim as their music minister. “Jim was a tenor, and one day I asked him to help the choir librarian,” recalled the former dean. “I think I just walked in and put him to work.” Faced with a 50-mile one way commute, Ball spent each Sunday in Maryville. “Jim, Dot and I would often go out to eat, and they offered me the use of a bedroom where I could rest before handbell practice and evening services.”

Their conversations included Carson-Newman’s church music students. “After they established the legacy, Mary Charlotte and I decided to offer a program that would focus on church accompanists,” said Ball. “We wanted to provide a resource for our students as well as local musicians who shared the same interest. I took a brochure with me to Maryville and showed it to Jim. For several years, the Penns sustained the Institute with annual gifts.”

Reflecting on his relationship with Jim, Ball thinks that his connection with Penn might have run deeper than friendship: “It hadn’t been long since my dad died. I might have been looking for a father figure and it may be that Jim was looking for a surrogate son even though he was not much older than I was. He always took a great interest in what we were doing here.”

Mrs. Penn, say those who knew her, was imbued with a great sense of humor and a discerning eye and ear. “She had lots of spunk, and she was pretty wise with her observations,” Ball chuckled as he remembered her. “It only took her about ten seconds to see into and through you.”

Dorothy, a Florida native, and her husband Jim were active members of the Tennessee Federation of Garden Clubs. For 25 years she was financial advisor to the group’s president. She was also a member of the Board of Governors of the Ivan Racheff Park and Gardens in Knoxville, and wrote a regular column for an area newspaper.

In 1990, Jim Penn told Ball that he and Dot had decided to do something that would create abiding assistance for the Institute. To constitute the funds payable to the endowment upon Dorothy’s death, Penn issued a will mandating that 30% of a trust fund would be forwarded to Carson-Newman College. He directed the remaining portion of the sum to his alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where he studied architecture.

Ball has great hopes for what one million dollars will provide C-N. “I hope this will be the impetus for what will become a think-tank committed to the study and continued pursuit of church music and which will continually enrich the experience of our church music majors.”

Dr. Clark Measels, current dean of fine arts and music department chair, believes the gift means that Carson-Newman can bolster its service to churches at the local and national levels. “In the area of church music, the Penns’ generosity grants us the opportunity to become a major player in this important area,” he noted. “And it provides us the means to move forward in several directions.”

The Penns’ altruism will provide the Institute with the funds necessary to invigorate the Institute’s training arm that brings to campus professionals of national and international note. “We will once again be able to present specific conferences on very practical things that are designed to help church musicians in their daily lives,” maintains Measels. “This will ensure that we are offering churches and their worship leaders a distinct and valuable aid to their ministries.”

A second area of influence for the Institute will concern the scholarly consideration of how music affects worship. “We will be able to explore church music on a more academic and theological level,” he added. “It is important for people to know why they do what they do and that is a great segue into a third possibility that will foster basic research.”

“There has been very little documenting of how music in worship psychologically effects the individual,” asserted Measels, who finds the matter a bit alarming. “No one has delved into the psychology at work when music moves people spiritually. Now, we talk about what our objectives are and how we may pursue them, but it would be most informative to know why certain songs elicit a much stronger response than others.”

A key element of the research would include contracting with a national poll service to conduct a series of surveys over several years. The instrument would measure parishioners’ interest in and response to how music contributes to the worship experience. Measels admits he is excited about the possibilities. “If we could define trend lines over a number of years,” he said hopefully, “that information would be directly helpful to a broad constituency. I think we could, quite literally, affect congregations and institutions all across the country.”

The fine arts dean also believes his close friend and predecessor is being overly modest as concerns the gift bestowed on C-N by the Penns. “Louis won’t say it, but we have this opportunity because of the time and concern he put into his relationship with Jim Penn. And perhaps the greatest element of the story is that he and Mary Charlotte were only being who they are everyday.”

Ball downplays his influence in the matter, saying, “I’ve been to ten churches as interim director and this was the only one where this kind of thing happened. It wasn’t me; it was Jim’s generosity and his desire to serve God with his finances.”

“In fact,” Ball contends, “I didn’t do anything different from what scores of other faculty and staff members have done for many, many years.” He says he is convinced that the Maryville couple was predisposed to being interested in Carson-Newman, thanks to the work of his colleagues. “Our religion department had a presence there through Bible teaching and pulpit supply, and First Maryville had been sending their students here for a long time.”

Although the funds have been deposited, Measels said it will take some time for the general public to see manifestations of the huge gift. “It has to mature for a year before any proceeds are available for our use, and we already have the program set for next year. In fact, most of it is planned for the following year as well, which will come during our sesquicentennial celebration.”

Those interested in being included in BICM mailings should contact Measels at C-N Box 72048, Jefferson City, TN 37760, by email at measels@cncacc.cn.edu, or by phone at 865-471-3480.

((Memorial gifts made be sent to the attention of Susie Trentham, C-N Advancement Office, C-N Box 72017, Jefferson City, TN. Please contact the Advancement Office at strentham@edu, or call 865-471-3500.))

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