As fans, school-boosters, business owners—Maxine and Ralph qualify for almost every Pelican Rapids honors list
By Louis Hoglund
Two Pelican Rapids Hall of Fame honorees didn’t thrill fans on the basketball court—but made it possible for students and fans to enjoy hometown sports.
The late Ralph and Maxine Ballard will be honored for their faithful bus-driving services—as not to mention some 70 years of supporting the Pelican schools as well as being all-around boosters of the community.
Sadly, Maxine died on August 25—just weeks before the Oct. 1 Hall of Fame Viking Gala. Sons Everett and Kevin will be accepting the honor on behalf of their parents.
Ralph and Maxine were husband-wife bus drivers, during the school day for decades. For about a dozen years, son Everett also drove bus.
Ralph is especially remembered for piloting the “fan buses” to tournament games from the 1960s into the 1980s. He also chauffeured field trips and other school-related special events, said Everett.
Ralph never really played organized sports himself, as a farm boy in an era where he and many others left school after the eighth grade. But he was a committed sports spectator, recalled son Everett. The Ballard Sanitation business family drove trucks all day—and school buses in their “spare time.”
“Even after his stroke, we tried to get him to as many games as we could,” recalled Everett. With the advent of broadcast games, Ralph also faithfully watched games on the television, noted Everett.
Maxine was among the first woman bus drivers.
“As long as I was driving a garbage truck, we figured I might as well drive a school bus too,” recalled Maxine, not long before her death in late August.
“We would finish up our garbage route, and then get home on time to drive the buses,” she said.
Many Pelican Viking basketball players of the past will recall the Ballard family’s pizza parties for athletes after the season.
Ralph came from Plaza, North Dakota, to a farm south of Pelican Lake, and eventually moved into town, started a trucking business, and ultimately Ballard Sanitation. The company is one of the oldest family-operated businesses in the area.
Maxine (Rossum) was a rural girl, who grew up near the famed “Lone Tree” on Highway 108.
But for most of her adult life, she was known as the gal on the other end of the phone for Ballard Sanitation.
“They were both sports fans,” said Everett, and would attend games together whenever possible.
A notorious “collector,” the Ballard family has been sorting through Maxine’s materials. They came across a diary, with entries dating to the 1950s. As it turns out, Maxine and Ralph were Viking sports fans before they were even married. There are entries of the couple attending Pelican school sports games when they were dating, prior to their wedding in 1957.
Ralph died in 2006, but Maxine continued to be highly visible in the community.
In 2009, Maxine received the annual Pelican Rapids PRIDE award. In 2021, Ballard Sanitation marked its 70th year in business, and the company earned the “Chamber Member of the Year” honor.
She was a familiar face at the VFW, as a lifetime Auxiliary member. She attended virtually every Veterans Day and Memorial Day program. Poppy sales, which support disabled veterans, won’t be the same without Maxine—who sold the red poppies every year at the Post Office, Larry’s, and other locations.
“She worked a room better than any salesman,” noted Kevin Ballard, who delivered the eulogy at his mother’s funeral Sept. 2. Whether it was a Chamber fundraiser or the autumn Oktoberfest celebration, Maxine was a top seller of raffle tickets.
Her sales skills also “grew” the Ballard sanitation business to some 5,000 accounts during the peak summer season.
“We walked door-to-door around the lakes in 1957-58, signing up customers,” recalled Maxine in an interview several years ago. She and her late husband Ralph “spent Sundays knocking on doors while everybody else was having fun,” chuckled Maxine. “And we’ve been working ever since.”
Today, Ballard trucks pick up household and commercial waste in a territory about the size of the state of Rhode Island.
The Ballard routes stretch almost to Barnesville, Perham, and Fergus Falls—including most of the lakes in between, plus Rothsay, Vergas, and Erhard area.
Maxine, 85 when she died, enjoyed bowling, ceramics, embroidery, needlepoint, collecting cookbooks, and—reportedly—tried to golf. She was a member of Trinity Lutheran Church.
As a huge supporter of Pelican Rapids, the Ballard family had a fitting request to the overflow crowd at her funeral at Trinity Lutheran Church. In honor of Maxine, visitors were asked to wear orange and black to the visitation and funeral service. Everett himself wore an orange and black Pelican Rapids Viking jersey at the funeral.
Come November-December, Maxine’s attention was turned to the holidays—and, of course, the start of the Pelican school basketball seasons.
Maxine’s collection of Santa Claus and snowman figurines and dolls is legendary. Some of the items were on display at the funeral.
Her love of the Christmas season was also reflected in the funeral service—including scripture readings of the Christmas story.
And—the closing hymn at the funeral was “Joy to the World.”