By Robert Lucke
At MSU-Northern presidents and chancellors come and go with great regularity. However, their secretary, Delores Ball, has been on hand through thick and thin since 1980.
Not only that but before being secretary to presidents at Northern, Ball was a secretary in the dean's office, the registrar and the vice president.
It even gets better than that. Ball and her husband moved from Shelby to Havre in 1960 so he could attend college. They raised children in Havre and started in Northern's married students housing.
Delores Ball has seen plenty working for Dr. Erickson, Dr. Merwin, Dr. Kerins, Dr. Daehling and Dr. Rao.
In the office of president or chancellor, at times things are in crisis mode.
"It seemed like every 10 years or so we would go through a reduction of some kind," said Ball. "I worked in the Dean's office one year and in that time we had to retrench. We lost about 10 faculty that year. It might not be every 10 years but it sure does go in cycles."
"Around 1980 enrollment really climbed up and we had a lot of money," Ball continued. "And then enrollment dropped off and we had to start retrenching. One cause of enrollment dropping that time was dropping the education degree program. People heard about it and decided they were not going to Northern if we were not going to offer the degree. It was reinstated but then it takes awhile to get our enrollment up again."
Just a few weeks ago there was a full blown Board of Regents meeting on Northern's campus. Ball is happy when that happens.
"I think it is important for the Board to come and see what we are doing," added Ball. "They are surprised by the size of the campus and it does not hurt for them to see the potholes we can't afford to fix and buildings that could use more maintenance. It is expensive for us to have them here but it gives the students and community a chance to talk to them and give them our concerns."
Delores Ball has been around when Northern was a separate unit of the University system. These days it is tied to MSU-Bozeman. That makes for a different way of doing business.
"The biggest difference is that now we have another level added before getting to the Board of Regents. Our chancellor has to go through the president at MSU," Ball related. "Some of that is good and has helped us and in other ways we don't have the ability to go directly to the legislature and to the Board (of Regents)."
The whole university system is changing, not just Northern.
"This is a more complex era. Everything moves much faster than it used to," Ball said. "There are many more opportunities. Things have grown. Offerings are changing. And the biggest problem is money. It is hard to operate, to do all those expansions without money. We are going for private money and support."
Through good times and bad, Ball has been in the office and seen them all. One of the worst was the transition from Northern to MSU-Northern.
"I would say that Dr. Daehling had the toughest era. There were budget changes that went on. Converting to a university and becoming a unit under MSU, everything changed," Ball related. "Even the name changed and still you have to work with the same staff and you have to catch up on everything. That was the toughest time since I have been in the president's office. That and budgets and drops in enrollment."
Not every day is fraught with a new crisis in that office. Most are just plain fun and Ball has enjoyed all of her bosses.
"They were all my favorites. All of them were great to work for," said Ball with a smile. "Each one was very different but I learned a lot from all of them and am still learning. You know I am really happy that I was fortunate enough to work with all and each was so easy to work for. I have no complaints about any. We worked as a team."
Most had different hobbies. Daehling fished, hunted and did wood work. He built closets and enclosed heating vents in the president's house. Erickson was a pilot and loved flying. Merwin loved camping, Ball recalled.
In addition to her work at Northern, Ball is a long-time member of Soroptimist International of Havre.
So what about Northern, 10 years down the road?
"We will definitely be here and I predict we will be on the upswing once again," said Ball. "We will get some new ideas and new programs to help us out. There is a lot of foundation money out there. We are doing that now. Already we are getting some of our projects funded by grants."
Best memory of all for Ball is simple to relate and no different than four hundreds that have worked at Northern.
"My best memory of Northern is we are like a close knit family and all the close relationships I have with everyone who has worked here," said Ball, smiling as she was off once again into the world of Northern and Chancellor Rao.