Yes, South Hill Has a History

Ballou Family History

by Paul Hackett

Ballou is a major name in the histories of Firgrove, eastern Pierce County, and South Hill. Here’s the story of why that is so.

In 1910 Helen Wilson was born to Robert and Minnie Wilson. Frank H. Ballou was born in 1905, and he and Helen were married in 1930. They came west from Des Moines, Iowa and moved in with Helen’s parents, Robert and Minnie Wilson, who by then lived in Puyallup.

Frank & Helen Ballou Frank and Helen Ballou, a familiar name to residents
of Firgrove, Eastern Pierce County and South Hill.

Three children were born to Helen and Frank: Robert (1931), a daughter who died tragically at nine months (1933), and Gerald (1937).

In 1942 Frank and Helen Ballou bought ten acres on South Hill, opposite present-day Firgrove School. It was a stump ranch which Helen said, “We bought for a song.” (By way of comparison, a 1941 Puyallup brochure notes forty-one acres and a small house for sale for $11,500.) Frank easily obtained a license to buy and use dynamite explosives, which in those days were called “powder monkeys,” to clear his and some of his neighbors’ land. Fire was used to burn remaining residue. These fires were kept going with improvised air blowers—electric blowers with garden hoses and water pipe placed in the holes by the stump roots. While Frank was away working, Helen and the boys kept the fires going.

On their south five acres they raised strawberries, which they took to market on Meridian, a two-lane road at the time. Only half of the road was paved. Meridian was right next to their front yard, and in an interview in 2003, Helen commented that in those days it was “twenty minutes between cars on Meridian, now it is twenty minutes to get out onto the road.” On the rest of their land they raised hay and raspberries, and cared for three sheds of chickens.

Frank held many meetings in their home with local families, and, energized by refreshments served by Helen, Firgrove Water Company was formed.

He also helped found the Pierce County Fair which started at the Fruitland Grange in 1947, then moved to Sumner, and eventually went to its present site in Graham. He was the first manager. Frank, together with Reed Hansen, county extension agent, made a tape recording of three 4H boys in the early 1940s who were about to go to the Yakima Fair to make a presentation of their 4H work. Gerald Ballou was one of the three boys. The South Hill Historical Society has a copy of the tape.

Frank was Master of Fruitland Grange and a deputy Master for the Washington State Grange. Helen was also the Master of the Fruitland Grange for eight years.

Actively involved in the Firgrove School PTA, Frank served as president for a time. His son Robert (Bob) graduated from the eighth grade at Firgrove School in a class of two boys and five girls in 1946. Helen and Frank voted at the school, dropping their votes in a box with a slot on top, and enjoyed talking with Mrs. Irene Miracle, precinct chair, to catch up on the news. In her 2003 interview, Helen referred back to those days saying, “You didn’t dare breathe or Edna Bence (Tribune columnist) would put it in the paper.”

Frank held other jobs. One was helping build escort aircraft carriers at Todd Shipyard during World War II where he worked the graveyard shift. With two boys in his home, it was difficult to sleep in the daytime, so he went to the unemployment office looking for a better job. He was hired as a Farm Labor Representative to recruit workers to come to the Puyallup Valley to harvest crops. He gave talks to schools, and with a public address system on the top of his car, he played a recording to recruit pickers. During this career he recruited thirty to thirty-five thousand workers from the Tacoma area.

Frank H. Ballou died in 1964 and Helen Wilson Ballou died in 2005.

In 1971 a new junior high school, built in the Firgrove area, was named after Frank. Frank H. Ballou Junior High School is on 136th St. on South Hill.

Frank and Helen’s son, Robert, turned out for track at Puyallup High School, and graduated in 1950. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1951 and served in the Korean War and the German Occupation Forces. Following his military service Bob went to Washington State College on the GI Bill. He worked at Boeing for seventeen years and then bought his business, Grange Insurance Agency for Pierce County, where he worked for twenty-five years. Bob is currently active in the South Hill Historical Society, Fruitland Grange, and Good Samaritan Hospital’s Celebrate Seniority Mobile Health Unit..

Gerald, the Ballous’ second son, graduated from Puyallup High School in 1956 and worked at Boeing for thirty-seven years. He has traveled many places in the world with the AOG “Airplane On the Ground” program, coming to the aid of downed aircraft. Gerald married JoAnn Brooks, and they have four children and four grandchildren.