After teaching for 29 years at John Brown University, Professor of Business Don Balla will retire this spring. As the semester wraps up and his time at the University is celebrated, Balla will have one last opportunity to speak in front of students at Commencement.
Before arriving at the University in the 1980s, Balla traveled around the world and across the United States.
Following high school, he joined the Navy as a boatswain’s mate, a position he described as a stereotypical sailor job that included swabbing the deck.
“I’m proud of it, of course,” he said.
Serving in the Vietnam War for over two years, Balla then returned stateside, deciding to hitchhike across the United States and Mexico. He traveled mostly on his own, and has many stories to tell, including a time he pawned his guitar in Mexico.
The adventure has never stopped for Balla and his wife, Judy. Over the years, he traveled extensively, completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in music, worked for a church, earned a law degree, written books and opened his own firm.
Marrying Judy helped Balla realize that he needed to have a skill or trade of some sort, so he chose music. He enjoyed composing, but added that, “anybody who tries to make a living as a musician eventually becomes an accountant.”
While a working musician, Balla decided to keep his own books and took a few initial accounting classes, which eventually led to his CPA certification.
He appreciated the order and logic found in accounting—as well as the ways it helped others be their best.
Moving to Springdale, Ark. to be near family, Balla applied to John Brown University as a professor. While he had previous teaching experience, and did interview with the University, he initially was not offered the position because he was also pursuing a job at a hospital in Oklahoma.
However, a year later, the University called back and asked him to join the community. He’s been here ever since.
“I believe I’ve taught more different classes at the school that anyone else,” Balla said. His curriculum has included everything from computer classes, to economics, to money and banking.
Balla enjoys the diversity, and always tries to experiment with new teaching methods.
“At the end of every semester, I can look back at the class and say, ‘I could do that better,’” he said, and then he works to figure out how.
Senior Sovannary Cheng, who has taken every class Balla currently teaches, minus Basic Economics, describes the professor as creative, intelligent and a helper.
For Balla, it is important to learn to enjoy every class as an instructor. He describes his teaching style as tough yet caring.
Quoting Captain Picard from Star Trek, Balla described how he tells students that, “You have what it takes to be one of my best officers. You’re not there yet.”
Years of experience have taught him that everyone is an influencer, and he uses his capacity as a teacher to influence as many as possible for good.
Cheng has learned from the professor not only how to be an effective and compassionate tax preparer, but also how to have fun learning. Whether being serenaded during a final exam or racing Balla to class, she has many memories.
“He cares about his students,” she said.