Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Remembering Barbara Ballard, Plainfield radio personality, Chamber of Commerce executive, organizer and volunteer

Barbara was always ready to offer a toast.

Word came Wednesday afternoon of the passing of Barbara Ballard, whose presence made Plainfield a special place for more than four decades as radio personality, Chamber of Commerce executive, event organizer and community volunteer.

The word came from her longtime friend and another former Plainfield activist, Nellie Dixon, who now enjoys being within walking distance of the beach in North Carolina.

Barbara passed away in Del Mar, CA, where she had moved in 2014 to be with her daughter Kim.

I first met Barbara in 1986 when she presented herself in my office at the Plainfield Public Library. She noted that my job involved outreach and community programming for the Library and she wanted to recruit me to work on a project tentatively called "New Audiences for Plainfield".

AT&T was sponsoring an arts grant competition and Barbara thought we could put together a winning proposal for Plainfield. I signed on then and there.

There were eight or ten of us, including Barbara, Nellie Dixon, Vicky Griswold (who owns the Plainfield Music Store), Barbara Fuller (then with Union County's arts division), and Helen Rodriguez and Amelia Andrade, who had built up a Hispanic dance troupe based on local young people, Ballet Folklorico Sentir Criollo.

To our amazement, we not only won a grant, it was the largest amount awarded ($10,000 which was real money in those days).

We were able to find a marvelous consultant -- Andrea Olin Gomes -- who shepherded us through a regimen that included tracking down and interviewing every artist, musician and arts group in the community. Once the interview were complete, we compiled a strengths-and-weaknesses analysis that helped us build an action plan (New Audiences for Plainfield) that had the buy-in of the arts community, but unfortunately not the political leadership.

Throughout this time, Barbara was the President and CEO of the Central Jersey Chamber of Commerce, one of the state's oldest.

The CJCC sponsored two other annual events that drew big crowds to Plainfield. At Christmas time, there was always a big festival of decorated holiday trees. These were quite spectacular and for several years were shown at the Questover mansion on Central Avenue.

The other was the outdoor Summer Festival of Art, begun in the 1960s, with parters tht included duCret School of Art and Swain Galleries. At my first visit to the Plainfield show in 1984, I met an artist I had known from the famous Promenade Art Show in Brooklyn Heights (where I lived before moving to Plainfield).

Alas, the times they were a'changin... The Chamber of Commerce dwindled. Radio state WERA, where Barbara was an on-air personality, was squeezed as so many small local station were by limitations on their power, range and hours.

In fact, Barbara was interviewing me about the New Audiences project when the plug was pulled.

But Barbara's incomparable networking skills came to the rescue and she went to work for former US Representative Bob Franks with his Healthcare Institute of New Jersey.

We had some great times, and some tough times. Through them all Barbara was upbeat and resourceful.

Her loss really does bring a whole era in the Queen City's history to a close.

We will miss you Barbara! But I will catch up to you for that cup of coffee yet!


Family and friends will gather at McCriskin-Gustafson Home for Funerals, this Sunday afternoon (May 7) from 1:00 to 5:00 PM. You may read the obituary online here. Donations may be made in her memory to the Girl Scouts, an organization of which Barbara was a longtime supporter.

The Funeral Home is at 2425 Plainfield Avenue, South Plainfield (near the Borough Hall complex).

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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