Doug Robinson: Dynamo Fred Ball wishes he were still working

Published: Saturday, March 22 2014 8:47 p.m. MDT

Gladys, who worked as a lunch lady at the school, was her husband’s opposite — outgoing, involved in the community, social. She became a member of school lunch organizations at the state and national levels and served on the boards of various organizations.

Fred Jr., the middle of three children, made his own way, working his way through Weber State as a brakeman on the railroad while also serving as student body president. He earned a scholarship to the University of Utah, and after graduation he moved to California to accept a sales position with the IML Freight trucking company.

A few years later, IML urged him to pursue an MBA and offered to foot the bill while continuing to pay his salary. He completed his graduate studies at Stanford while also spending part of each day working at IML.

After being transferred to Salt Lake City, he joined the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, and in 1970 he was hired away from IML to lead the financially strapped chamber. “They needed someone who could read a balance sheet,” says Ball. During the next few years he built it from the smallest chamber in the West to the largest. They were bigger than their counterparts in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Seattle and Phoenix, with membership soaring from 1,000 to almost 3,200.

A chamber’s purpose, of course, is to promote a healthy business environment, and Ball “lived on the (Capitol) Hill. We were not promoting laws as much as fighting anti-business laws.” He spent several nights a week at various city council meetings around the valley and worked closely with county and federal legislators.

Ball’s tenure at the chamber was marked by the arrival of some of the most momentous events and businesses in the history of the state — the Delta Hub, the Jazz and the Olympics. Ball played a role in wooing all of them to Utah.

The pursuit of the Salt Lake Winter Olympics turned into a worldwide controversy when it was revealed that Salt Lake City’s bid committee had given cash and gifts to IOC members. It was the same thing every bidding city had done for decades, but suddenly it was made public and criminal.

Ball met with Olympic officials in Europe, entertained IOC members in Salt Lake, raised money and promoted the Salt Lake Games. He also recruited Tom Welch and Dave Johnson to lead the bidding effort to win the games. Ultimately, they were made the fall guys when the scandal broke, by both Salt Lake and IOC officials.

“I feel bad for what happened to Tom and Dave,” says Ball. “When we lost to Nagano by four votes (to host the 1998 Games), we were giving away boxes of salt water taffy and they (Nagano) were giving away Toyotas. We were not playing the game. Billy Payne (CEO of the Atlanta Committee for the 1996 Olympic Games) told us, ‘You gotta treat these guys better,’ and we did and we got in trouble for it.”

Ball, who wound up being called by the federal government to testify, attended many Winter Games, and he believes there has never been a better Winter Games than Salt Lake’s in 2002. “We predicted that the facilities would be used after the games were gone and that someday we would see a lot of Utah kids walking in the opening ceremonies as athletes,” says Ball. “Both of those things have happened.”

The arrival of the Jazz in Utah was almost as problematic as the Olympics. Ball flew to New Orleans with Wendell Ashton — chairman of the chamber's board — to meet with Jazz owner Sam Battistone and woo the team to Salt Lake City. “Wendell wanted Salt Lake to be a major league city, and he knew baseball and Sunday football weren’t going to work here,” says Ball.

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