By Jesse Wood
Republican Congressman Cass Ballenger passed away today at the age of 88.
A World War II veteran, Ballenger represented the 10th congressional district in North Carolina from 1986 to 2005. He also served in the N.C. Senate from 1976 to 1986 and in the N.C. House from 1974 to 1976. Prior to that, he served as a commissioner in Catawba County.
Before redistricting occurred, Ballenger represented Avery County among other counties in Western North Carolina throughout his years in office. Among his notable legislative efforts, Ballenger authored a bill to designate Wilson Creek as a National Wild and Scenic River and secured funding for U.S. 321 in between Hickory and Gastonia.
He even took some heat from fellow Republicans for inviting former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to Hickory in 2001. Ballenger served on the International Relations Committee, and he and his wife, Donna, performed plenty of humanitarian work in Latin and South America.
According to the Hickory Record, Ballenger met Chavez during a trip to South America.
“When the two ‘hit it off,’ he pressed Chavez to move more toward the political center. Venezuela’s economy was in tatters, and Ballenger knew an economic partnership – based largely on Venezuelan oil – could benefit both nations.
But Chavez stayed at the far left, and his idolization of Fidel Castro was no secret.
“I got kind of teed off about one of the statements he made about Fidel Castro saying how great he was, “ Ballenger said. “So I wrote him a letter saying, ‘You keep talking about the great society of Fidel Castro … I told him … If you want to see the free enterprise and entrepreneurism, why don’t you come to Hickory, North Carolina?” Ballenger said in 2001.
Read more about Chavez’ visit with Ballenger just down the mountain on the Hickory Record’s website.
Ballenger was born in Hickory in 1926. He was founder of Plastic Packaging Inc., a manufacturing company based in Hickory and Forest City.
Statement from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis:
U.S. Senator Thom Tillis released a statement on Ballenger’s passing on Wednesday afternoon.
“I am saddened by the news of Congressman Cass Ballenger’s passing. Congressman Ballenger represented North Carolina’s foothills with distinction and was a leader in efforts to control the growing size and scope of the federal government and limit its day-to-day burden on hardworking families and small businesses. Susan and I extend our condolences to Cass’ family and to the many friends he made during his decades of service to the state of North Carolina.”
Statement from Gov. Pat McCrory:
“Congressman Ballenger was a dedicated public servant who spoke his mind and listened and respected the thoughts of everyone, regardless of their view,” Governor McCrory said. “While a Member of the General Assembly, Cass Ballenger authored landmark legislation with local and statewide impact. He truly loved serving the people of his county, state and nation. His passion to serve is an example to all of us and his presence will be greatly missed. Ann and I will keep his family and friends in our prayers.”
NCGOP Statement On The Passing of The Honorable Cass Ballenger
The Honorable T. Cass Ballenger, former U.S. Congressman for North Carolina’s 10th Congressional District, has passed away.
Ballenger, a Hickory native, served the citizens of North Carolina’s for nearly four decades as a Catawba County Commissioner, member of the North Carolina State House, State Senate and in the United States House of Representatives. In 38 years of public office he never lost an election.
He also served our nation in the US Navy during World War II. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and later received his B.A. degree from Amherst College.
Among other things, Ballenger was noted for his dedication to humanitarian efforts. He founded the Ballenger Foundation in 1990 to help raise funds for schools, orphanages, and hospitals in the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
“The North Carolina Republican Party extends our deepest condolences to the Ballenger family, “ said Chairman Claude E. Pope Jr., “Congressman Ballenger was one of the trailblazers in the North Carolina Republican Party. His dedicated service and devotion to North Carolina will surely be missed. “
Todd Poole, Executive Director, added the following, “Growing up in Hickory I saw what Cass Ballenger, his company Plastic Packing Inc., and his family meant to the community. I saw firsthand his efforts to build the GOP, build a better life for his neighbors and constituents, and he did so with humor and with a smile. He never forgot where he came from or who he was. Our state and our county are better places for his service and devotion.”
Former U.S. Representative Thomas Cass Ballenger, 88, passed away on Feb. 18, 2015 in his hometown of Hickory, NC.
Ballenger represented the 10th Congressional District of North Carolina from 1986-2005. He was also the founder and former Chairman of the Board of Plastic Packaging, Inc., a manufacturing company with plants in Hickory and Forest City, NC.
He also served in the North Carolina Senate (1977-86), the North Carolina House of Representatives (1975-77), and on the Catawba County Board of Commissioners (1966-74). In 38 consecutive years in elective office, serving at the local, state, and federal levels, Ballenger never lost an election. He was known for his jovial and forthright manner.
He was a member of the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving as a Deputy Whip and as a member of the House Steering Committee. He was also a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Council on the Arts.
During his time in the U.S. Congress, he was a renowned expert on business issues and foreign affairs, especially Central and South America. Ballenger served on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. During his Chairmanship, he authored legislation, which was later enacted, to reform the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to make it less adversarial and more collaborative while still ensuring worker safety. It was the first major legislative revision to OSHA workplace rules since the agency was created.
Other notable legislation he authored include a bill making the use of hypodermic needles safer for healthcare workers and a bill to designate Wilson Creek as a Wild and Scenic River. He secured major funding for the completion of US321 between Hickory and Gastonia, and also established the Future Forward Economic Alliance, a regional economic development initiative. Through Future Forward, Ballenger led the effort to secure funding to create the North Carolina Center for Engineering Technologies in Hickory. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Hickory Metro Higher Education Center (now the Appalachian State University Center at Hickory.)
He also served on the International Relations Committee and as Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, where he worked tirelessly to promote democracy and human rights, fight poverty, and improve relations with developing countries in Central and South America. His influence was varied and heartfelt, from the stabilization of Venezuelan oil prices impacting Americans at the gas pumps to working diligently to hold the Sudanese government accountable for its genocide of the people of Darfur in South Sudan.
In 1990, he and his wife Donna founded the Ballenger Foundation to continue their longtime charitable work in Central America. They established several medical clinics in high-poverty locations, sponsored an orphanage, sent school furniture and textbooks, and delivered loads of other relief supplies. Their efforts began after the devastating earthquake in Managua, Nicaragua in 1972 and continued for decades thereafter.
Ballenger set the standard for constituent service in the U.S. House. A Comprehensive Guide to Constituent Service, his benchmark publication, is still updated for each new Congress and used to train new congressional staff members.
As a member of the North Carolina Senate and former Minority Leader, he introduced the Government in the Sunshine Act of 1976, which was enacted into law. It was the first substantive Open Meetings law enacted in North Carolina. He also authored legislation, known as the Ridge Law, to protect scenic vistas in the North Carolina mountains. He was recognized as the Most Effective Republican Legislator by the N.C. Institute of Government in 1981.
Ballenger previously served as Chairman of the Catawba County Board of Commissioners and was recognized as North Carolina’s County Commissioner of the Year in 1974. Both Catawba Memorial Hospital (now Catawba Valley Medical Center) and Catawba Valley Community College (formerly Catawba Valley Technical Institute) were established during his two terms as a County Commissioner.
He was a past Chairman of the Catawba County Republican Party and also served on the Jim Martin for Governor Steering Committee; the N.C. Reagan-Bush Campaign (Western Co-Chairman, 1984); and was a co-founder and former Chairman of the N.C. Legislative Forum.
Ballenger gave selflessly of his time and resources to community organizations, including the Community Ridge Day Care Center in Hickory (co-founder); Greater Hickory United Fund (Past Chairman); Western Piedmont Council of Governments (former Board Chairman); Greater Hickory Chamber of Commerce (Director); N.C. School of the Arts (Sustaining Member); N.C. Symphony (Patron); and the N.C. Arts Society (Patron).
He also served on the Board of Development and Board of Directors at Lenoir-Rhyne College; the Board of Directors for the Salvation Army; and the Board of Trustees for the Florence Crittenton Home.
After graduating from Episcopal High School, he attended the University of North Carolina and later received a liberal arts degree from Amherst College, where he was initiated into the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity. He served in the U.S. Naval Air Corps during World War II. He also volunteered as a Lay Reader for the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, traveling to lead services in parishes without rectors. He was a longtime active member of the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Hickory.
The son of the late Richard E. and Dorothy Collins Ballenger, he was born in Hickory, North Carolina on December 6, 1926. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Richard and Bruce Ballenger.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Donna Davis Ballenger, of Hickory; daughter Cindy Ballenger and husband Bert Brinkley of Pinehurst; daughter Missy Jordan and husband Erik of Hickory; daughter D.D. Weaver of Hickory; grandsons Matt and Will Jordan and granddaughter Lucy Weaver.
Service and memorial information to follow.