Society

School's Never Out

Two-classroom, historic, rural structure still Milam landmark
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor


Retired principal Eldon Ball and wife Joyce, a former teacher, have lived in remodeled Hoyte school building since 1986. 
Reporter photos/Mike Brown Retired principal Eldon Ball and wife Joyce, a former teacher, have lived in remodeled Hoyte school building since 1986. Reporter photos/Mike Brown They used to say Eldon Ball, retired longtime Rockdale Elementary Principal, had “chalk dust in his veins.”

If anybody still remembers what chalk dust is, that may explain why Ball’s heart is still at school.

You see, he lives in one.

For almost 30 years Ball and wife, Joyce, also a former longtime educator, have lived in the former Hoyte School, a building Ball remodeled himself, doing an estimated 85 percent of the work.

Eldon Ball had 37 years in education, 25 of them as Rockdale’s elementary principal.


Ball still has the legendary bicycle, along with the cap, that he used to lead two decades of giant Halloween parades in Rockdale when he was elementary principal. “I still ride it to my mailbox and back,” he said. Ball still has the legendary bicycle, along with the cap, that he used to lead two decades of giant Halloween parades in Rockdale when he was elementary principal. “I still ride it to my mailbox and back,” he said. Joyce Ball taught for 26 years, including stints in Rockdale and Milano. She’s the widow of Milam County legend Charlie Martin, who coached, taught and was an administrator at Milano and Rockdale.

Project

Eldon Ball had purchased the Hoyte school many years previously but put the house project on hold as his first wife, June, became ill then passed away.

After Eldon and Joyce married, he resurrected the long-held dream of turning the former school into a home on the Ball property at the end of a county road near Milano.

“It had a partition down the middle, separating the two classrooms,” Eldon said. “I told everybody it looked like a dance hall.”

The old school had 12-foot ceilings and a substantial attic. Joyce remembers climbing a ladder, poking her head into the attic and exclaiming “we could put a dormitory up here.”

Eldon replied softly, “oh, we’ll just add a second story.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

Good sleep

Assisted by family members, both Balls and Martins, Eldon turned the school into a home.

In addition to the second story, the retired educator created substantial additions to the buildings, lowered the ceilings, designated a signature breezeway—which somehow managed to remain cool and delightful even on the muggy morning The Reporter visited—and added his own typical touches.


Window-rich dining room, designed by Ball, lets family be inside and outside at the same time. Above, here’s how the Hoyte school looked before its renovation and expansion. Window-rich dining room, designed by Ball, lets family be inside and outside at the same time. Above, here’s how the Hoyte school looked before its renovation and expansion. “I moved a pond,” he smiles. “People didn’t think you could move a pond, but I did, filled in one part and dug the other part lower.”

“I remember washing rocks for him,” Joyce added. “We wanted them for the house’s underpinning. They were all taken from the land here and some of them were petrified wood.”

Wasn’t that an awful lot of work ?

Eldon grinned the wellknown “Ball Grin”: “Let’s just say nobody had to rock me to sleep at night.”

Tradition

Over the past three decades the Ball “school-home” has become a meeting place for numerous functions involving Milam County Retired Teachers.

“It just seems so appropriate to have our retired teachers gather in a former school,” Eldon said.

It’s been particularly well-remembered as the site for retired teachers’ Thanksgiving covered-dish luncheons.

There’s also a sense of history about the house. Eldon has retained a number of artifacts from his principal days including the desk he once sat behind and paperwork that shows the names of every teacher at the elementary during that time.

After a tour of the schoolhouse it’s not uncommon for visitors to remark that maybe Eldon, beloved as he was as an educator, might have missed his calling, that he should have been an architect.

That brings a typical Eldon Ball response, an “aw shucks” grin followed by, “then I would have made more money.”


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The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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