The late Dennis Ball (84). Photo supplied.

Soutpansberg pioneer Dennis Ball passes away

Date: 24 November 2023 By: Pétria de Vaal

Dennis Charles Ball, one of the pioneers in our community, passed away peacefully in the early hours of Monday morning, 20 November, at the high-care facility of Our Home, Louis Trichardt, from natural causes associated with Alzheimer’s and ageing.

Dennis was born in Johannesburg on 29 May 1938. He was the only son of Rex and Vera Ball (née Mavor). Rex immigrated to Durban from New Zealand, where he married Vera. Rex was a businessman who imported arcade games and slot machines. Dennis’ grandfather, Rodrick Mavor (known as “Oompie” in the community), settled in Bandelierkop and became a cattle rancher in the early 1900s.

Dennis attended King Edward School in Johannesburg and then Queen’s College in Queenstown, where he had the opportunity to participate in the South African National Athletics Championships in high jump. His record stood for many years. He also attended high school in Tweespruit in the Free State, where he pursued agriculture. His family remembers that he shared fond memories of his time there. He would spend lots of time riding his horse around the school farm and would add, smilingly, that he had often ditched class to go riding and farming instead.

When Dennis’ parents retired, they bought a farm in the Bandelierkop area. Dennis had always known he was destined to be a farmer. He did not complete his school career but went to farm in Bandelierkop. While he did not have any formal tertiary education, he learned about cattle from his mentor, Prof J C Bonsma, a famous animal geneticist, distinguished pioneer of agricultural research and father of the Bonsmara cattle breed.

Together with his father Rex and others, Dennis became involved in founding the Bonsmara Society and became an incredibly successful and well-regarded Bonsmara breeder and stockman. Dennis served as honorary secretary and treasurer for a period. Together with John Hutton, he was the first Bonsmara inspector appointed for the Northern Transvaal and accompanied performance-testing officers on their herd visits. He spent most of his time with his cattle, and his breeding left a significant impact on the breed. His involvement in the Bonsmara community enabled him to travel extensively throughout Southern Africa. He was always finding ways to encourage breeders. He was an avid Round Tabler and loved making new friends. He was involved in various agricultural organisations, the United Party, and missionary work. Later, together with his family, he established the Shiawela Private Nature Reserve in 1965 and started game farming.

Dennis spent 67 years of his life on the farm in Bandelierkop. He met his wife, Carol (née Neaves), as a teenager in Durban. He married his childhood sweetheart in 1961 and settled on the farm in Bandelierkop, where they had three children, Catherine, Richard, and Kenneth Ball. In the 1970s, together with his wife, Dennis got involved in missionary work, sharing about his faith and ministering, especially in rural communities.

The family shares that he always needed to be busy. He was incredibly passionate about environmental conservation and spent lots of time removing invasive plants and nurturing his land. He was constantly reading about farming, agriculture, conservation, African culture, and history. He loved learning about his passions: farming, and particularly his faith. He was a perpetual student and observant of the environment and people. He channelled his enthusiasm toward many environmental causes. Today, Bandelierkop and surrounding areas have a healthy ox-pecker population as a direct result of his initiative in reintroducing the species to the area and encouraging farmers to use ox-pecker-safe products.

Dennis Ball, described as a man of exceptional generosity and kindness, left an incredible mark on those fortunate enough to know him. His wisdom was matched only by his enthusiasm for sharing knowledge and encouraging thoughtful reflection in others. With a delightful sense of humour, he playfully teased his family, always striving to bring laughter into their lives. Dennis seamlessly integrated his faith into every conversation, reflecting his deep and abiding love for Jesus. Dennis’s legacy is one of laughter, warmth, and a genuine love of life that will be cherished by all who knew him.

“Known for his boundless passion and commitment to perfection, Dennis was a visionary initiating projects. He possessed a clear sense of purpose, pursuing his goals with determination. He was a leader and influencer in his community, never afraid to confront what was wrong. The family shares that they fondly referred to him as 'Op-stroom', as he was committed to doing what he believed was right,” said the family.

Dennis’s oldest friend, Rob Milton, summarised it wonderfully during a telephonic conversation: “He was very knowledgeable about the environment, plants, and animals. But his greatest love was for the Lord when he and Carol became born again, and they went through a lot of trials and rejection, but he stood firm in his faith. He was a man of honour, he was a man who stood by what he said, and he has helped others in all the different ways that I could possibly imagine … He was a lovely man, an honest man, and a gentleman and he will be greatly missed by us. It was a great privilege for me to know him personally and grow up with him,” said Milton.

Charles Leach also remembers Dennis for his involvement in the Bonsmara cattle breed. “The success of the current Trophy Hunting enterprise - conducted by Joanne and Kenneth - can also be partly attributed to Dennis’s foresight and original planning of the farm and game camps. Dennis was also an outstanding athletics coach and contributed much to Cathy’s athletic success as a schoolgirl! Dennis and Carol will be remembered as an active and enthusiastic team during their years as members of Round Table in Louis Trichardt.”

“He was my hero and inspiration. I will forever talk about how much I love my Grandpa and how proud I am of him. He is part of me, and I will cherish our memories forever. Words will never do justice to how fondly he will be remembered,” said Dr Micaela Hartman.

“He was not only my beloved father but also my inspiration and catalyst for my love and passion for indigenous cattle and the importance of selecting for adaptability. I will sorely miss my father’s advocacy and mentorship,” said son Kenneth.

Dennis leaves behind his spouse and sweetheart (Carol) of almost 63 years; his only daughter Catherine Ball, her children Kirsten Openshaw, her fiancé Oliver Moss and great-grandson Nicolas Openshaw Moss; his first-born son, Richard and his wife Angela, as well as their children Chantel and Rachel and her fiancé Douglas Archer; his last-born son, Kenneth and his wife Joanne, as well as their children Jonathan and Clarette, and Micaela and Daniel Hartman.

The family announced the celebration of Dennis’s life during a memorial service at 11:00 on 28 November in the Agapé Christian Centre, 90 Munnik Street, Louis Trichardt. Anyone who would like to attend is welcome. (Article compiled in conjunction with Dr Micaela Hartman)



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