From coin collecting to cruising, API graduates make a difference at Auburn

Published: Jun 11, 2020 10:02 AM

By Lauren Winton

Jim and Bettye Ballenger are the retired couple everyone wants to be. They’ve moved across the country several times for work, they’ve traveled the world for pleasure, and now they are settled and living in Florida – the sunshine state.

The Ballengers got their start at Auburn, which was then known by a different name.

“We both actually graduated from Alabama Polytechnic Institute, as Auburn was called then,” said Jim, the 1959 industrial management alumnus. “A few years ago we went back for a reunion and met the last graduate of API. That was pretty special.”

Bettye completed her degree in 1959 as well, and then started teaching when she and Jim moved to Kentucky for his first job.

“I started working for the railroad right after graduation. I stayed there for about five years, and then we moved to Los Angeles where I took a job with this little company you may have heard of: the United Parcels Service,” Jim quipped.

As it turns out, Jim Ballenger is part of the reason for our two-day shipping, for our goods on demand.

“It’s actually pretty interesting,” Jim said. “When I watch TV and I see the Amazon commercial that shows the warehouse, I think, ‘huh, not much has changed since we set up that packaging system back in the 60s.’ Back then we could sort 250,000 packages per night. I’m sure the capacity has greatly increased today, but the fundamentals of the sorting systems are the same.”

The couple lived in Los Angeles for five years, and while they were there, Bettye taught school. But not just any school.

“Living in the San Fernando Valley, I had a few star-studded students in my class,” she said. “Several were from movie star families, and I had a student whose father was Isaac Stern.”

After their years on the golden coast, the couple moved to New Orleans. And with each move, they took their hobbies with them.

“We raised and showed dachshunds for a while,” said Bettye. “And of course Jim had his coin collection.”

Jim started his coin collection when he was a small kid.

“Back then, a lot of people had paper routes. I would use that money to collect coins. It grew from there,” he said.

That collection of rare coins expanded into a post-retirement business for Jim, one that even led to a substantial donation to the Auburn University Library.

“I learned that the Ralph Brown Draughon Library had the Lincoln papers — you know, the famous ones from the Civil War — in a collection. I had a collection of Civil War era currency, which I donated to the library’s Civil War era collection,” Jim said. “I encourage anyone interested in learning more about that time period to go see the collection in the basement of the library. If anything, it is worth seeing just to glimpse those letters written by President Lincoln.”

The currencies were not the first donation the Ballengers have made to Auburn University. In fact, the couple made their first gift in the late 60s.

“I remember that first gift,” Jim remarked. “I gave twenty-five dollars to engineering. And then UPS matched my gift, dollar for dollar. It wasn’t much, but it was something, especially back then.”

They stayed connected to the university through their generosity, making a donation to the Engineering Eagles in 2000.

“After that first Eagles gift, we really reconnected with Auburn,” Jim said.

Since then, they have philanthropically given to the Library, the Colleges of Nursing, Business and Engineering.

“We wanted to give to scholarships because it’s important to help students,” Bettye said. “And I wanted to give back to nursing to support women in the field.”

“Our scholarship in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering is such that it goes to male and female students who have graduated from an Alabama high school. That was very important to us,” Jim stated. “We also started a gift annuity that would go to the dean’s discretionary fund. I think it’s essential that the dean has expendable funds that he can put to whatever is most important for the college at the time.”

While their philanthropy really allowed them to reconnect with Auburn, it was the people they met along the way that solidified their love for the university.

“Having lived all over the country, we’ve been exposed to other universities,” said Bettye.

“Yes, there was night school at UCLA and in Louisville,” said Jim. “But, as great as those schools are, they really can’t compare with the caliber of people at Auburn University.”

“Everyone at Auburn is just so nice,” Bettye agreed.

And while the Ballengers love Auburn, the people who have worked with Bettye and Jim agree the feeling is mutual.

“I can’t wait to schedule a trip to come see you guys again,” said David Mattox, development officer in the College of Engineering.

On the call, the Ballengers agreed they couldn’t wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, for things to go back to normal, for good health to return. And not just because they miss visiting Auburn.

“We’re avid cruisers, you see,” said Jim. “We love to travel.”

“What is our favorite place we’ve been?” Bettye posed.

“Well, Europe is nice. The Caribbean is great. New Zealand and Australia are pretty amazing. But I’m enjoying our time at home here in Florida, too,” Jim said. “My new hobby with oil painting is keeping me busy.”

With their hobbies and background, the Ballengers really are the retired couple we all want to be.


Media Contact: Lauren Winton,, 334.844.5519
Jim and Bettye Ballenger

Jim and Bettye Ballenger

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