In the 1970s, when Nathan and Elaine Ballou moved to Richland, Washington, the land surrounding their new home was little more than a hillside of rocks, dirt and weeds. Where many would have seen a patch of impossibility, the Ballous saw potential. The couple went to work carving out the land, planting evergreens, and building a multi-layered landscape completed with pathways and ponds, a trickling stream, even a waterfall that cascades down to a lower patio. To sit in their garden today, it’s hard to imagine the grounds being anything other than the tranquil retreat that is so perfectly situated that it feels like Mother Nature unapologetically placed her best woodland landscape in the heart of the shrub-steppe.
The Ballous’ gardens are a testament to what can happen when opportunity meets passion and passion ignites inspiration in which motivates hard work. Some would say that the couple built a legacy over their lifetime. That is true. However, their legacy isn’t only in the shrubs and stones that shape their beautiful landscape. It is also in the lives they touch and will continue to touch long after the trees they planted stop growing.
Twelve years ago, the Ballous established the Elaine and Nathan Ballou Scholarship in Nursing and Health Sciences and later made provisions in their estate plans to ensure the fund will continue at Heritage in perpetuity. Their generosity makes it possible for students to pursue their dreams of higher education and the opportunities that come from earning their degrees.
Happenstance lead the Ballous to Heritage. Elaine was on lunch break walking around Richland one afternoon when she saw a sign for Heritage College. Intrigued, she went into the building to learn more. She spoke to the staff in the outreach office for the Tri-Cities regional site and took home a brochure to show to her husband.
Nathan, then a chemist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, was from a large mid-west family of humble means. He earned his bachelor’s degree through the help of scholarships, and the attention of a particular professor whom he befriended during his undergraduate studies helped him be successful and spurred him on to continue his education until he earned a Ph.D.
“Nate always wanted to establish a scholarship at his alma mater in honor of his professor,” said Elaine. “When I showed him the brochure for Heritage, he said it sounded like something that we should get more information about. We drove up to campus and met Sr. Kathleen and some of the students. The young people we met were all so committed to their education, the staff were incredibly dedicated to the students, and the quality of the education was fantastic.”
“Nate (who passed away in 2016) loved to learn. He learned from everybody. He could sense that same spirit in the students we met at Heritage. These are students who really value their education,” said Elaine. “No student should be deprived of their opportunity to learn if they want to learn.”
Sitting on her patio under the warm fall sunshine, Elaine is humble as she talks about her and Nathan’s relationship with Heritage and its students.
“It’s not about the financial,” she said. “It’s about doing what we can to support what we value, what we care about.”
The conversation shifts back to her garden and the decades of love and care she and her husband dedicated to nurturing every flower, shrub and tree. In many ways, it is a physical representation of what they are doing at Heritage, but with far greater reach than their own back yard. Through their support, they are nurturing generations of students. They are giving them the chance to show the world what great things can happen when opportunity meets their passions and ignites their inspiration, which leads them to work hard and, thus, change their lives and the lives of their families. This is the Ballous’ true legacy.