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Obituary Stories

Exemplary principal shared talent for music, golf

Joe Napsha
| Sunday, June 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Alexander Balla Jr. Mr. Balla served 31 years as a principal in the Gateway School District.
Alexander Balla Jr. Mr. Balla served 31 years as a principal in the Gateway School District.

When Alex Balla retired in 1998 after 31 years as a Gateway School District elementary school principal, it gave him more time to pursue one of his passions — golf.

He loved to join a group of golf-playing buddies, and frequented courses in Murrysville, said his wife, Jean Balla.

For five years, he ran the Keystone Professional Golf Association Junior League in Pittsburgh's eastern suburbs. His opinion on golf was so well-respected that he was part of a team of golfers that rated public golf courses, his wife said.

Alexander J. Balla Jr. of Monroeville died Saturday, June 29, 2013, in Monroeville. He was 75.

He was born Dec. 24, 1937, in Richeyville, Washington County, the son of the late Alexander and Mary Balla.

Rather than join his father in J&L Steel Corp.'s Vesta No. 4 Mine in Richeyville, young Alex Balla followed his father's advice and went to nearby California State College, now California University of Pennsylvania, to earn his teaching degree.

But he needed money to pay for college, and that's where his skills as an accomplished musician, playing the clarinet and saxophone, paid off.

“He was earning money (making music) before he could drive,” Jean Balla said.

“It was the way he earned money to go to school,” she said, recalling that Alex Balla's father had been laid off at the coal mine.

Among the bands he played with in the 1950s and 1960s were the Angie Bates Orchestra, which performed at the then-popular Twin Coaches nightclub on Route 51 in Rostraver.

Before becoming an elementary school principal, he taught for nine years at Gateway's University Park Elementary School.

Having a male elementary school teacher at that time was unusual, his wife said.

“He was in the minority,” she joked.

It was at University Park Elementary School where he met his wife in the early 1960s. The couple celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in August 2012. Jean Balla said she taught in the classroom across the hall from her husband.

Mr. Balla was so well-respected among his fellow principals that he served as president of the Pennsylvania Association of Elementary & Secondary School Principals in 1986 and 1987.

When his sons, Bryan and Kevin, were young, he was active in the Monroeville Little League Association, serving as president one year and as treasurer for many years.

He was a member of the Monroeville United Methodist Church, where he served in several posts for many years, Jean Balla said.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons, Bryan Balla of Nottingham, Chester County, and Kevin Balla of Cranberry, and five grandchildren.

Friends and family will be received from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Jobe Memorial Home, 445 Beatty Road, Monroeville. A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Wednesday in Monroeville United Methodist Church, 219 Center Road.

Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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