Nobody can run a newspaper to everyone’s satisfaction – as The Durango Herald opinion page masthead plainly states – nonetheless, Morley Ballantine (1925-2009) established a loyal following and a large coterie of admirers during her half-century-plus in Durango.
The community honors her every year when it hands out the Morley Ballantine Award, given to a woman who excels professionally, improves the lives of fellow residents and assists others in realizing their leadership potential.
Ballantine Communications is celebrating 70 years of ownership. Please join us for an informal open house at 5 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18, or 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 19, at The Durango Herald office, 1275 Main Ave.
Once called the Athena Award, the Durango Chamber of Commerce’s annual honor was renamed the Morley Ballantine Award in 2005. Previous award winners get together to pick each year’s recipient. When the idea arose to rename it, Morley (the 1997 winner), who never asked for recognition, was less than thrilled. But others insisted.
“It was unanimous,” recalled Sheri Rochford Figgs, 1993 Athena winner who worked with Morley to raise funding for both the Community Concert Hall and Center of Southwest Studies at Fort Lewis College.
Said Joanne Spina, who received the 2006 “Morley”: “You just felt so honored to be given an award named after her, and all that she represented in terms of her leadership in the community.”
That leadership role began when she and Arthur Ballantine arrived in Durango in 1952, but it blossomed after Arthur’s death forced her to take on a larger influence and redefine herself. Morley became sole publisher of the Herald.
When she stepped down as publisher in 1983, she retained the title of editor and chairman of the board. She also wrote a weekly column.
Morley stepped into positions traditionally dominated by men, starting with her role as publisher of a daily newspaper. She became a board member of the influential First National Bank of Durango and at several institutions of higher education, including Colorado Women’s College, the University of Denver and the Fort Lewis College Foundation.
Don Mapel, president of the regional Coca-Cola distributorship who served alongside Morley on the FLC Foundation board, said, “She could get things moving in a rather dramatic fashion. ... If you had Morley on your side, you were going a long way.”
It was a role as model for and mentor to up-and-coming businesswomen that perhaps most cemented her growing legacy.
Among her many causes included the local and statewide League of Women Voters and Planned Parenthood. She was a founding member in 1987 of Durango’s Women’s Resource Center, still flourishing today.
In 1990, she was the first woman to be named Durango’s Citizen of the Year. In 2002, she was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame. She was inducted posthumously in 2018 into the Colorado Press Association Hall of Fame for her long dedication to journalism.
Through the Ballantine Family Fund, established in 1957, the Ballantines have championed education, the arts, Southwest archaeology and many other causes. In 2000, Morley was named Colorado’s “Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year.”
Foremost, Morley Ballantine cared deeply about the community and believed in the role of the Herald as communicator and watchdog. Those are tenets she passed down to children, grandchildren and the community at large.
“She made such a difference,” said Susan Lander, former director of the Women’s Resource Center in Durango. “I just loved her. She was amazing.”
Note: Some of the information and quotes for this story were taken from an upcoming book, “The Ballantines: Building Community Issue By Issue,” scheduled for release this fall.