Ocracoke’s Kenny Ballance throws a weekend-long retirement party
….WITH SLIDE SHOW
By CONNIE LEINBACH
what may have been the party of the century, Ocracoke Island celebrated
beloved native son Kenny Ballance’s retirement from his position as
Ocracoke district ranger for the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
35 years, Kenny retired in October from the National Park Service and
threw a party on Oct. 19, his birthday, inviting islanders, family,
friends, and work colleagues. More than 520 attended Friday
night, he said Sunday morning at a gathering at Ocracoke Coffee.
was an event four years in the making, and Kenny footed the bill for
the hors d’oeuvres, food, dessert, alcoholic beverages, and a band, the
Rondels from Virginia Beach.
“I always said I wanted to do
this,” Kenny said about the weekend bash at the final gathering Sunday
morning. “I think I’ll go to bed at 6:30 tonight!”
the attendees were 11 family members from Texas, 30-plus Coast Guard
friends and 150 from the National Park Service, he said.
party began Friday evening at his home with hors d’oeuvres, dinner,
then dancing to oldies by the Rondels. The band quit at 10 p.m. and
Kenny turned the lights out at midnight, but the party continued
Saturday night at Howard’s Pub, where the Rondels played again.
Pub was more packed than I had ever seen,” said Tracy Kelley of
Raleigh. “Kenny was hugging everyone. I talked to people from Canada
who came especially for this.”
“Everyone loves Kenny,” said
Tammy Tolson at the Friday evening party. That’s why friends,
family and current and past colleagues from all over journeyed to
Ocracoke to support him.
“I wouldn’t have missed this for the
world,” noted Mike Anderson, who attended with his wife, Gail. They are
rangers at the Virgin Islands National Park in St. John. He and Kenny
had worked together for 13 years at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.
who’s ever met Kenny has wanted to be here,” noted Ted Morlock, a Park
Service employee from Massachusetts. “He leaves that kind of
At the Friday evening party, the U.S. Coast Guard
presented Kenny with a special flag that had flown on the USCG Cutter
Ocracoke, WPB 1307.
“They flew it on Oct. 5 on the Ocracoke off
of Hawaii,” said Maj. Robert Sharples, U.S. Air Force, retired, of
Warner Robins, Ga., who presented the flag. “Then they took it down and
FedExed it to me.”
The Coast Guard group had been stationed on
the island from 1979 to 1981 under the command of Chief Petty Officer
Ronny Van O’Neal, noted Jimmy Atkins, who ran the boats. “When we were
here, Kenny was the host,” he said. “He took us in and took care of us.”
was the glue,” added Wayne DiGeronimo of New Hampshire. “There’s
nobody in the world like him. He has the unique ability to make you
feel like you’re the most important person in the world.”
Dickey, a professional actress from Los Angeles, who met Kenny on the
beach 30 years ago and has visited frequently since, made a special
point to attend.
“He instantly became friends with me and my
family,” she said Sunday morning while sipping coffee with her husband,
Hetu. “Kenny’s just an exceptional human being,” she continued, tears
beginning to well in her eyes. “I just decided I wasn’t going to
miss this party.”
Not one to sit around in his retirement, Kenny is working at the Ocracoke Health Center.
To read more about Kenny Ballance and his career as a park ranger, go to