Let’s Talk Clovis: The Life of Azalea Ball, 1909-2008

Azalea Ball, 1909-2008. (Clovis Museum)

Azalea was a passionate, intelligent, and energetic woman. She successfully fought cancer three times. Her philosophy was to see the funny side of everything and try not to dislike anything.

Her Grandfather Abraham R. Ball was born 1839 in Bowling Green, KY. He moved to Iowa as a youth and began farming. He enlisted in the Confederacy in the Civil War twice. He was honorably discharged for a physical disability. He convalesced at home and reenlisted. We recognize that same focus and determination in Azalea’s life.  The Ball family arrived in Fresno County in 1884 on one of the first immigration trains. They established a general store in Sanger and eventually traded that enterprise for 250 acres of land on Friant Road.

They became successful ranchers. Azalea’s father Harry met his future wife, Pearl Drury, while she was working at the Floyd Gibson Store. He built their honeymoon house were the Clovis Veterans Memorial Building now stands. He built a grain mill directly west of his home (southeast corner of Clovis Ave. and Fifth) and a second grain storage near Third and Clovis Ave.

Della Azalea Ball was born on January 1st, 1909. She was delivered at home by Mrs. Heiskell. Azalea would say that the Doctor’s were too busy celebrating New Year’s to attend her birth.

School teacher Mrs. Smith was a family friend and she allowed Azalea to enter school at age five. The family moved to the ranch on Friant Road in 1916. There were no buildings on the site and Azalea’s Grandfather Frank Drury moved in a house. All slept in one room and Azalea was pleased when the first house was expanded.

Her Grandfather Frank Drury was a successful, compassionate realtor in Clovis. He built and moved homes. He was known to sell property for nothing down with no interest. He had a car that was called “the blue streak” for obvious reasons. When it was suggested he no longer drive, he rode his strawberry roan horse downtown Clovis until age 99. Like her Grandfather, Azalea loved new cars and was an accomplished cowgirl. Her goal was to live to be 100 as her Grandfather Drury had.

When eight years old Azalea would ride her horse to Clovis along the RR tracks for piano lessons. It would take two hours one way. She was horrified one time when the cow dogs had followed her. She was sure her father would be angry.

Azalea graduated from Clovis High in 1926 at age sixteen. Her class horoscope read: “Alias Dodie: hang out on a horse: desire to be popular, antipathy being skinny, brains, cause of death, stepped out, favorite saying, my gosh.” She wanted to become a professional woman. She had heard some exciting stories from a WW I nurse. She had dreams of touring the world on a hospital ship. The Burnette Hospital offered a training class for nursing but Azalea’s father would not let her go. As the oldest child she was needed on the ranch. Life on the ranch was hard. She would chop hay, work with cattle, raise and pluck chickens. Her mother Pearl was convinced that someday they could make a fortune selling eggs.

Azalea met Walt Knight while he was working for her Uncle Isaac. She stated after reaching “the legal age”, they ran away to be married. Walt worked in the oil fields and spent summers “packing” for the Edison Co. and the Forest Service. The couple had one son, Donald Clifton Knight.

In 1934 or 1935 Walt joined the Fresno County Road Department. They eventually moved to 160 acres of farmland on Copper Ave. In 1940 they bought a grazing permit on Forest Service land. For many summers they would take cattle into the high country and share a cabin with Wes and Lou Qualls. Azalea and Aunt Lou rode horseback and moved cattle right alongside the men and would then provide dinner for the crew.

It was hard work but Azalea loved it. Early spring the cattle were gathered from the Friant area, driven horseback up the County Road to a ranch in the Prather area. The cattle grazed there until June and then were driven to Jose Basin overnight, on to Shaver Lake to the end of the Road and on to the cow camp.

Azalea went to work at the County Recorder’s office in Fresno when Walt suffered his first heart attack. She recalled that she would take summers off for the cattle drive. She was an excellent employee and the County would rehire her on her return. Always a practical woman, she was disturbed that each return required her to take the Civil Service test again. Walt died in 1957. Azalea, with the support of her son Don and his wife Pat and many friends continued to run cattle.

Later, a longtime bachelor family friend and neighbor, Claude Biglione, called on her and stated that he had asked her folks if they would care if he courted her with the intention of marriage. Azalea exclaimed, “Claude why didn’t you ask me?” He stated he thought she would agree since all the girls had been chasing him.

They were married in 1960 and purchased foothill property. Claude worked on the “west side” for Gilmore Land Co. while Azalea managed the cattle.  Azalea and Claude had racehorses and Claude’s parents Fred and Katie Biglione would travel with them to enter races in California and Arizona. They were delighted when their horse won the Fresno Futurity.

Their happiness was destroyed when Claude died suddenly in 1977. His ashes were scattered at Copper Peak on the property they had purchased together. Azalea remained on Copper Avenue and personally managed her investments. In 1997 she established her home in Clovis.

Azalea is a part of our rich heritage

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.