CLEARFIELD — There are two things in Shirley Ball’s life that remain constant — every morning he eats breakfast at the Star Café in Clearfield, and every year his birthday rolls around, this year reaching 101.
Ball’s memory is still sharp, according to the café waitresses who serve him every morning, as evidenced by Ball’s recounting of several life stories before even getting to the birthday cake as he gathered in the café with friends and family for a birthday celebration Thursday.
Ball recalled the moments he worked on the crash rescue team at Hill Air Force Base, seeing men as blackened by burns as the coffee pot sitting next to him on the table, or the time a pilot crash-landed on base, begging Ball to shoot him because the pilot was burned from head to toe. Ball cut the pilot’s seat belt and sent him to the hospital, but the pilot died 10 days later.
Ball’s daughter Sherryl Hart says her father rarely talked about the bad things in his line of work, especially when it came to pilots killed on base when they crashed.
“He focused on the good and interesting parts at work,” said Hart, recalling a story her father told of training three men while working at Hill.
The training included a controlled burn, but the wind changed and suddenly the flames began encroaching upon the group. One of the trainees ran away, getting severely burned in the process. The other two men stayed with Ball, who told them what to do to stay safe. The three gathered close together under Ball’s instruction, held their hoses shooting water near to their faces, cooling them and giving out extra oxygen. As a result, the three men were uninjured.
Amanda Alcaraz, who has been a waitress for the last year on most of the mornings Ball has been eating breakfast at the restaurant, wanted to do something special for Ball, so she organized the birthday celebration.
“In the mornings, he entertains us with his stories. He doesn’t skip a beat,” Alcaraz said. “He gets teary-eyed when he talks about rescuing a three-year-old from a house on fire. I wanted to do this for him so everyone can see what an amazing man he is.”
Ball worked at Hill beginning in the late 1930s until retiring in 1972. He then worked as an electrician for more than 20 years and spent 26 years volunteering for the Kaysville City Fire Department.
Ball’s son-in-law, Burt McDonald, said it was Ball’s nature to help other people.
“He’s always been there at the hub of everybody,” McDonald said.
When McDonald’s son was born, he hoped Ball would live long enough for his son to remember his great-grandpa. McDonald’s son is now in his twenties.
McDonald believes the secret to Ball’s longevity is his good-natured friendliness. “He’s always been social, and says that is his tribute to a long life – being social and active,” McDonald said.
For Ball, it was just part of life.
“I’ve had quite a colorful life with all kinds of jobs, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them, even during the tough times.”