The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Eric and Jeff Ball Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

July 13, 2015


Eric S. Ball was born in 1964 in Placerville, California. His brother, Jeffrey L. Ball, was born the following year in Woodland, California. The Ball family moved north to Salem, Oregon in 1969, where they lived for a year before settling on a ranch near Roseburg, Oregon. Originally the family raised cattle and sheep on their land, and later switched focus to growing Christmas trees.

Both Eric and Jeff played tennis in high school, pairing up for two of those years as a doubles team, and taking second in state during Eric's senior year at Roseburg High School. Both brothers also enrolled in classes at Umpqua Community College during their senior year in high school, and each availed himself of the opportunity to take a course taught by their father, Hal Ball, himself a civil engineer.

After graduating from Roseburg High in 1982, Eric looked at out-of-state schools, but quickly decided to go to Oregon State University. Once in Corvallis, he joined the club tennis team and became its president. Jeff began his own studies at OSU the following year, living with his brother as a freshman. Both Eric and Jeff pursued majors in mechanical engineering and both completed senior projects in support of their engineering degrees - Eric conducting a testing study of tennis racket strings, while Jeff measured corrosion on samples of different metals that had been placed in Yaquina Bay.

During the summers, Eric and Jeff returned home to work at Orenco Systems, Inc., a wastewater solutions company that their father co-founded. The company was created in 1981 by six partners, five of whom left during the 1981-1982 recession, leaving Hal in charge of the organization. At the time, Orenco was being operated out of the Ball family garage, with office space located inside the home.

After graduating at the end of 1985 with a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, Eric returned home to work full-time for Orenco. Jeff followed suit a year later, once he had completed his own degree in mechanical engineering.

In the early 1990s, Orenco moved to its current location in an industrial zone within the city of Sutherlin, Oregon. As the company grew, Eric concentrated on product development, especially composites, an interest that eventually spun off into an entire division of the company, called Orenco Composites. Meanwhile, Jeff's position evolved more toward the administrative end. Named general manager of the company in 1996, he became the head of Orenco's sales and marketing activities in 2002, focusing primarily on Orenco's flagship products.

By 2009, Orenco had expanded to the point where it required another building, which now houses most of the company's composites production; a third building was added in 2013. That same year, Eric used his expertise in composites to expand into the recreational market, producing ping pong tables embedded with custom images. (Orenco had previously produced architectural panels and manhole covers using a similar technique.)

Today, both brothers remain deeply involved with the family business as co-owners and executives. Eric presently works as vice president of product development, while Jeff holds the title of vice president of operations. The company conducts business on an international scale and is the eighth-largest employer in Douglas County.