"Holy Toledo!"

January 17, 2008

In Memory Of A Great American Hero, Ma Bale

Filed under: Life, News & Politics, NHRA — Bill @ 9:37 pm

(As a kid growing up around boat racing I had one hero, Dwight Bale. His mother, “Ma Bale” was the first lady of boat drag racing. We lost her on Thanksgiving Day. Her spirit will be with us forever.)

In life there are few real heroes. Here is the story of one of them as wriiten by her sonLawren.

Jean Moore Gravelle (Ma Bale) daughter of Leonard R. and Mary Roberts Moore, born, July 23, 1921 in Elsinore, CA. Died of natural causes Thanksgiving Evening, November 22, 2007 in Hemet, California.

Jean Moore grew up in Acadia, California during the depression; attended “MAD” High School and played drums in the school band in the late 1930’s, when Monrovia, Acadia and Duarte were still small enough to share a unified school district. As a teenager Jean would sit by the radio for hours listening to Country Music. At 14, she spent a summer in Denver with cousin Miriam, who taught her to dress and sit down like a lady. Jean attended State Teachers College in Santa Barbara where she met Mills Bale at a school dance. He was student at Cal Poly, San Louis Obispo. They first kissed under the giant Banyan Tree at the Union Pacific Train Station in Santa Barbara.

Married to Mills L. Bale of Lisbon, North Dakota on Easter Sunday 1942. Jean traveled extensively through the West during WWII, giving birth to her first son Dwight Wilbur in Albuquerque, New Mexico – 1943; and her second son Malcolm Lewis “Mac” Bale in Grey Bull, Wyoming – 1945. While Jean stayed home to mind the family, Mills entered the war in the Pacific and was an highly decorated Army Air Corps B-29 pilot. At the end of the war, Mills and Jean briefly settled in Bell Flower, California where their third son Lawrence was born in Artesia, California – 1946. The family moved to San Lorenzo in the Bay Area in 1947, and then out to Walnut Creek, in 1953. Living in “the Creek,” our neighbors included Jim Davis, Dennis Baca, Pete Ogden and Art Himsl. Jean knew Jim Davis when he was fifteen and driving a Cushmahn motor scooter. She may have sold him his first car. Eventually, Davis introduced the Bale family to Drag racing. It was Dennis Baca who got Dwight interested in Drag Boats, but our story line
has jumped ahead of itself. First we must take note that thirty-four year old housewife and mother of three sons, Jean Moore Bale was widowed in June

of 1955, when Mills, a commercial pilot, died in plane crash in Ontario, Canada.

She moved to Hemet, California in 1960. Her brother Lewis Moore was a school
administrator there and Jean decided Hemet was a nice town to continue raising her sons. All three sons graduated from Hemet Union High School, and Ma Bale will be remembered as a dedicated fan of Hemet Union High football and basketball games. She may also be remembered for driving her ’59 Chevy Impala convertible packed full of kids to many of the away games in Palm Springs, Perris, Banning, Beaumont, and Elsinore; and also for the occasional High School party she and Mac cooked up.

In 1965, Ma Bale the empty nester moved to Oakland, California, worked in a Hallmark Card store, and ardently followed the auto and boat drag racing careers of her sons Dwight and Mac, both of whom were National Champion drag boat racers. Her smile was a site to behold in the pits of many major drag racing events: First at Lodi – in 1957, she took her sons to see Don Garlits first West Coast tour; at the Bakersfield Fuelers Meet in 1965; but most often you could find Ma Bale at The Fremont Drags.

In a Summer 1967 her oldest son Dwight broke the drag boat world speed record at 181 mph., 7.45 seconds in a ¼ mile on water. Bale got a two page full color spread in Hot Rod Magazine, and Ma Bale became a regular in the
pits of California Drag Boat Racing venues. There were many good times racing, many victories and many records broken. However, tragedy once again entered Ma Bale’s life when Mac, who won the National Drag Boat Championship of 1969, died in a racing accident, February 1, 1970.

After Mac’s death, Ma Bale moved to Soquel, California. She took up residence in a trailer park, with a view of the ocean out her kitchen window, and set about making a new life. Until Dwight’s accidental death in 1973, her involvement with Drag Boat racing continued, but she had also assumed the responsibility of looking after her aging father Leonard and his wife Enid.

Working in a Pharmacy was something Jean had mastered in Hemet, at Hutt’s Pharmacy, on the corner of Florida and Harvard. Having settled near her folks, she found work at a pharmacy in Aptos, one Freeway stop away from Soquel, just south of Santa Cruz. There she met the second love of her life, Don Gravelle, a paving contractor with a family of seven brothers and sisters all of whom lived in the Monterey and Santa Cruz coastal area of central California. Mom and Don were married, June of 1973, in a cozy Chapel adjoin-ing the Silver Queen Saloon in Virginia City, Nevada. In the same ceremony, Helga and Jim “Bones” Noteboom; and Art and Ellen Himsl were

It was quite apparent that Jean and Don loved each other, and they both loved to travel. They were often in Vegas, or Reno, South Lake Tahoe, or Hawaii. They caught a “luxury” freighter to Hong Kong, Korea and Japan – stopping off to visit Lawren, Jean’s youngest son who was studying and teaching English in Kyoto. The eleven years Jean spent with Don Gravelle were among her happiest.

After Don passed away, Jean returned to Southern California, eventually settling back in Hemet in 1987 at the Casa de Verdugo, an independent assisted living home for elders, where she resided these past twenty years.

A superb mother and friend, who raised three sons virtually by herself in a era when economic discrimination toward women was the accepted norm. Her house was always open to her son’s friends. They fondly nicknamed her, “Ma
Bale.” She possessed a keen sense of justice and taught her sons to respect all life; to treat others as themselves; and to know the difference betwee
right and wrong. She was also a staunch, though non-vocal pioneer of women’s reproductive rights. Through thick and thin, Ma Bale enthusiastically
embraced life with a rare exuberance. Through example, she taught us all to face each day with optimism, determination and a sense of joy that was profoundly informed by her love of music, and her deeply abiding Christian faith.



  1. My Father is Lawren, Ma Bale’s youngest. I just returned home from her memorial service. Thank you for this lovely tribute.


    Comment by S. Kaneshiro (Bale) — January 30, 2008 @ 11:02 pm

  2. I was one of the many friends of Larry and Mac. I loved Ma and remember her fondly. I am so very glad to know she remarried and was happy. I would like to made contact with Larry (Lawrence, Lawren). If you could help in any way please let me know.

    Bonny Walter (Clasby, Bonny Mouse)

    Comment by Bonny Walter (Clasby) — February 23, 2008 @ 5:05 pm

  3. Bonny,
    Thank you for your comments about Ma Bale.

    I have forwarded your comment along with your email address to Lawren Bale.

    Thanks again,

    Comment by Bill — February 24, 2008 @ 10:45 am

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