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Super Senior: Donald Balch - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Super Senior: Donald Balch

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WEYBRIDGE, Vt. -

In war, who lives and who dies could come down to simply where you stand.

"Feel that I'm very lucky to be here," Donald Balch said, "because I was in a couple inches of being killed a number of times."

Donald saw the horrors of combat in World War II, from the Battle of the Bulge to the end of the war in Europe.

"Ugly, ugly, ugly time," Donald said.

After the war, he made the best of his life. The farm boy from Lyme, New Hampshire, got a college degree, married Mary and raised a boy and a girl. Donald got a job running the University of Vermont's Morgan Horse Farm in Weybridge.

"I was passionate about them after being there," he said.

The U.S. government had just sold the 942-acre farm to the university for $1. From 1907 to 1951, the military wanted a place to produce an animal with good stamina and good bones, a horse for combat. But by the 1950s the idea of a horse in war was a thing of the past.

For more than 30 years, Donald traveled from his home in Jericho to the farm in Weybridge, a distance of 50 miles. Today, it's just a joy ride.

"Already moving the lawn! That's good, I'm glad somebody's working," he said.

It was Don's second home. People at the farm call him Dr. Balch. He's a doctor of animal genetics; his job was to guide the breeding program down on the farm.

Steve Davis is a friend and a former student. Davis now is the director of the Morgan Horse Farm.

"He's the icon that started this University of Vermont program and he's my valued mentor in my career," Davis said of Donald.

Spring allows Freedom and her 2014 version, a foal named Whimsical, to stretch their legs.

"That is really a nice looking foal!" Donald said.

In the early days, Donald says the farm wasn't high on UVM's priority list.

Donald Balch: But no, I didn't know their plans until I'd been here six years.

Reporter Joe Carroll: Surprise!

Donald Balch: Yeah, surprise. And then they said they were going to sell it.

That's when he made some phone calls to people in the Morgan horse world. He asked for financial help. The college told him if he couldn't make the place self-sufficient they were going put it up for sale.

Donald Balch: That's when I started the apprentice program and started charging admission to the tourists that came.

Joe Carroll: You saved the farm!

Donald Balch: Well, I think I had a big part of it, I think. I don't go around saying I am a savior of it.

Now the farm is running like the horses, galloping along. They can thank Donald Balch for that.

The Morgan Horse statue on the farm was erected just a year before the 91-year-old was born. A man and his horse, both part of the history of a Vermont institution.

After leaving the farm, Donald found a new passion. He's now an avid golfer.

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