In eulogizing David Balas, Rabbi Michael Schadick noted that Jewish sages teach that those who pass away during the High Holy Days “are particularly special to God.”
David Lloyd Balas, arts supporter, benefactor and three-term, openly-gay member of the East Lansing City Council, died Oct. 1 with his husband Jim Sellman at his side in the home they shared in Saugatuck. Balas was 67 and his passing followed a lengthy battle with cancer.
“David Balas passed away on Monday evening, which was Rosh Hashanah, which was the first day of our New Year,” Rabbi Schadick noted at a funeral for Balas held on Oct. 3 at Temple Emanuel in Grand Rapids. “Could there ever have been a doubt in our minds that this would be the season of the year in which he would pass away?”
Balas was particularly special within Michigan’s LGBTQ community as well. From 1983 to 1995, Balas served on the East Lansing City Council. At a time when few officeholders were openly gay, Balas made no secret of his sexuality.
Among his achievements on the council were sponsoring the state’s first ordinance that banned smoking in restaurants and authoring a requirement that owners take a safety course before being granted a handgun permit.
“I will always remember David and his smile,” said Bob Egan, who knew Balas since the 1980s, in part through involvement with the Capital Men’s Club, a social organization for Lansing-area gay men. Egan, who later served as president of the Michigan Organization for Human Rights and co-chair of a ballot fight to defend Lansing’s human rights ordinance, recalled that Balas was “always supportive” of local gay and lesbian efforts.
Balas was born in Mt. Clemens on Jan. 16, 1952, and graduated from University Liggett High School in 1970. He received his bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio in 1974 and earned his J.D. at the University of Toledo Law School in 1977.
Following a short stint working for the Washtenaw County Prosecutor, Balas joined the Michigan Attorney General’s Office in 1979, and enjoyed a long career as an Assistant Attorney General providing counsel in such areas as transportation, aeronautics and retirement.
Balas and Sellman met in East Lansing in 1982 and were together for 37 years. When Balas retired in 2003, the couple relocated from Lansing to Saugatuck, settling into a house they built there in 1995.
Their years in Saugatuck were filled with cultural riches, and they gave back to their community. Balas served on the Saugatuck Historic District Commission and on the boards of the Mason Street Warehouse equity theatre and Ox-Bow School of Art & Artists’ Residency.
As a couple, they contributed generously to arts and LGBTQ causes, providing financial support to West Shore Aware and establishing the Balas-Sellman Family Fund through the Allegan County Community Foundation.
The two were united in marriage on July 13, 2015, just weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
“David wanted to wait until the state in which he lived recognized his union,” Schadick said in his eulogy.
In addition to Sellman, Balas was survived by his twin brother Philip, his sister Leslie, a niece and two nephews.
“I think David Balas understood how precious each of his days were,” Schadick said. “While he was with us he chose to do what many of us find too difficult or time-consuming, and that is to bring people together and shower his love and affection on them.”
A Celebration of Bigger than Life will be held for Balas on Oct. 25, 2019, at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts on Culver Street in Saugatuck, at a time to be determined.