Ralph Ballew was born March 28, 1930, in Blount County, Alabama. He received a bachelor's degree in agricultural science from Auburn University in 1952. After serving two years in the Army, he became an assistant 4-H extension agent in Cherokee County, Alabama in 1954.
In 1960, he went to Michigan State University, where he received a master's degree in visual communications. Following graduation, he returned to Auburn, where he worked in photography and editing. In 1966, he became a publications editor for the Tennessee Valley Authority at Muscle Shoals, Alabama. In 1973, he went to Mississippi State University as leader of extension information services.
His awards include Conservation Communicator of the Year and two merit awards from Gamma Sigma Delta. In 1989, he received the ACE Professional Award.
Ballew retired from Mississippi State in April 1990 and moved to Horton, Alabama. In retirement, he has been active in the National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE), serving successively as second vice president, first vice president and president of his local chapter. He also has served as a district leader, and at the 1997 state convention was elected third vice president for the state.