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Ross helped establish local campus of Sierra College

Dr. Robert Ross, an optometrist and longtime civil servant who led a lengthy and ultimately successful campaign to create a Sierra College campus in Grass Valley, died Friday. He was 88.

Services will be held at 1 p.m. Friday at the Grass Valley United Methodist Church, with a reception following in the Wesley Fellowship Hall adjacent to the church.

Friends and family recalled Mr. Ross as a tireless champion of education for Nevada County’s students, first on the Grass Valley School District board and later as a 30-year member of the Sierra Community College board of trustees. Ross was recalled by those close to Sierra College’s Nevada County campus as the driving force behind the campus, which opened in 1996.



“He would tell us quietly and consistently that we needed this campus,” said Barbara Vineyard, who has served the Lincoln area as a trustee on the Sierra Ccollege board for 22 years. “He was conscientious and thoughtful and always had the image of the college up front. …'”

He made good on that promise after 12 years of wrangling with Sacramento for $14 million to build the campus near Litton Hill.




Those attending Sierra College prior to the college’s opening were forced to take night classes at Nevada Union High School. Mr. Ross and others in the early 1990s realized that Nevada County was going to grow and pushed a new campus, in part to alleviate the traffic driving down Highway 49 to Rocklin all hours of the night.

“Sierra College was his life,” said former college president Gerald Angove, whose 18-year tenure included developing plans for the local campus.

Angove first met Ross as a teenager in the 1940s, shortly after Ross opened his optometry practice on Mill Street downtown.

Mr. Ross was “an educator at heart,” Angove said, who served for more than three decades as a trustee on the Grass Valley School District board. While on the board, he helped to open Lyman Gilmore Middle School, and, his daughter Irene Nelson said, convinced the board to install floor heaters for the elementary school children at Bell Hill School.

Ross pushed for the college during a time when Angove fretted there wouldn’t be enough money, Angove said. Ross lobbied Sacramento for more money to purchase furniture for the fledgling campus.

“He kept me focused the whole time,” said Angove, a Grass Valley resident who served as the college system’s third president from 1975-93.

Ross lost his re-election bid to Nancy Palmer in 1994, but remained close to the campus he helped build until shortly before his death.

“He was always incredibly supportive to me in getting this campus going,” said Nevada County campus provost Tina Ludutsky-Taylor, who arrived from New Mexico and quickly sought Ross’ counsel. “Whether it was constructive criticism or feedback, he was always very gracious. He is Mr. Nevada County campus, to be sure.”

As a tribute, the street leading to the Nevada County campus is named Robert Ross Way.

Robert LeRoy Ross Jr. was born Aug. 16, 1916, in Dysart, Iowa, to Robert LeRoy and Mabel Laura Flaugh Ross. After graduating from high school, he worked at the local newspaper, where his father was the editor. After graduating from Colorado State University in 1940 with a degree in forestry, he served in the Officers Reserve Corps and was a student pilot, later entering the Army Air Corps. In 1944, he was commissioned a captain in the U.S. Air Force. He was an accomplished P-51 and P-38 fighter pilot and instructor, said his son-in-law, David Nelson.

He was a frequent guest at Sierra College sporting events and indulged in his love for the performing arts by often attending Sierra College plays. Until last spring, Ross had never missed a graduation at the amphitheater at the Nevada County campus.

Ross was also a member of Grass Valley Rotary.

In addition to his daughter and son-in-law, Mr. Ross is survived by his wife of 63 years, Esther; daughters and sons-in-law Kerry and Steve Geist of Sacramento and Lynne and Scott Halverson of Mt. Herman; sons and daughters-in-law Robert III and Suzanne Ross of Newcastle, Richard and Kate Ross of Longmont, Colo., and Craig and Kim Ross of Livermore; and 14 grandchildren.

Memorial contributions may be made to the United Methodist Church, 236 S. Church St., or the Sierra College Foundation, 250 Sierra College Drive, Grass Valley, CA. Arrangements are under the direction of Chapel of the Angels Mortuary.


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