Headlines in the Midlands
Len Ross: Giving Back to the Community
By Rachel Dean
June 20, 2012
This April, Len Ross and other members of the Alumni Association of Epworth Children's Home held their 4th annual Cookout for Kids, raising over $28,000.
Epworth Children's Home, built in 1896, cares for children ages 4 to 18. Seventy-five percent of the children are placed there through the South Carolina Department of Social Services, while the remaining twenty-five percent are placed there privately. Epworth receives ten percent of its funding through government sources; the rest is received in donations.
Ross remembers planning for the first fundraising event with the alumni, mapping the way for future events.
"One of the ladies there, who was in charge of fundraising, challenged the alumni to do a fundraiser," Ross said. "And I thought, 'Oh Lord, what have I gotten involved in? I don't know how to do that'. And they challenged us to raise $10,000. And, I mean, there was a lot of anxiety really at the beginning. So, we decided that we would have a barbeque, and we started sitting down and planning it. It turned out we raised over $13,000 and, we had a template for the future events. In the four years, I haven't actually added up the math, but we've done very well, and it has now become something people look forward to in the community. It's like a huge family picnic."
Of course, Ross' connection with Epworth goes far beyond the Cookout for Kids. His mother, Emma Crouch, came to Epworth when she was 6-years-old. While delivering the mail , her father was thrown into a creek when his horse bucked him. He later died of pneumonia from the incident. A few years later, when her mother passed away, Crouch went to Epworth. She stayed there until college, and at age 20, she met Ross' father and married him.
Ross' father was in the military, stationed at Ft. Jackson. Soon after the marriage, Ross' father went to the South Pacific during the war. Upon returning, he decided he no longer wanted to be married, and Crouch was broken-hearted. It was at this time that Len Ross moved to Epworth.
"I was probably one of the first children to go there as a result of a broken home," Ross said. "At Epworth Orphanage, presently, I don't think there's one orphan over there. It's mostly children from fractured homes, similar to mine. Except, many of them have experienced many other serious issues in regard to abuse and neglect. I went there when I was just about to turn 4; I had my 4th birthday there. Believe it or not, I remember it!"
When Ross was 10-years-old, he left Epworth to reunite with his mother, who had just remarried. He remains close with his stepfather today, but his mother passed away eight years ago. His mother encouraged him to go to Epworth reunions with her, but it was difficult for him at first.
"When I was there, I wanted to be with my mother," Ross said. "And it was…difficult, so I didn't really want to face that. Actually, it's still difficult, even when I talk about it now. To go by the house that I actually lived in, not because anything bad happened, those were just some sad times. I wanted to be with my mom and dad. And I would guess that was the reason for the hesitation. Having gone back, to see the good work and the mission of Epworth Children's Home, I'm very proud of what they've done and, I am certainly proud of it now, because I can look back with a different view of things, and see how it did establish some core values in my own heart."
Once Ross had a change of heart, he approached Epworth to see how he could get involved. Epworth had certainly changed since he had lived there. Most of the children living at Epworth were not orphans, and usually only stayed there for a few years. Ross found a way to give back through the Alumni Association.
"My wife and I were unable to have children, and about five years ago, I felt compelled to give something back, because I thought about the kids and I wanted to make sure that they realize that there is life after that experience," Ross said. "And in fact, when I look back on that my time at Epworth, it was very positive - even though I didn't recognize it at the time. I was taught about my spiritual side, I learned about Jesus, and I learned about doing the right thing every day. So, it was a positive thing, and I really wanted to let the kids know that they would have an opportunity when they get out if they just stuck with their core values. And that's why I got involved."
It didn't take long for Ross to accept a leadership role within the Epworth community. He agreed to be on the board of directors at a homecoming event. Then, he rose from secretary to vice-president to president of the Alumni Association. He was also a chairman for the Cookout for Kids fundraiser.
"When you have an impact on a child's life, when you have such positive influences - education, spirituality, doing the right thing, respect for one another, you see all races not knowing that there's a difference," Ross said. "We've had people leave from Epworth and go on to be lawyers, real estate professionals and judges. We have some very noted authors that have lived there that have come from tragic situations. A mom committed suicide, left two children. They go on to be authors and tell their incredible story."
Barbara Thomas and Joy Brown both wrote autobiographical novels. Thomas' book Just Pick Up The Pieces was published in 2006. Brown wrote Joy Lost…and Found as a sequel to Thomas' book at the request of their readers.
Ross has had a successful real estate career in Columbia in addition to serving on the Epworth Alumni Association. While working as Assistant Personnel Manager for Belk, he met a former classmate's husband, who introduced him to the real estate business.
"I got into the real estate business and found that it was exactly the thing I needed to be doing and so, within the first year, I was not only in the business, but I became the training director for Bob Russell Realty, which is the same firm I'm with now," Ross said. "And I felt like if I was teaching, I would be a better agent, because people would ask me questions in class, and I would be able to answer those questions. That evolved into me getting some designations and I wound up being the Broker-In-Charge of the northeast office of Russell & Jeffcoat. I managed that office for 25 years."
About two years ago, in the down market, Ross elected to focus on making a living for just his wife and him, and so he stepped away from the management position, but stayed in the business of working with clients. He has been in the real estate business for about 39 years now. Although he never received his college diploma, he managed to overcome all obstacles to create a successful life. He taught the code of ethics for the Realtor Association for 18 years and served on the board of directors. In 2001, Ross became President of the Columbia Board of Realtors and was also designated Realtor of the Year.
"That was a very special thing for me, because it was kind of the exclamation point - that I had succeeded even though I had not completed my college education," Ross said.
"Also, I've been very pleased to have such a part of a lot of different agents in this city," said Ross. "Now that I'm back on the street selling and bumping into other agents more often, they come to me and they tell me, 'Len you got me started; you helped me with my first transaction.' Knowing that I've been a positive force in a lot of agents' lives is also very special to me."
Ross has learned to push through the difficult economy and remain positive when things seem bleak.
"It's certainly been challenging since 2006," Ross said. "But, we've seen in the last six months improvement. The pendulum always swings. You can make a great living in a down market, as long as you have the wisdom to figure it out. I'm a strong capitalist. I believe that the market will seek its own level, and right now we're seeing inventories decrease, and we're seeing more buyer activity and more transactions happening."
Ross lives his life according to the Golden Rule, and feels that, out of all of his accomplishments, his best is a successful marriage.
"I really just want to be the best that I can be on any given day in the area of real estate and certainly in my personal life," Ross said of his future goals. "I continue to work at trying to be more spiritual, and so in my spiritual life, I just want to try to improve on that on a daily basis. I don't really have any aspirational goals on the standpoint of corporate leadership or anything like that, if those things come about, that's great. I'm 68, but honestly, it shocks me even to say that, because I feel like I'm in my 40's, I'm blessed with excellent health and a good mind and a great life, really."
Ross will be stepping down as president of the Alumni Association this year to focus more attention on his career and marriage. However, he intends to continue volunteering at Epworth.
For more information about Epworth Children's Home and how you can help, go to www.epworthchildrenshome.org.
Rachel Dean is an intern with MidlandsBiz. She is currently a Senior at USC.