Fred Ross Remembered

"Notes da Capo" by John L. Puffenbarger

May/June 2003

On Wednesday, February 26, 2003, West Virginia's music educators and thousands of former band students lost a great friend and supporter when Fred Ross died in the Clarksburg United Hospital Center. He was born in Pennsboro, WV, November 28, 1917. He graduated from Pennsboro High School, attended West Virginia University, and earned a music degree from the Ernest Williams School of Music in New York.

Fred was a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church in Stonewood, WV. He was a United States Air Corps World War II veteran and a member of he American Federation of Musicians and the Clarksburg Lodge No. 482, BPO Elks.

He was former owner of Fred Ross' BANDLAND on East Pike Street in Clarksburg. Fred was an outstanding musician himself, having been a member of the "Les Brown Band of Renown" and the U.S. Army Air Corps Orchestra, now known as Airman of Note." Surviving Fred are his wife of 63 years, Geraldine "Gerri" Tierney Ross; a daughter, Mary Ann Niedziejko; three grandchildren; and five great -grandchildren.

Although I knew that Fred was in failing health, I was shocked when I heard of his death. I felt a huge loss, because he was more than a music dealer; he was a close friend. As news of his passing spread, many folks around the state

reflected on his contributions to WVMEA and to music education in general. WVMEA secretary Al Frey said, "He was a music dealer in WV who sincerely cared about the students and was interested in advancing their opportunities in music education. He leaves an outstanding legacy."

Fred opened BANDLAND in Clarksburg in 1964 and adopted the motto: "Bands are our business, our only business." His store became a gathering place for band directors, who loved to trade suggestions with Fred about the performance of selections they were playing on concerts. Prior to concerts and festivals, band directors often invited him to adjudicate their bands. His suggestions for improvement were of great value and helped the students play their best.

Fred enjoyed traveling to area schools each fall to help band directors start young students on instruments. He believed that students' musical aptitude should be tested and that they needed advice when selecting a band instrument. He believed in providing the best available product for the students, and he understood the importance of getting children instruments at an early age before they became involved in other school activities. He realized that a good start was necessary to develop outstanding musicianship.

He was genuinely interested in the lives of his customers. James Spencer remembers, "Fresh out of college my first teaching job was at Webster Springs. I had been there only a few weeks when Fred Ross showed up and introduced himself. There were only seventeen students in the band program. Fred said that if I ever needed anything, he would always see that I got it within a week via the Greyhound bus. He was true to his word. As a result, the band program at Webster Springs prospered. He wanted to promote the best available opportunities for all children."

Evan Jones, who bought BANDLAND in 1990 after working for Fred for twelve years, remembered him as a "very generous, caring person. There is no doubt that he is responsible for developing many successful band programs in the area. He enjoyed testing students on band instruments and promoting stage bands in high schools."

Earl McConnell, Jr., Fairmont East High School band director, said, "It was not unusual for Fred to leave after work on Saturday and drive to the Selmer plant in Elkhart, Indiana, to pick up some instruments that area band directors desperately needed. He loved to go to high school band camps. He would take a small repair kit with him, and while the students were on a break, he would make small repairs so the students would not miss out on any rehearsals. He also conducted woodwind clinics to help improve the music for the show the band was working on."

Blaine Corder, former Philippi Junior High School band director, remembered, "Fred always supported state music organizations. I think that he had a display every year at the West Virginia Music Educator's Conference and also at West Virginia Bandmaster's Association meetings. He and Charles Gorby organized 'stage band' clinics which grew into the statewide festivals of today."

Fredís interest extended beyond music. He loved automobiles, airplanes, and photography. For several years, he attended the Indianapolis 500, where he had a seat in the grandstand. He followed the career of Charles Lindberg and was delighted when, by chance, he had an opportunity to sit beside Mrs. Lindberg on a train ride in New York State. He enjoyed taking pictures of bands and friends.

Fred was devoted to his wife, Gerri. He was playing in a dance band in Parkersburg when he first saw her. He told fellow musicians, "She is the girl I am going to marry!" Gerri became a partner in BANDLAND, worked as a bookkepper in the business, and traveled with Fred to music dealer meetings throughout the United States.

Those of us who had the pleasure of knowing him will remember him as a gentleman, a mentor, and friend, not simply a businessman, salesman, and dealer. We shall all miss him. (Note: For additional information about Fred Ross and his career, see the November 1991 and January 1992 " Notes da Capo" articles on the WVMEA web page.)