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George Vlahakis

Last modified: Friday, May 24, 2002

Obituary: Jimmy L. Ross

Indiana University is mourning Thursday's (May 23) death of Jimmy L. Ross, the first director of the IU Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid and the first African American to lead a major administrative, non-academic unit at IU Bloomington.

Ross was a familiar figure to many students, faculty and staff at IU Bloomington when he led the office between 1973 and 1988. He continued to remain involved in IU activities and visible in the community after his early retirement in 1988 due to a degenerative spinal condition.

At the time of his retirement, he was honored by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA) with its Distinguished Service Award.

"During his many years as an employee and a friend of Indiana University, Jimmy Ross set high standards of compassion and courage," said IU President Myles Brand. "He helped countless students overcome financial barriers in their efforts to achieve a higher education. That is an outstanding legacy. He was an important member of the IU family, and he will be greatly missed."

"A person of great courage, personal warmth and intellect, Jimmy had the capacity to connect with people beyond ethnic, gender, geographical and class boundaries. During his tenure as director of financial aid, he assisted thousands of students," said Charlie Nelms, IU vice president for student development and diversity. "I shall miss his support and wise counsel."

Born in Louisiana on March 16, 1942, and raised in El Dorado, Ark., Ross earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 1965, a master's degree from the University of Illinois in 1966 and a doctorate in education from IU in 1976.

Survivors include his companion, Nancy Cross, her son, Derrick Cross, and her granddaughter, Shadarian Warfield, all of Bloomington; two daughters, Ramona Ross of Richmond, Calif., and Terri Lynn Ruffin of North Little Rock, Ark.; a son, Keith Eric Ross of Chicago, Ill.; two brothers, David Ross of El Dorado, Ark., and Willie Ross of Detroit, Mich.; three sisters, Ruth Walker of Dallas, Texas, and Mary Dismuke and Edna Ross, both of Farmerville, La.; five grandchildren and one great-grandson.

He was preceded in death by his parents, William Jack and Lorine Bragg Ross; a sister, Ola Jean Johnikin; and a brother, Jimmy Earl Bragg.

There will be a memorial service Tuesday (May 28) at 1 p.m. at the IU Auditorium. Local funeral arrangements are being handled by Day Funeral Home. Other funeral and burial arrangements are being made by the Sims Funeral Home in El Dorado, Ark.

William H. Wiggins Jr., acting chair of the IU Department of Afro-American Studies, said Ross played an important role in race relations at IU and helped many first-generation students adjust to life at the university. Wiggins said Ross was very supportive of IU's Groups Program, which has helped to improve low college attendance rates among first-generation, low-income and disabled students in Indiana since 1968.

"He gave of himself. His home was a haven for students," Wiggins said. "These were first-generation students with little or no income, as well as vision, and Jimmy was able to put together financial packages and the encouragement that they could do it . At the 30th anniversary dinner for the Groups Program, there were many testimonials from students who have gone on to successful careers, who said they couldn't have done it without Jimmy's help."

Ross understood the challenges they faced because as an undergraduate, he had put himself through college. He worked several part-time jobs as a butcher, cook, mechanic and yard-keeper, while at the same time being captain of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff football team and student body president.

He was active in associations of financial aid administrators and several other organizations, including the Mid-American Association of Educational Opportunity Program Personnel. He had positions on NASFAA's journaleditorialboard, research committee and minority affairs commission and many other state and regional assignments.

Ross served as a consultant and instructor for the College Scholarship Service and was a member of the executive committee of the Midwest Regional Assembly, College Entrance Examination Board.

Outside academe, Ross served as president of the Exchange Club of Northside Bloomington and was a special assistant to then-Indiana Gov. Otis Bowen for the state's portion of national bicentennial activities. He was a member of St. Paul Catholic Center and Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, and a founding member of the Neal-Marshall Alumni Club at IU. He was a founding member of BR&W Real Estate, which developed properties near Lake Lemon, and also briefly operated a restaurant in Bloomington called The Barbecue Pit.

He was involved in assisting former IU basketball player Landon Turner, who was paralyzed after a 1981 auto accident, and helped Turner in forming a wheelchair basketball team and in other ways. His relationship with Turner was just one example of the many ties he had to IU athletics over the years.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Jimmy Ross Endowment Fund for Diversity Initiatives, through the IU Foundation.