2002 Honorary Alumni
From an early age, Ken Ross exhibited some special qualities that highly successful people must have. Growing up in the projects in Johnson City, Tenn., life offered many opportunities to fail. Without a father and very limited funds, much of his early life was about surviving. However, by relying on talent, drive, positive thinking, and an ability to dream, Ross was able to overcome many obstacles and hardships to become a successful businessman and more importantly a successful person.
At the age of 15, Ross found his true love while working as a blueprint boy in an architectural firm. Watching architects dream, invent, and create much of the environment in which we live was an incredible motivation to encourage Ken Ross to become an architect himself. This meant that a college education would be necessary. Through a loan, he was able to attend college at Clemson University, Georgia Tech, and Southern Polytechnical Institute, where he earned a scholarship to play baseball. Upon graduation, he returned to Johnson City and earned a full-time position with Beeson and Beeson Architects. In just two years, he became a project coordinator and was teaching architectural drafting at some of the local colleges. In 1973, he became an associate with the firm.
In 1976, Ross had saved enough money and had several potential clients, allowing him to form Ken Ross Architects. The firm consisted of just himself, and he worked out of his garage apartment. Immediately, he was able to land several projects, hire three other people and move into a new office in the first year. The firm began to realize its true potential in 1996, when it was commissioned to work on several large projects. The firm had already started on the ETSU Sherrod Library, which was the largest state-funded project of that year in Tennessee, totaling $28,000,000. In fact, the ETSU Sherrod Library project won Ross national recognition for its design from the American School & University Publication. Since 1996, the firm has grown to 18 employees and has multi-million dollar projects. Today, the firm is directing well over $100,000,000 worth of projects in the Tri-Cities alone. These projects include libraries, performing arts centers, schools, offices, medical facilities, municipalities, utility boards, and many other facilities. Also, it is ironic that the firm's greatest challenge was to overcome other out-of-town firms to gain work, and now it has become one of the largest out-of-town firms, directing work in over 18 states in the last few years. It is safe to say that Ken Ross Architects will continue to design creative spaces that enhance people's lives.
Ross has taken an active role in the community as well. He is the chairman of the Johnson City Housing Authority's board of directors, a member of the Tennessee Health Care Association, Jonesborough Historic Society, ETSU's Distinguished President's Trust, and Pirate Club. He has donated time helping Habitat for Humanity, so that people with limited means can own their own home. Ross has also donated much of his personal time and money helping East Tennessee State University with scholarships, athletic programs, and general funding. In fact, he founded The Heritage Club, which is raising thousands of dollars for the ETSU men's golf team. For his continued dedication to his work and his community, Ross has been spotlighted for his efforts. In 1999, Ross was awarded the Greater Tri-Cities Businessman of the Year and that same year was named the Greater Tri-Cities Business of the Year by The Business Journal.
Ross lives in Jonesborough with his wife Carole. The couple has three children, Allyson, Caroline and Jeremy, and they also enjoy spending time with their six grandchildren, Ross, Alex, Cassie, Hillary, Amanda and Sammy.