Ross looked right at home sitting comfortably at a table in a sunny hallway of the White Oak Hall science building, the brand new “BIOLOGY” mosaic behind him. His voice is bright as he speaks, taking thoughtful pauses meant for a listener to write or think.
LBCC’s first full-time contracted employee and biology instructor, Ross shares a significant milestone in his career along with LBCC’s 50th anniversary. One might even say the two grew up together.
“It doesn’t feel like 50 years of teaching. It sneaks up on you because you’re having a great time,” said Ross. “I can’t imagine a better life.
Ross remembers the earliest days and compares them to being a pioneer arriving in a new, uncultivated land.
“There was so much excitement and creativity at that time. We were asking, ‘What are the students asking for? What do they need?’ We were listening. It was fun to hear the feedback,” said Ross.
Over the next five decades, Ross taught at one time or another courses in biology, botany, natural history, foods and nutrition, zoology, vegetable garden ecology, reproductive strategies, Oregon ecology, wedding photography, and nature photography.
Ross’s philosophy was all about teaching students how to be curious, to observe, and to make connections in their learning.
“Bob Ross is a true scientist and educator,” said colleague Greg Mulder, LBCC physical science instructor. “As a scientist, he is always making observations of the universe around him and learns from what he sees. As an educator, Bob teaches not only what he knows, but also teaches how to go about observing for yourself.”
Most days, observations were made in a classroom lab with four walls and tables and microscopes. Other times, the lab was outdoors, where Ross and other instructors brought students to explore and study plants and animals in Oregon wetlands, coasts, forests, streams, mountains, and fields. One class watched elk swimming in the ocean. Another fortunate group of students were among the few allowed to hike into the crater of Mt. St. Helens.
Meanwhile, years of observations and experiences made by students and Ross were caught on film by Ross, an avid photographer. In fact, nature photography became one of Ross’ most popular classes.
Many of the photographs in Ross’ enormous collection were used as teaching materials and in self-published student manuals for his classes. They also provided selections for a book he co-authored in 1988 with Henrietta Chambers, “Wildflowers of the Western Cascades.” At one time, Ross had 40,000 nature slides, which he pared down to 2,000 when he digitized his images.
Ross officially retired in 1998, but continued to work full-time, and donated his salary to the Peace and Justice Institute. A few years later, Ross began to work part-time. Ross said he is frequently honored to give slide shows and programs throughout Oregon to all kinds of organizations on topics related to nature, science, religion, and our future. Yet, he still believes his best work is helping students grow right here.
“College is about folks who blossom into the futures they envision for themselves. My greatest honor comes from LBCC that allows me to continue to share the wonders of life with students so that they can be more successful people,” said Ross.
And, even after all this time, that original pioneer spirit promoting the LB ideal still rings clear.
“Our goal here at LBCC is to foster a civil community that is our sanctuary, our home, our environment that nurtures us, and we it,” said Ross.
These days, Ross enjoys time with his wife of 54 years, Judy Ross, and their three children and three grandchildren. He also works out at the YMCA, and makes regular checks on his 30 research sites, from the Three Sisters to Mt. Jefferson. He continues to stay current in his field, especially as he teaches Oregon Ecology, scheduled for spring term.
One thing Ross doesn’t do is slow down.
“I’m 75 now. At 70 and 71 it took three tries to hike up to 3,000 feet in one day and back home for supper. At 74, I did it on my first try.”
“By the way, that was on snow shoes.”