Jenell Ross to receive Dayton’s top volunteer leadership award

Wherever Jenell Ross is and whatever she does, she seems to be in her element.

Running auto dealerships in Centerville, organizing walks for breast cancer, participating in meetings as a trustee of the University of Dayton or the Federal Reserve Board of Cleveland — those who know Ross say they’re not surprised that she will receive the President’s Club of Dayton’s Citizen Legion of Honor Award this week.

The club will recognize Ross at its annual luncheon at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Dayton Convention Center, at Fifth and Main streets downtown.

Given every year since 1951, the honor is the area’s oldest recognition of volunteer servant leadership in the Dayton region.

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Ross is arguably an historic figure, say those who know her well. Talk to high-ranking executives at General Motors, and they know exactly who Ross is.

The story of how she came to run her company is fairly well known locally: She took the helm at the Bob Ross Auto Group of dealerships in July 1997 after the death of her father, Robert Ross Sr., who in 1974 started the business in Richmond, Ind. The younger Ross became president after the passing of her mother, Norma Ross, in 2010.

Less well known is the fact that Ross is the only second-generation African-American woman auto dealer in the nation.

“Just sitting here today, I still feel that I’m trying to fill the boots of my parents,” Ross said in a recent interview.

“It’s pretty amazing what she has been able to accomplish, the things she does every day, and the way she represents this community outside of the region,” said longtime friend Sharon Howard. “And she continues to lead in this male-dominated industry. I don’t know how she has been able to do it.”

Howard paused before adding: “She is her parents’ daughter.”

Howard, manager of community and public relations for Premier Health, has known Ross for 30 years, as sorority sisters — they are both members of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., the oldest African-American sorority in the world — and in shared charitable endeavors across Dayton.

Howard believes Ross picked up not just business acumen from her parents but the imperative to share with others.

“Both (parents) had always been involved in the community, and her mother cared very much and deeply about education, as does Jenell,” Howard said. “When her mom got sick, she really threw herself into the fight against cancer, which makes a lot of sense.”

When one looks at Ross’s business and community work, it’s natural to wonder how she finds the time.

“That was just part of our world, part of our life,” Ross said of growing up, watching her parents. “Even as a child, I was involved with different service organizations.”

The President’s Award surprised her, Ross said. She didn’t see it coming.

Past recipients include Judge Walter Rice, developer Robert Mills, Clay and MaryAnn Mathile, Oscar Boonshoft, Brother Raymond Fitz and many others.

“It’s very humbling to be even considered,” Ross said. “I never thought I would receive it.”

Stacy Thompson Speare-Hardy is Key Bank vice president, corporate responsibility banking for the Dayton, Cincinnati and Columbus markets. She has known Ross for close to 15 years.

“Something that stands out about Jenell for me is her humility,” she said. “She is just literally one of the most humble persons I have ever met.”

Need more info

For information about the award luncheon, contact Marcia Bostick at (937) 226-8225 or emailing at

The proceeds from the event go toward sustaining scholarships at Sinclair Community College for active student volunteer leaders in our community.

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