Valley Voices

Jerry Rosander: Givers of the 20th century – Valentine lovers Len and Vel Ross

With Valentines Day in the air, I am thinking about a husband-and-wife team who have dedicated their lives to making our country strong and uplifting the wider Fresno community.

Len Ross is a tough Marine and a great American and was an amazing educator for 70 years. He and the love of his life – to whom has has been married 74 years – are humble, giving, tenderhearted, tireless workers on behalf of all kids, especially those who are underprivileged.

If you are familiar with Junior Golf, you will know Len, 95, and his lovely wife, Vel, age 94. If you were a student or had children at Franklin, Powers, Scandinavian or Turner schools, you will remember Len as a former school principal. He stood out as one of the most highly creative educators during his 42-year span of working with children and teachers.

In addition, Len and Vel have been partnering with others for more than 70 years to build up Junior Golf in the Valley.

Len and Vel are part of the “Greatest American Generation,” who served their country so bravely during World War II. Len and his high school sweetheart, Vel, were contemplating marriage when Pearl Harbor was attacked on Dec.7, 1941. Len was 21 and Vel was 19. Len immediately signed up with the Marine Corps, then married Vel in February of 1942, before being deployed overseas.

During the next five years, this first sergeant earned his way to the highest enlisted rank in the Marines, becoming a senior master sergeant. He was in command of Marine troops who fought in some of the fiercest battles in the South Pacific in locations such as Palau and New Guinea. When the war was over, Lennie rejoined Vel in Fresno and began his education at Fresno State College.

Founder of Junior Golf in the San Joaquin Valley 70 years ago, Len recognized a need for young people, especially those who were disadvantaged, to learn sportsmanship and good citizenship while leading good and wholesome lives outdoors.

Having grown up poor, he was always bothered that underprivileged kids couldn’t afford to play golf. As a result, Len created Junior Golf for the San Joaquin Valley. He and Vel have dedicated all of their extra time to help create something healthy, positive and lasting for children.

There have been many testimonials to Lennie’s powerful guidance and positive influence from some of the greatest golfers including Johnny Miller, Craig Stadler and Phil Mickelson, to name only a few. And, over the years, Len has been honored by the Professional Golfers, United States Golf and Ladies Professional Golf associations.

Yet, he and Vel are quick to give most of the credit to others who have partnered with them and donated to the various projects.

Len played a crucial role in establishing a golfing complex for young people in the heart of one of the lowest income areas in Fresno. Ten years ago, the Len Ross Central Valley Junior Golf Academy was dedicated.

Len raised every penny from generous donors for this terrific facility that has offered, and will continue to offer, many opportunities for less fortunate children for years to come.

I had the great privilege of working with Len between 1952 and 1979. Golf wasn’t his only gift. At each elementary school, he left a different legacy. At Powers Elementary, there was a large lot next door to the school, which belonged to Fresno Unified School District.

Len had a vision for that property and rallied volunteers to build a complete track and field environmental center on it.

While at Scandinavian Middle School, Len took the extra-large open space and built a park for Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball teams and a soccer field.

At Turner Elementary School, he set up a complete farm with equal opportunities for all students in each grade level to plant and nourish rows of vegetables. Len contracted with a farmer to use part of his farm to raise and care for a variety of animals including chickens, goats, cows and other animals.

He scheduled times when children could tend the gardens, feed and care for the animals, and learn to milk the cows. The environmental center became known statewide after Sunset magazine published a large article about it.

All of these accomplishments were the result of a beautiful partnership, shared vision and love story that has spanned eight decades.

Jerry Rosander has served as superintendent of schools in Fresno, Sanger and San Diego, and was formerly dean of education at the United States International University in San Diego and president of USIU’s university in London.

At a glance

The 69th annual Len Ross-Fresno City Junior Amateur Golf Tournament

  • Date: March 21-24
  • Ages: 7-18
  • Registration deadline: March 15
  • Online registration: http://bit.ly/1LjTOZa
  • Cost: $50-$80
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