Dennis Ross always loved kids and reading, and in a 38-year career with Johnson County Library he found a way to spend nearly every day nurturing those passions.
When he was hired as a children’s specialist in 1984, he thought he might stay only a few years before finding a “real job” that was more lucrative. But he never left.
“I feel very fortunate to have landed in youth services in this Library system,” he said. “It was too much fun to leave. It was a tremendous place to work.”
Ross retires June 30 and looks back fondly over a lifetime of serving wonderful children and families.
“You watch kids grow up,” he said. “I have had people come in for programs with their children and say, ‘Remember me when I was a little kid and I used to come to your Storytime?’ That’s been a real joy.”
Ross grew up in Prairie Village and graduated from Shawnee Mission East High. He and his three siblings regularly checked out books from the Corinth branch.
He graduated from the University of Kansas in 1975 with a liberal arts degree. He was interested in early childhood development, so got a job with a toddler center affiliated with the university. After a few years, he became a teacher and director at a Topeka child care center.
He and his wife wanted to move to the Kansas City area, so when Ross saw a Johnson County Library posting for a children’s specialist, he applied and started his new job in January 1984. At the time, the Library had Parent-Child Learning Centers, offering preschool classroom experiences within the branches.
After Mona Carmack became Johnson County Librarian in 1988, she wanted more traditional children’s Library services, like Storytimes and programs for school aged children. Ross was assigned to Cedar Roe from 1988-1990, then went to Antioch, which at the time was the headquarters.
“It was so much fun to do storytimes,” Ross said. “Once we started doing it, we jumped into it full speed.”
He was a rare man in a female-dominated field but that never bothered him.
“I was always the only man in the room, but I got so used to it I didn’t hardly notice it,” Ross recalled. “I have felt extremely fortunate in my adult life to work with mostly women. I learned so much from them and they were always so nice.”
He was part of the team that opened the new Central branch in 1995 and has been based there ever since.
A few years ago, he was promoted to assistant branch manager, supervising both adult and youth specialists. His bosses praised his leadership and management skills.
Library technology has changed dramatically over the decades but the mission remains just as vital.
“Patrons still come for the same reason,” Ross said. “They want materials and information. They just have different ways to get it.”
In retirement, Ross and his wife don’t have big plans but look forward to traveling, reading, relaxing and taking care of their three dogs.
Ross says he’ll always enjoy visiting Central, but he knows he will miss seeing people on a daily basis—the people who made his work life so fulfilling.
“I have worked with people who are intelligent, dedicated, motivated, and creative” he said. “They really do care. We have such terrific staff.”