JONESBORO, Ark. (AP) — “You are not going to make it.”
It was the first words out of the chemotherapy doctor’s mouth as Dan Ross entered the doctor’s office. He had two years at the absolute best.
“My first thought was, gee, it’s been such a quick trip,” Ross recalled. “My next thought was that’s OK. I’m still the luckiest person in the world because I’ve got to do in life exactly what I loved the most, and not a lot of people can say that.”
That diagnosis came shortly after Ross was diagnosed in 2001 with colon cancer, had surgery and about six to eight months of chemotherapy.
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Ross, 73, is now in remission for not only his bout of colon cancer, but three bouts of lung cancer. He also is in his 50th year as a professor of oboe at Arkansas State University.
“Every day I am happy I have been able to do what I love the most with nice people,” he said.
The Jonesboro Sun reports that the Paragould native was introduced to music at any early age by his mother, who had an “unbelievably fantastic voice and was a wonderful singer.” He performed in band and choir as well as was the first male to integrate the girls’ glee club in high school.
He followed in his father’s footsteps to attend Arkansas State. He began taking classes in 1962, got a degree in music in 1967 and was offered a teaching position the following year as he worked to obtain a master’s degree. He earned his master’s degree in 1969.
“I love my students,” he said on his favorite part of teaching. “I have the most wonderful set of students anybody could ever imagine.”
Over the last half-century, Ross said the campus has changed dramatically. He recalled a red brick bookstore once sitting where the music department now sits as well as being the first to obtain a post office box at the former post office located where the College of Liberal Arts and Communications building is now. His father helped plant many of the pine trees near Centennial Bank Stadium and College of Sciences and Mathematics building.
“When I got here, the Reng Center was being built, but the cafeteria was still in the basement of what was Danner Hall, which is now the original nursing building,” he said. “Come Sunday you wanted to have lunch before the town crowd got there because that was the place for people coming from church to go have Sunday lunch after church.
But one constant over the years is Ross’ oboe summer camp for invited high schoolers and college students. It was there Sergio Rodriguez, a junior music performance major from Greenwood, Mississippi, first met Ross as an incoming freshman.
“We are blessed to have him here,” Rodriquez, 20, said. “I like having him as a teacher because he doesn’t have just one cold hard set way of doing anything. He will come at you from seven different approaches until you finally get it.”
Rodriguez describes Ross as intense, strict yet reasonable and a good mentor. He said Ross has a high set of standards and offers his students opportunities on oboe — both in the classroom and through special workshops held by visiting, well-known oboe players — they could not receive elsewhere.
Ross is currently principal oboist with the North Mississippi Symphony and the Delta Symphony. He served for 24 years as principal oboist with the Arkansas Symphony and holds the title of visiting professor of oboe at the Academy of Music in Krakow, Poland. He has performed with various symphonies worldwide.
Ross, his son and daughter-in-law have even made up the oboe section for a St. Louis Symphony concert — which he described as fun. His son and daughter-in-law are members of that symphony.
Ross initially played the saxophone when he first arrived at college. An instructor then asked if he would be interested in learning to play the oboe for an opening in the band the following school year.
Upon agreeing to learn, that same instructor showed Ross, then a junior, how to make a reed, gave him some cane and tools and told him to make a reed that worked, and the instructor would give him a horn.
He is now known for his reed-making — he invented and developed the Ross gouging machine about 30 years ago to produce precision reeds.
That machine is used worldwide. Rodriquez said every major music school in the nation has at least one along with just about every major symphony player.
Like his former instructor, Ross teaches his own students to make reeds. Rodriquez, who enjoys the work, said he definitely looks up to Ross and hopes to be just like him one day.
“He is just known by everybody,” Rodriguez said. “He has toured in Europe. He has subbed in all these different orchestras. I think it is really cool to just have a humble teacher like him always be here for us. If you ever just need someone to talk to, he is there.”
Information from: The Jonesboro Sun, http://www.jonesborosun.com