Gloria Ross to be Press Club 2011-2013 President

by Spencer Engel, 2010 Fall Intern

Gloria Ross has never been one to allow external circumstances to inhibit her ambitions. As the second youngest of ten children growing up in Hayti, Mo., Gloria attended a segregated school system that finally integrated in 1970 – right after she graduated high school. Besides the obvious difficulty of being a black woman growing up during racially charged times (not to mention a time of prevalent sexism), another problem facing Gloria was that Pemiscot County, where Hayti is located, was (and still is) Missouri’s poorest county.

However, Gloria didn’t let segregation, sexism or poverty stop her from gaining an education.

“We didn’t know that (Pemiscot was so poor),” Gloria says. “By external measures, we could’ve been chosen least likely to succeed, but by internal measures, nobody doubted that most of us would go on to do OK.”

Gloria says that education was a “huge deal” and that she and her classmates felt prepared to go to college upon graduation despite the odds against them. She went on to Southeast Missouri College, as it was known at the time, worked for a few years and eventually become the first and only of her siblings to obtain a college degree when she finished her B.S. in Radio/TV/Film from University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1980. WMKC Radio in Oshkosh was Gloria’s first employer, where she worked for a year before moving to St. Louis, working in the PR department of a bank, then a year reporting for the Suburban Journals, before landing a communications job at United Way where she remained for 20 years. Gloria retired from United Way in 2006 as senior vice president of communications and formed Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing service.

In the early 1990s, Gloria was tapped by the Press Club of Metropolitan St. Louis to help re-design and write the newsletter, work for which she received the Press Club’s Catfish Award in 1999. She remained a Press Club member throughout her time at the United Way and served on the board for much of that time. Was this going to be another inspirational story of Gloria overcoming the odds and realizing her ambition of becoming president? Well not exactly.

The ambition to become the Press Club’s president was non-existent.

“Absolutely none!” Gloria says with a laugh. “And I was stunned when I was asked. It never crossed my mind. People often ask me to do things that I don’t expect. I’m not sure that I’m the best leader, but people know that I’m hard-working."

“I show up.”

Whether she planned on being president or not, Gloria is ready to step into the role. Her number one priority is continuing to grow the enterprise journalism program, which she says in its infancy but has tons of potential to grow. To help realize this goal, Gloria will keep outgoing president Dick Weiss as the newly created enterprise journalism chair on the Press Club’s board.

“It’s going to be difficult for me to do half of what my predecessors have,” Gloria says. “We’ve had some excellent people serve. The past two presidents (Dick Weiss and Alice Handelman, respectively), my God! They have put in Herculean efforts.”

Gloria will try to continue the legacy of superb Press Club presidents by concentrating on the following issues:

* Media literacy: Gloria sums up the monumental importance of media literacy with this anecdote. “I work as a poll worker. A man at the booth in this past election had a little cheat sheet and wanted to vote just like the card said. He voted how the card said but then stopped and said ‘back up.’ So the other poll worker and I backed up and he changed it. Then he said to nobody in particular, ‘TV said I shouldn’t vote that way on that.’ I and the other person looked at each other and wanted to scream. ‘But what do YOU think?’ He had no info besides the commercial!”

* Building and maintaining the Press Club’s membership: “This is one of the few organizations I’ve been part of where members are very active, very committed and I think are doing something really important, primarily raising money for scholarships. These folks are serious about raising money for scholarships! That’s why I became involved and that’s a big reason why I remain involved.”

* Forums: “It’s very vital to reach out to the community — Pam Niehaus and the other program people have done a marvelous job of forums so far — and educate the populace.”

Outgoing president Dick Weiss believes Gloria has the perfect mix of skills to lead the Press Club and become yet another successful president.

"I'm looking forward to Gloria's term as president,” Dick says. “Her contacts in the community are vast and most important of all, she has a good heart."

Although she didn’t originally have presidential aspirations, Gloria now has bright ambitions. In order to achieve them, she and other board members have drawn out a three-year, long-range plan. To realize her goals though, Gloria says she must conquer what she views as her biggest challenge: details.

“We have excellent members and an excellent board,” Gloria says. “It’s hard to bring all that together all the time; it takes a ton of effort. The details of running an organization are vast. We have all the talent in the world, but we’re working with very busy people and we have many big ideas about what we want to do.”

Gloria visibly brightens when speaking about her passion: writing a person’s life story. While serving as Press Club president, she will continue providing communications services to nonprofit organizations through Okara Communications, which is named after her only grandson (it’s his last name), and writing obituaries for individuals and the St. Louis Beacon. Gloria’s ongoing life story will start and end with the career field in which she’s been interested — communications —since she listened to Paul Harvey as a child growing up in the Bootheel

“There’s always somebody there who’s watching, who’s telling, who’s reporting…so we can make some sense of the world and make good decisions,” Gloria says. “The Press Club helps ensure that there will always be people to tell the story.”