Tee Ross is always smiling.
At a spry 91, Ross says he is happy every day because he is giving back to the world some of what he learned as a big band leader, teacher, music store and studio owner and inspirational speaker.
As Ross sat in the Colony Cove clubhouse in Ellenton chatting recently, no one slipped by asking for his autograph, yet, this son of Italian immigrants traveled in circles which included Myron Floren, the legendary accordion player for Lawrence Welk and Welk himself.
Ross, who was once known in Ohio as Mr. Accordion has written a book called, "It's A Great Life At Any Age," which not only tells his life story, but also provides the seven "keys" to a happy life that he has been able to learn.
"It took me 10 years to write it," Ross said recently. "It does tell my life story, but it's also a book of encouragement. I wrote it to help anyone going through a time of adversity, which is everyone at some time in their lives."
At the heart of the book is Ross' remarkable feeling that a "higher power" guides our lives and patiently waits for us to make connection. Ross comes to the realization in the book that God was following his life even though he didn't go to church until he was 62.
"I attended a Full Gospel Business Man Fellowship International in 1978 after my youngest daughter had come home from college telling my wife, Alice, and I that she had met Jesus," Ross said. "We were not churchgoers at all. But I was invited to a banquet of FGBMF and I was touched by the gospel music I heard. I was a jazz player in the big band era so this was different. But it later became everything to me."
Ross married his first wife, Alice Kenney, in 1937 and lost her to a heart condition in 1979. It was only the spiritual awakening he received in 1978 that kept Ross from sinking into despair.
Ross believes the higher power then provided for him Trish Kechler, who he calls "my angel of joy." They were married in 1985, when Ross was 70.
The man with the catchy stage name of Tee Ross was actually born Tony Rossano, the son of Italian immigrant parents, in Bellaire, Ohio, located on the Ohio River, across from Wheeling, W.Va.
Ross' live provided all the fodder for the seven keys he outlines in his book.
His first key is to have a thankful, happy attitude despite things you can't control around you.
"It started with my mother, Mary," Ross said. "She always seemed happy despite my father's treatment of her."
Ross' father, Frank, was a gambler, gang member and bootlegger, delivering illegal cans of whiskey during Prohibition.
Frank Rossano had difficulty relating to his son. But he made up for his perceived deficiencies by going overboard with gifts at times.
Frank Rossano bought all the neighborhood boys' baseball uniforms, bats and balls. He also had a piano delivered unexpectedly to the house.
"You're going to learn to play that piano!" Ross remembers his father telling him.
Ross discovered he had an ear for music and it became his lifelong passion.
"Today I am wondering who prompted my father to do this," Ross writes in his book. "He certainly wasn't what I would call a Godly man — but who else could it be?"
Ross discovered he could play nearly any instrument. In 1933, he became the bass horn player for the Struthers, Ohio, high school band.
Ross got his stage name when he was a sophomore in high school. Friends shortened Tony Rossano to Tee Ross.
He soon was supporting his family with The Tee Ross Orchestra, which played big band dance arrangements.
"My dreams came through, one by one," Ross writes. "We played at the Elms Ballroom, the Idora Park Ballroom, Craig Beach, Yankee Lake and Cascade Park. And we started doing college dates all over Ohio."
In 1945, Ross started Tee Ross Music Store, an accordion studio on West Federal Street in Youngstown, Ohio. Within five years, Ross had 1,000 students.
In 1964, Ross hosted a weekly TV show and that same year the Tee Ross Band played for the visiting "Tony Bennett Show."
The store was in business until 1980 and during that time Ross worked with Welk and Sammy Kaye.
One would never know Ross is 91. His mind is sharp as a note.
"Engaging in conversation keeps me young" said Ross who attributes part of his keen mental state to the daily lists of goals he makes for himself.
"I don't think of myself as aging," Ross said. "People come up to me and say, 'You seem so young.' It's because I feel young.
I get up in the morning and I never have nothing to do," Ross added.
There are people to contact and tasks to complete.
Ross hopes to write more books in the coming years.
"My brother writes from his heart," said Sam Ross, a retired history professor from Sacramento State University.
Ross boils down his 91 years in one statement.
"I believe God answers prayers through people," Ross said. "It's exciting to wake up and see who God has set up for a divine appointment with you this day."
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.
Birthplace: Bellaire, Ohio
Residence: Colony Cove, Ellenton
Family: wife, Patricia; daughters, Duana, 61, and Pat, 60; son, Kenny, 57.