The. Rev. Earnest L. Ross, who founded Maranatha Memorial Baptist Church and served as its pastor for more than three decades, died Monday of heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 81.
Born in Baltimore, Mr. Ross was raised on Etting Street. He dropped out of Douglass High School to help support his family and later earned his General Educational Development certificate.
"Because of this, he later became a strong advocate for continuing education," said his daughter, the Rev. Doris Johnson, assistant pastor of Maranatha Memorial Baptist Church, who lives in Northwest Baltimore.
Drafted into the Army in 1951, Mr. Ross served in Korea with an infantry unit and was wounded by an exploding hand grenade.
After being discharged with the rank of sergeant in 1951, he returned to Baltimore and his old job at Blum's Clothing & Furniture Co. on West North Avenue, where he had started working part time in 1940 when he was 11 years old.
He then worked as a private chauffeur until taking a job with the Social Security Administration in 1962.
He worked downtown in the Candler Building and later at SSA's headquarters in Woodlawn, and was a supervisor at the time of his retirement in 1985.
Mr. Ross was a member of Simmons Memorial Baptist Church when he "received the call" to become a minister in 1957, his daughter said.
He studied at the Baptist Center and School of Religion and was ordained a Baptist minister in 1961.
Mr. Ross was also a graduate of the Baltimore College of the Bible, the Baltimore division of Morris College, Loyola University Maryland and the Wilbur H. Waters School of Religion, where he earned a bachelor's degree in divinity in 1984 and an honorary doctorate two years later.
In September 1957, he began his religious career as youth minister at Bethel Baptist Church, and he remained at the church after its merger with Emmanuel Baptist Church.
From 1961 to 1966, he was moderator of the open-air services for the Westside Evangelistic Association. In 1968, he became pastor of Christ Church, a position he held for a decade.
In 1978, he left Christ Church and established Maranatha Memorial Baptist Church, which moved to its present location on Ridgewood Avenue in 1981.
"I've known Earnest for more than 40 years. He was a great husband and father," said Bishop Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church in Northeast Baltimore.
"He was also a tremendous pastor because he loved the Lord and he loved people," said Mr. Miles. "He was a fiery, no-nonsense preacher who was a stickler for biblical truths."
The Rev. Sheryon McLean is pastor of People of God Prayer Praise & Worship Center in the 1700 block of W. Baltimore St.
"Earnest was a great influence on my ministry, and was a dynamic role model," she said. "He was a man of God's integrity and had a great faith. You knew that he walked and talked his faith and walked with God."
Ms. McLean described his sermons as "powerful," saying that "they had life applications."
"He was a very mild-mannered man, but you knew he was a strong presence and authoritative. He meant what he said, and said what he meant," Ms. McLean recalled.
Luther J. Dismel has been a Marantha church member for 18 years and is chairman of its deacon board.
"He was a loving and caring man who believed deeply in the Gospel, and he kept that interest until he died. He stood firmly on the word of God," said Mr. Dismel. "He always tried to make people's lives better and have them live a better life."
Mr. Dismel said that Mr. Ross taught his last Bible study class five days before his death.
"Even though he had lost his sight, he was still teaching. He was still trying to do what God had called him to do until the last moment," Mr. Dismel said.
Mr. Ross also taught at the Wilbur H. Waters School of Religion in Baltimore and Northwestern Bible College and Seminary, where he was vice president of administrative affairs. He was financial secretary for the Baltimore Minister Support Group.
Until he became legally blind, Mr. Ross enjoyed building scale models of airplanes.
Services for Mr. Ross were held Friday at First Emmanuel Baptist Church.
Also surviving are his wife of 59 years, the former Dorothy Mae Davis; a brother, Jerry Ross of Catonsville; a sister, Beatrice Ross Glenn of Baltimore; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.