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LOCKPORT – William L. Ross, the longest-serving chairman in the history of the Niagara County Legislature, received a birthday salute from his colleagues at this week’s meeting.

Ross, who is completing his record-setting 10th year as chairman, turns 80 Monday.

“I say he’s the face of the county, because he’s everywhere,” said Legislator Paul B. Wojtaszek, R-North Tonawanda.

Ross, who was elected earlier this month to his 11th two-year term in the Legislature, was presented a specially engraved gavel, a football signed by his colleagues and a No. 80 Michigan State football jersey.

Ross was a starting lineman on Michigan State’s first-ever Rose Bowl team in 1953.

He said he would wear the jersey in a couple of weeks while watching his beloved Spartans in their probable showdown against unbeaten Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game.

“I was very fortunate to have an athletic career,” Ross said.

He recalled that a man named Matt Mazza from Niagara Falls wrote a letter to Michigan State’s coaches, suggesting Ross could play on their team. The Spartans took Mazza’s hint.

“I was going to DuPont on Factory Row,” Ross said, recalling how close he came to becoming a chemical worker. “One man changed my life, a man like Matt Mazza, who believed I could make it at a Division I school.”

After college, Ross joined the Niagara Wheatfield School District, where he spent 47 years as a coach, athletic director, teacher and principal.

“I think I had a positive impact on a lot of children,” he said.

Politically, Ross has served 30 years in various offices, including stints on the Wheatfield and Town of Niagara boards.

He started as a Democrat, which was his party when he first served as Legislature chairman in 1989.

When he came back to the Legislature eight years later, he was a Conservative with Republican backing, which he remains.

He was chairman from 2004 through 2006 and after a year off returned to the dais in 2008, where he’s been ever since.

Majority Leader Richard E. Updegrove, R-Lockport, said many words come to mind when thinking of Ross. “Integrity and passion are the two that come to my mind,” Updegrove said.

“You know what’s nice? I didn’t have to die to get this honor,” Ross cracked. “I’ve had a great life. I wouldn’t change any of it.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com