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NKY Builder, Former Kenton Judge/Executive Ralph Drees Dies

Ralph Drees, the Northern Kentucky businessman and former Kenton County Judge/Executive, died Saturday. 

He was 86.

Chairman of the Drees Company, Drees was recognized with multiple national awards over the years, including Builder of the Year, America’s Best Builder, and the National Housing Quality Award.

He served as judge/executive from 2004 to 2010 and previously was on the Erlanger city council.

Drees had also been president of the Home Builders Association of Northern Kentucky, chairman of the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission, chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board, chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, regent at Northern Kentucky University, and a board member at Thomas More University.

His family is the namesake of the Drees Pavilion at Devou Park in Covington, a contribution to the city valued at the time at $2 million when it opened in 2003 to celebrate the Drees Company's 75th anniversary.

The pavilion has generated more tan $5 million to support the park since.

Drees was married to his wife, Irma, for more than 60 years. They had five children and more than a dozen grandchildren.

"Ralph was no pushover and he was tough to be sure. However, he was always fair," Judge/Executive Kris Knochelmann said on Facebook. "I saw him stand tall when pushed, but I also saw him be as gentle and giving as anyone I know. Ralph disarmed very tough situations with his signature laugh and then got people to go along with what was normally a wise decision.

"But the biggest thing I’ll miss about Ralph? The fact that Ralph showed the world that you can be a normal guy, be unbelievably successful, be held to the highest standard and be put on a pedestal, and then show everyone that you can do this and stay humble and never lose your soul. Ralph set the standard and I look to the God and say thank you for Ralph Drees. Peace to Irma and his entire family."

In Fort Mitchell, the flag was lowered in honor of Drees.

“We lower our flag for a pioneer who built his legacy through years of outstanding community leadership,” said Fort Mitchell Mayor Jude Hehman. "Our thoughts and prayers are with Irma and the entire Drees family today. Ralph Drees was a trailblazer whose vision transformed Fort Mitchell, Kenton County, and the Northern Kentucky region for the better. He was a remarkable innovator who selflessly poured his time, talent, and treasure into his community. Ralph will be missed, but his legacy will forever be remembered in the Fort Mitchell community."

U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell also released a statement upon Drees's passing.

"Ralph Drees grew his family’s company into a national powerhouse with a commitment to quality and a drive for success," McConnell said. "He joined talent and vision to give countless families the chance to realize their own part of the American Dream. Both as a philanthropist and Kenton County Judge/Executive, Ralph helped create a community anyone would be proud to call home.

“The impact of Ralph’s leadership and generosity can be seen throughout Northern Kentucky. Elaine and I send our condolences to Irma and the entire Drees family. We’re grateful for everything he did for Kentucky.”

-Staff report

Photo: Ralph Drees receives the Kenton County Pioneer Award in 2018 (RCN file)

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