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Ralph Drees, homebuilder, philanthropist, friend of the community, dies at 86 after long illness

Ralph Anthony Drees, 86, of Crescent Springs, passed away peacefully on Saturday at Hospice Care of St. Elizabeth in Edgewood.

Ralph was the Chairman of the Board of The Drees Company, one of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky’s largest home builders, and one of the top 25 home builders in the nation.

Ralph and his beloved wife, Irmaleen

Under Ralph’s direction, Drees Homes has been honored with several awards, “Builder of the Year, America’s Best Builder, and the National Housing Quality Award”. Ralph was also very active in the community and a United States Army Veteran.

He served as Judge Executive of Kenton County (2004-2010), Chairman of Kenton County Airport Board (1990-2003), a Councilman for the City of Erlanger, Chairman of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce (1991-1992), President of the Home Builder’s Association of Kentucky (1985-1986) and Northern Kentucky (1965 & 1979), and he served as Chairman of the Area Planning Commission (1972-1977). Ralph was recognized in 1990 as the Northern Kentucky “Business Person of the Year”. Among many other honors, he was also the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Spirit of Construction Foundation, and in 2000, he was inducted into the Greater Cincinnati Business Hall of Fame.

Drees was preceded in death by his parents, Theodore and Elizabeth Drees; his brothers, Joe and Richard Drees; and his grandson, Michael Drees.

Ralph and son David and daughter Barbara on the cover of the national Homebuilders magazine

He is survived by his loving wife of 64 years, Irmaleen Drees (nee Schultz); and his children, David (Karen) Drees, Lynn (Bill) Hemmer, Susan (Glen) Panoushek, Philip (Jennifer) Drees, and Barbara (Richard) Jones.

Ralph also leaves behind his beloved grandchildren, Alexa (Joe), Trey, Ryan, Paige, Scottie, Caitlyn, Sean, Megan, Tad, Weston, Mitchel, Cooper, and Georgia; and his great-grandson, Wiley.

Services for Ralph will be private.

Memorial contributions can be made to: The Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky 634 Scott St. Covington, KY 41011.

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) released the following statement about Ralph:
“Ralph Drees grew his family’s company into a national powerhouse with a commitment to quality and a drive for success. 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.”

Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann, a good friend or Ralph’s, shared his fond memories on his Facebook page. What will he miss most?

Ralph Drees

“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,” Knockelmann wrote. “Ralph set the standard.”

Indeed, Ralph was known as a man who was unspoiled by success. His friends describe him as unassuming, as never forgetting his roots, as being fair and friendly and caring and being a devoted family man. And always appreciating hard work.

He respected his father, Theodore, who started the company Ralph would grow into a national enterprise. It started in 1928 and the first house was a little brick cape cod in Wilder. His dad taught his children that a job worth doing was worth doing well.

Ralph was the second generation. He joined the company in 1959, diversified and took the company into new markets and became an industry leader. The Northern Kentucky community is replete with Drees-built homes.

See this tribute to Ralph Drees by his friend Bill Butler as it appeared in Sunday’s edition.

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