Joe Nelson, Staff Writer
Posted: 11/11/2012 01:59:30 PM PST
James Ramos rose from an impoverished youth on the San Manuel Indian reservation to one of the most prominent movers and shakers in San Bernardino County, possessing a commitment to education, community service and philanthropy.
Ramos’ tribe, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, has donated millions of dollars to local schools, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, fire departments and various nonprofits over the years, the largesse provided courtesy of profits generated by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino.
The tribe’s 45-year-old former chairman, Ramos this past week became the first San Manuel tribal member elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.
He credits education as the single most important factor in his success and the success of his tribe.
“Education paved the way not only for the tribal government, but for the community as a whole,” said Ramos, who holds an MBA from the University of Redlands, a bachelor’s of science degree in business administration from Cal State San Bernardino and an associate of science degree in business management from Victor Valley College in Victorville.
Before the San Manuel tribe opened its bingo hall in 1985 and grew it to one of the most profitable tribal casinos in the nation, members of the tribe, including Ramos, eked out a living any way they could.
For a few years the tribe sold tax-free cigarettes, before the courts ruled the tribe must pay tax on them because the merchandise crossed state lines during transport.
Ramos said he would help unload the trucks that trundled onto the reservation, then dotted with mobile homes and just a few small homes, for $20 a truckload.
When gaming entered the picture and the tribe’s profits began to grow, Ramos decided it was time to learn business to better understand how things worked.
“We had to be able to understand the tribe’s business affairs,” Ramos said.
So he went back to school, earning his associate degree in 1994, his bachelor’s degree in 2002 and his MBA in 2009. Also in 2009, Ramos received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Northern Arizona University.
Ramos began building his political house in 2003, when he ran for a seat on the San Bernardino City Unified School District board. He lost to Judi Penman, president and CEO of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce.
That didn’t deter the aspiring politician. Two years later, in 2005, Ramos ran for a seat on the San Bernardino Community College District board and won.
He has held that seat ever since, but now must resign due to his election to the Board of Supervisors, said district Chancellor Bruce Baron.
“Mr. Ramos has been a fantastic board member,” Baron said Friday. “The district has made a great deal of progress during his tenure.”
Baron said the district is operating with a balanced budget and secured a half a billion dollars worth of bond-funded instructional buildings at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa and San Bernardino Valley College during Ramos’ time on the board.
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