In celebration of Northern Kentucky’s heritage of business accomplishments, NKY Magazine, in partnership with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, has created the Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame to recognize the rich tradition of success and civic involvement in the region’s business community. The Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame honors men and women who have made a lasting contribution to the community in economic, cultural and civic endeavors. 

Inductees will be honored at the second annual Northern Kentucky Business Hall of Fame event at the Radisson on May 11. This event is sponsored by Ultimate Air Shuttle, Northern Kentucky University’s Haile/US Bank College of Business, St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau and the Radisson Hotel Cincinnati Riverfront.

Registration and networking begins at 5 p.m., with the program and dinner starting at 6 p.m. RSVP by May 11 to celebrate with our honorees in person.

By the Editors

Posthumous Award

Ralph Haile

Ralph Haile certainly left his mark on Northern Kentucky. But for Ralph, it was more important to work for the region than it was to take credit for it.

“[Ralph and Carol] were the kind of folks who lived well but kind of flew under the radar. They were the kind of people that could and were members of prestigious clubs and social circles, …but they were also the kind of people who had more fun with the folks in the kitchen at a party,” says Tim Maloney, president and CEO of the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile U.S. Bank Foundation.

While he was born in 1922 in Cincinnati, he found his passion and energy devoted to Northern Kentucky when he joined the People’s Liberty Bank and Trust Co. after returning to the region from piloting fighter planes during World War II. He would be with the bank for more than five decades, with 19 of those years spent as CEO. 

“He kept his office on the first floor on Madison Avenue, and that said a lot about him. He could have easily been upstairs and not approachable, but he was very approachable,” says Maloney.

The bank was acquired by First National Bank—which would later become U.S. Bank—in 1988 and Ralph would retire in the mid-90’s, but he never stopped working to better the Northern Kentucky region.

He founded the Covington Urban Redevelopment Effort (CURE), which would become the Covington Business Council. It was instrumental in the creation of MainStrasse Village and the Riverside condominiums, and backed projects like the Northern Kentucky Regional Convention Center, the Covington Bike Trail and others. 

He was also of member of the board of the old Booth Memorial Hospital, the board of overseers of Thomas More College and the board of the Covington Protestant Children’s Home. He was a member of the Museum of Natural History, the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Association, Cincinnati Country Club and the Queen City Club.

Haile and his wife, Carol Ann, were truly a team and focused their philanthropy and time on four areas of interest: arts and culture, community development, education, and human services. Together, the two set up a foundation to help them give in these areas. They made significant contributions to the Children’s Home, Seven Hills School and the University of Cincinnati among others. While Carol Ann passed away in 2004 and Ralph passed in 2006, the foundation continues to give to these areas of interest. 

When asked what Haile would think about receiving this award, Maloney said, “Awards weren’t important to him. He would be pleased but he would be humbled at the same time.” 

– Corinne Minard

Ralph A. Drees

Chairman of the Drees Co., and former Kenton County Judge-Executive

Ralph Drees has never been afraid of hard work.

He turned a small Northern Kentucky home-building business started by his German immigrant father into one of the nation’s largest family-owned homebuilders with operations in eight states.

Drees, 82, learned about hard work from his father, Theodore, who worked nine hours a day, six days a week building brick houses in Ft. Thomas. Drees worked for his father while attending Newport Catholic High School where he graduated in 1952, taking time off his senior year to run a bulldozer when he was needed.

“We did everything back in those days,” he recalls. “They didn’t have backhoes so we even dug sewer ditches once in a while to get a house built.”

When the recession hit in the early 1980s, Drees took a gamble and started building homes in Texas, launching the company’s growth nationally.

“There wasn’t much going on here and I had a good crew who were willing to go along with me,” he says. “I thought, ‘Let’s try somewhere else and if we fail, it will be our fault.’”

In 2004, at the age of 69, when most are retired, Drees, who had turned the business over to his son, David, was named Kenton county judge-executive. He served until 2011, getting the controversial Kenton County Jail built after decades of debate.

“I enjoyed the job of judge-executive because it was challenging, especially getting the jail built,” he says. “I guess I just enjoyed working, no matter what it was.” 

In 2003, to mark its 75th anniversary, the Drees Co. donated $2 million to construct the Drees Pavilion reception center in Devou Park, an important funding source for the park.

“Ralph Drees is unique and special in so many ways. His historic business success in the construction of family homes has been substantially supplemented by his extensive and varied generosity and accomplishments as a volunteer leader in the civic and political arenas. Northern Kentucky is and will continue be a better place to live because of Ralph,” says Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III, a longtime friend and member-in-charge of Frost Brown Todd’s Florence office. 

– Mike Boyer

John Yeager

Founder and partner of Ashley Development Co.

Forty years after founding Ashley Development Co. in Edgewood John Yeager still enjoys the business of building. “I can’t really quit,” he says. “I just enjoy it. I really do enjoy it.”

What he enjoys is building custom, high-end homes that are unique, Yeager says. “You don’t do the same thing twice,” he says. “The beauty of it is, in my arena, is everybody wants something a little different. And so you help them imagine and create something that they want that you don’t see anywhere else.”

Although he started the business focusing on building custom, high-end homes, Yeager says the company also has commercial construction, remodeling and window and door replacement operations.

Yeager says he would advise someone starting a business today to make sure to see what everyone else in that industry is doing. That’s what he did and it helped Ashley stay in the forefront of the custom home-building market.

Not only did he go to different cities within a couple hundred miles to see what other companies were building, but Yeager says an architect advised him to go to California if he really wanted to know what people would want in a custom home in the future.

“I can remember going to California and they had round windows,” he says. “Five years later we started putting them in. We couldn’t get enough of them.”

He is also proud that his company is able to add to the local economy. “It’s wonderful to be able to support 35 people in a small business. To me, small business is the backbone of this economy. They always have been.”

Yeager, who has served on several boards of nonprofits and charities, says it is important to give back to the community. “It’s very rewarding to be involved,” he says. “It’s a payback.”

– Eric Spangler