A Life: Rita D. Gross, 1926 — 2013; ‘One Of Those Very Special People That Most Towns Don’t Have A Lot Of’

  • Rita Gross, a 66-year Croydon resident, mans the sales table for a Croydon Historical Society event in 2000. (Courtesy photograph)

    Rita Gross, a 66-year Croydon resident, mans the sales table for a Croydon Historical Society event in 2000. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Rita Gross stands next to the Croydon school bus she and her husband Bud owned in 1952. (Courtesy Carol Marsh)

    Rita Gross stands next to the Croydon school bus she and her husband Bud owned in 1952. (Courtesy Carol Marsh)

  • Rita Gross, a 66-year Croydon resident, mans the sales table for a Croydon Historical Society event in 2000. (Courtesy photograph)
  • Rita Gross stands next to the Croydon school bus she and her husband Bud owned in 1952. (Courtesy Carol Marsh)

Croydon — Rita Gross’s colleagues deemed her a jack-of-all-trades, saying her devotion to preserving valuable town records while juggling numerous duties was nothing short of amazing.

Gross, a familiar face in Croydon, filled town clerk, treasurer and trustee of trust fund positions for more than 33 years, alongside being a town historian from the day she settled in.

“She is really one of those very special people that most towns don’t have a lot of,” said Selectman John Clements, who was reelected to a third term last month.

“She was the encyclopedia of Croydon,” added Town Clerk Charleen Little. “She was a very special woman. Very dedicated.”

Gross, a 66-year Croydon resident, died from natural causes Feb. 6, 2013, at age 86.

Her daughter, Carol Marsh, said Gross’s father-in-law, Dana Gross, instilled in Rita many of the attributes that were used to describe her today.

“She was strong willed, she was independent, she was strong in her abilities, strong in her mind, faithful in every regard, devoted and was generous to a fault,” Marsh said.

Dana Gross was a reason why Rita delved so deeply into town work. He held town office positions from 1903 to 1965, along with being an historian for many of his years.

“He was her teacher, her mentor,” Marsh said. Rita Gross cared for her father-in-law in his later years, eventually carrying him from room to room when he became too frail.

“She did everything for him that she needed to do,” Marsh said. “And even took on his duties.”

The Gross family ran the Croydon town offices out of their Barton Street home for more than 65 years and Dana, Rita and her husband, Gerald “Bud” Gross, all served in town positions. Some of Rita Gross’ work included transcribing birth, death and marriage certificates and documenting the history of the cemeteries, roads and schools in Croydon.

And her work didn’t stop there.

If one wanted to learn to knit, she would instruct; to bake, she would teach; a ride, she would drive.

Rita and Bud Gross also purchased the first school bus for the town, using their own money, and Rita became the bus driver.

For around $500 back in 1951, Marsh said, the couple bought the 28-passenger bus, and Rita Gross would pick up school children on Ryder Corner and transport them to Croydon Flat and Croydon East Village Schools.

For as long as Marsh could remember, her mother also taught rug braiding and would show the designs at the Cornish Fair in the 1960s and 1970s.

“She would braid and he (her husband) would lace the rugs,” Marsh said.

Gross was also known for teaching sewing, knitting and tatting, and for whipping up pastry, cake and cookie creations.

“She loved to bake and she was good at it,” Marsh said, citing apple pie and a whip cream cake as Gross’s specialties. “It wasn’t just baking a thing of cookies. They were fancy. They were highly detailed pieces of perfect, just like everything else that she did.”

One of Gross’s two grandchildren, Katie Marsh, 17, remembers learning the baking ropes from her grandmother.

“She was a teacher,” said Katie Marsh, a Newport Middle High School senior. “She was very strong willed, she had a passion for everything she did for her family and she always wanted to learn more about the history of where she lived.”

Croydon Historical Society President Jane Dearden said she and Gross established the Croydon Historical Society in 1999, which Dearden said now has its own building “and has a lot of things that other towns would be jealous of for a tiny, tiny town of 700 people.”

And a lot of the society’s extensive records were Gross’s doing.

“She clipped every clipping there ever was in the local newspapers and magazines that would have anything to do with Croydon,” Dearden said, adding Gross co-authored the 1966 bicentennial history with Jane Chworowsky, along with helping other authors collaborate works.

“From the day she set foot on Croydon soil she was part of Croydon’s history,” Dearden said.

Carol Marsh remembers growing up living the simple life under her parents’ authority. Marsh said her family didn’t travel much because Gross was caring for her father-in-law, but that didn’t stop the family from living a fulfilled life.

The Gross family spent a lot of time enjoying picnics, walks and outdoor crafts, Marsh said.

“We could identify what all the flowers were in the garden,” she said. “Life was certainly centered around the more simple pleasures.”

Gross, born in Newport to Louis and Emma Beauchaine, spoke only French up until age six because that was the only language spoken inside their Guild home.

“On the first day of school, because she couldn’t speak English, at recess time, she left and went home because she didn’t understand,” Marsh said laughingly. “So then they decided she needed to learn English.”

Gross, the oldest of seven children, graduated fifth in her class from Towle High School in Newport, all while working nights at Dorr Woolen Mill in Guild. After graduating, she continued work at Dorr, also working at Green Acres Ice Cream in Croydon and Yankee Barn Homes in Grantham, (to name a few) and finished up her career at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital — all while she occupied town office positions.

Marsh said every weekend when Gross left Dorr, she would climb to the top of Croydon Mountain “which took 45 minutes to an hour,” to meet her husband atop, who was the lookout watchman. Gross even manned the tower at times, with the most memorable time being throughout the Grantham Mountain Fire in 1953, which burned 1,570 acres.

“The fire broke out on the day they were leaving on their honeymoon,” said Marsh. “They were going to be headed up into Canada, but my father got ahold of her and said ‘we’re not going to be going, look up to the mountain’ — and she looked and saw the smoke.

“She left and went up on the mountain with him because he was fighting the fire, so she manned it (the tower),” Marsh said.

Lifelong Croydon resident Cody Kangas said her sister, Sandra Blackington, used to climb to the top of Croydon Mountain with Gross.

“Rita was always packing a pistol because she didn’t like the boar in Corbin Park,” Kangas joked, saying Gross was a woman of many talents.

“She was a very efficient person. If you asked her a question you would receive a letter in the mail in a couple of days,” Kangas said. “She also liked things done correctly. I remember hearing if mail came with Croydon spelled with a ‘d-e-n’ — she’d put return to sender and send it back to the person. It made her mad they spelled it wrong. She loved her town.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@gmail.com.