At 90 years old, Owen Gross is still doing the things he likes to do — fishing, cutting wood and even riding his lawnmower at the Huntertown Ballpark.
“I never dreamt I’d ever be 90, but I feel good and do kind of what I want to do,” Gross, of Churubusco, said. “I just have to know how to do it. You change your habits and how you do stuff. You’ve got to use good judgment.”
Gross, who celebrated his birthday on Labor Day, will reach 60 years of service at Huntertown Elementary School next year, even after technically retiring in 2001. Gross is a 1950 graduate of Huntertown High School and became the head custodian at Huntertown Elementary School when Carroll High School opened in 1969.
When he retired at 71, the school asked Gross if he would be interested in cutting grass there, and he hasn’t stopped since.
“I had the theory that if you enjoy what you’re doing, stick with it,” he said. “I did enjoy it, and it’s still home to me. I like to stop in at least once a week and talk with them. Sometimes they have questions I can answer that they would never find out any other way.”
Gross was a third-shift custodian for eight years at the old Huntertown High School, starting in 1961. He still sharply recalls the exact year each section of the building was built.
“That was back when we shoveled coal, and we had steam pipes that were old and had leaks. You had no storm windows, no insulation, snow on the window sills, frozen pipes — you name it, and we had it. I went through all of the old stuff up through the best, and I said, ‘I want to stay right here,’” he said.
Gross has six children — four girls and two boys — all of whom attended school at Huntertown and graduated from Carroll High School. His brother, Luther Gross, mows grass at Eel River Elementary School, and his niece, Mari Huelsenbeck, is also a custodian there.
Gross has been active in his community throughout his life, serving as a 4-H leader for 50 years and the Allen County Fair Board for 25 years. He is currently an Eel River Township Trustee Board member.
“You take care of your own community. You’ve got to have respect and care about your own people,” he said.
Gross also previously served on the Upper Wabash Valley School Study Council, which visited about 35 school corporations during his time as a member. He prides himself on NACS’ unmatched custodial cleanliness, and said when the council visited the district, “They could see the same thing. In my mind, I see it upgrading all the rest of (the school districts) because they try to compete with money, with good help and outstanding school cleanliness. That’s pretty important.”
Gross entered the U.S. Army in 1951, and was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star after being wounded in Korea in 1952. He reached the rank of Sergent First Class as a squad leader. A “Hometown Heroes” banner outside Huntertown Elementary School currently honors his service to his country.
Gross owns a 57-acre property in Churubusco where he’s lived since 1965. He raised pigs there until this year, but he still enjoys cutting and burning wood.
“I do a little chopping, a little of whatever it takes,” he said. “(I have) a few laying hens for eggs. That’s stuff I’ve always done, and I always had to be responsible for the chickens when I was at home, and we studied all that stuff in vocational agriculture so I kind of knew how to do it. But, you never know everything — you learn something new every day yet.”
Gross has been a longtime Carroll High School sports fan, and if you ask him just how long, he’ll tell you, “Well, how long has Carroll been around?”
And, of course, he still loves to fish — oftentimes with his brother, Luther. He said he saved more than 200 fillets for his birthday party this year at the Huntertown Ballpark pavilion.
“Everyone’s invited,” he said.