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1919 to 9-9- 2004

 

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Keepin' On

 

It's a Life!

 

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Preface

By Robert C. Ross

 

When I decided to write down the events of my life, the thought came to mind that I might forget an important event in those past 84 years. If I have and they concern the reader of my ramblings please accept my apology, for it was not intentional.

Life is strange. It is not like a scripted play, where if you don't get it right the first time you can do it again. No, life is a taskmaster that says, "Get it right the first time. There are no re-dos" I sincerely hope that I got it right! I cannot think of anything I would want to do over. Especially with my beloved Julia.

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Very Early

As a very small child, the early memories I have of my father are of him and my mother taking me outside on a snowy day and pulling me in a sled. It was great, but that is the only memory I have of mother and father together, their small 2 or 3 year old being pulled in the snow on the streets of Detroit.

I understand that my parents met while working for a well-to-do family in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Mother was a maid and father was a gardener and estate man who learned his talent in Scotland. He had left Scotland for America after he got into a dispute with his boss and punched him in the nose. Of course, after that he was blackballed and would never have been able to hold a job in Scotland. After arriving in the United States, he settled as a citizen, and later purchased some land and built a greenhouse of glass and a small shack to live in.

My mother, Bertha Campbell, and her twin sister, Birdie Campbell, were raised by a woman called Aunt Mae in Leaton, Michigan. Their father, William Campbell, apparently was unable to raise them and boarded them out to Aunt Maes family. Being raised in farm land couldn't be all bad, though. I only met their father, my Grandfather Campbell, once when I was in school in Detroit. I understand he was a street sweeper in Detroit, an occupation that was very important because there were so many horse-drawn carriages.

My parents, George and Bertha, decided that they were unable to get along and were divorced when I was very young. Later, when I was grown, I asked my father why they were unable to get along and he said, "Well, Bob, all I can say is your mother has a mind of her own." I never found out what that meant. We children went with our mother, who had her hands full earning enough to keep the wolf away from the door. She did everything possible, even operating a blind pig during the Prohibition for a short period of time. I recall seeing people coming to the kitchen and having whiskey in a coffee cup. Well, none of that worked out.

When I was about three and a half years old, my brother Dick, who is two years older, and I were placed in the Baptist Children's Home, an orphanage, for a short time. They found homes for us to board in. One was operated by Mr. and Mrs. Halloway, the meanest people I have ever known. They would beat us for the smallest reason. Once my brother and I were sent to get 50 pounds of ice at the ice station. We were unable to carry it in the basket we were given to carry it in, so we dragged it home. By the time we got there it was more like 35 pounds. The bottom of the basket had worn out and the ice was dragging on the cement sidewalk. We really caught it for that! Our stay with the Halloways ended when my mother came to visit us and noticed black and blue on our rear and legs. Mrs. Halloway said, "Oh, they fell down while on their roller skates." We were yanked out of that place. My mother went to the Friend of the Court to get my father to make his support payments and, of course, if he didn't he was sent to jail. I recall visiting him in jail one time. It was very strange to me.

The Baptist Children's Home was an orphanage for young kids like my brother and me, who were both placed there. My sister Helen, who was four years older than I, stayed with my mother. The Home, as we called it, was on the outskirts of Detroit. It was kind of a farmhouse, except it only had chickens, which gave my brother a job feeding the chickens. He actually was afraid of them, because whenever he came into the fenced area where they were kept, they would fly up to him to get what he was going to give them. Oh well, it was just training, wasn't it?

The operators of the Home held a unique contest to see who washed their hands best. Each boy was given a towel to dry his face and hands before mealtime. The idea was to see who after a week had the cleanest towel. If a towel was badly soiled after a week, the folks in charge could tell that the boy with the dirty towel did not use enough soap, because the dirt from his hands wound up on the towel. They even had a prize for the cleanest towel, a pocketknife, as I recall. I never was able to win. I think I had a better time with dirty hands.

Couples frequently visited the Home, looking for a child to adopt, and often with good results. Prospective adopters would come and talk to the young candidate to be adopted. It was a strange happening, like putting merchandise on display to see if it was satisfactory. One boy, whom I'll call Eddie, about 9 or 10 years old, wanted to be adopted in the worst way. When he was called for the couple to look him over, the Home's operators didn't know that some of us kids were behind closed double doors outside the room they were in. After it was over, he came into our room and we asked, "Well, did they pick you?" and he would answer No. Poor Eddie had gone through the process many times without success. Life is cruel sometimes. Eddie was a remarkable young boy. All the kids admired him. I recall he could throw a stone so far it would go out of sight.

As a small child, I remember the Home being an extremely large building with a porch that wrapped around the place. Later, when I was grown, I found that it was a normal-sized house and the porch, while large, did not wrap itself around the building. When you are small, all things look large.

Mother ran a room-and-board home for factory workers. I think 12 or 15 of them were there at one time. She made sandwiches for them to take to work at the factory. I remember watching her make sandwiches out of her homemade bread. She had slices of bread covering the entire kitchen tabletop. She would grind up whatever we had the night before and fill the sandwiches with it. The boarders slept in shifts. The night shift slept in the daytime and the day shift slept at night. She also did their laundry. It was a lot of work for her.

The Depression era was just another hill for my mother to climb. She was a tough old gal and did what was necessary to get by. Everyone we knew was in the same boat during that nasty time in history. Everyone was in the same mix, out of work or looking for some way to support their families. I could get a haircut for 15 cents by going down the street to a neighbor's basement, where the kids all waited their turn. We were in awe of anyone who had a full-time job. A mailman, for example, was the king of the hill because mail had to be delivered twice a day. Postage stamps were three cents each and postcards were one cent we called them penny postcards.

The Depression affected everyone. The stock market went crazy, but the average person had no idea what it was all about, least of all kids like me. We heard all the talk about it, but it just went in and out of our ears. There were breadlines, folks selling apples on street corners in downtown Detroit, and, of course, there was Prohibition -- no booze sold openly, at least for entertainment. Puzzles were the biggest thing. We would start a puzzle and stay at it until all hours of the night. Everyone wanted to be the person to add the last piece. Then we would swap jigsaw puzzles with friends or neighbors. My mother became a caretaker of a small apartment and I was given the job of scrubbing the back and front hall steps each week. When the windows in the hall were dirty, cleaning them was my job also. We turned the backyard into an ice-skating rink for the kids in the neighborhood. I would rather be inside listening to the Lone Ranger or the Green Hornet on the radio. The radio was as important then as TV is now. Remember, radio had just become available to average people. I remember trying to get something on this new device by just moving a thing called a "cat's whisker" across a piece of crystal to get a station. Boy, that was early radio, wasn't it?

There were no such things as supermarkets. If you wanted a pound of sugar, beans, or cookies, the storeowner would use a scoop to get the loose item and weigh it on a scale. For cookies, just take out as many as you wanted. Many a time, I recall going to the meat market to get two pounds of pork liver, the cheapest thing the butcher had. It cost only 25 cents for the package.

When I was very young I must have been in kindergarten I saw a man on the street with a pony. I walked near him and he said, "Hello, little boy, would you like to sit on my pony and I'll take your picture?" Of course, I wanted to sit on that nice pony. The picture was of no interest. Later, the man came to the place we were staying and said I ordered these pictures and, of course, they had to be paid for. When mother came on her next visit she had to pay for the pictures, whether she wanted to or not. I found out later this was a scam called kidnapping with a camera.

My mother got the idea to sell her homemade bread and cinnamon rolls, which were the best in the city of Detroit. Boy, they were good! She had no problem getting customers and could sell everything she baked. Guess who the deliverer of these homemade products was? Bobby, of course. She purchased a beat-up old bike, fixed it up, mounted a large cardboard box in front of the handle bars, wrapped the warm bread in towels, and placed it all in the box. As soon as I got home from grade school, off I would go on my route to the Grosse Pointe area, where folks could afford to buy these delicious products. The only problem was that she could only make so many loaves in a day. She'd be up all night, kneading it down after the yeast had raised it. To be good, it had to rise twice. This enterprising effort of hers was ended when the welfare office where she got her flour cut her off after they learned she was able to make a living like this. Strange, isn't it? They would rather have her on the dole than allow her to make a living.

I also recall that the welfare office gave us rubber soles and glue for our shoes when they had holes in the bottoms, but they never stuck well enough to stay on. I would walk around with these glued-on soles, half on and half off, until I had to pull them off before I tripped.

School was another thing. I always had a problem when folks asked me what grade school I went to. This was difficult for others to understand because I went to so many different schools. I can only remember a few Hosmer, Carstens, Fitzgerald, and Jackson. We were moving all the time, and my brother and I boarded at so many places when we were very young. Sometime after I was grown, I figured that I had attended 16 different schools before starting high school. And I went to two different high schools Southeastern High School and then Wilbur Wright High School, which was a trade school, with a machine shop, etc. I went there because my mother's boyfriend, Rick Johnson (whom we kids all hated), said that Wilbur Wright made sense because my handwriting was so poor. He said I would never be able to go into business. The factory was my only option. Wow! The school was way across town, and it took an hour and a half on the streetcars to get there and an hour and a half back home. This was the reason we got a Model A Ford. It made more sense than spending three hours on transportation for school.

After the Model A Ford, I later had another car called a Whippet, but it was a mechanical dud. It was often down because of a timing chain that was out of kilter. Other cars' timing gears did not slip like mine did. The car never made the grade, so it was sold early on. When I was younger and had no transportation, my playmates and I would go down to the Detroit River to swim or just swim in one of the canals that were part of the river system. We would dive off the bridges that crossed the canal. The police came out afterward to stop us, because all the waste from a nearby VA Hospital was dumped into the canal. Also, one of our friends cut his head open when he hit something on the bottom.

We moved when my mother was able to get a job in a factory called Motor Products Inc., a supplier to General Motors, I think. At this time I was old enough to go to a dance hall named Vanity Ballroom. I went every Sunday night. There was no booze, just mild shakes and drinks. Everyone went stag, both girls and boys. It only cost 75 cents to get in and you could dance the Foxtrot, Waltz, and Jitterbug all night with anyone who would dance with you.

Work

When I was in grade school, I had a good friend named Jack O'Herron, who lived in my neighborhood. Jack's mother had passed away when he was a very small child and his father was raising him; in fact, they were very close. He thought the world of his dad, and his dad became a real father to him. Some way or another, Jack was asked to deliver a weekly newspaper called the Shopping News that only had advertising in it. The paper was supported by the large department stores in downtown Detroit. I became Jack's partner. We had to take the paper up on the porches of homes and fasten them to the doors, using rubber bands if necessary. He would go on one side of the street and I the other. Twice a week we were paid 90 cents for each delivery, good money in those days. It only took us about an hour to do the job. That was the beginning of my work for pay.

The next job I had was selling Good Humor Ice Cream. I began by standing on a busy street and making sales to the autos as they saw me with my uniform and cart. I must have been good at it, because I was put on one of the company's tricycles, with frozen ice cream in my carriage box. I would peddle down the street and ring my bells. This caused the kids to beg their moms for money for my product, which, by the way, was an excellent ice cream bar.

My mother felt that I could do better and, because my father had become a house painter, she told him, "You should give your son Bobby a chance to learn the ins and outs of house painting and, by the way, this will give you a chance to get to know each other." I wasn't very excited about becoming a house painter, so I didn't work out very well, but I did get to know my dad a little better. My Dad could see that I wasn't the speediest painter he had ever seen. I guess I was just dabbing the paint on. He came up to me and said, "Bobby, don't be afraid to put too much paint on. Do it like you've been doing it for 20 years." I thought, what? How could I know what he was talking about? Because this was summer work, it ended when school started in the fall.

I got a job as a result of dating a girl, whose father was a big shot at Chevrolet Motor Division. The job was selling parts at a dealership. The problem this time was ignorance. I knew nothing about auto parts and was a dolt when it came to handling cash over the counter. Finally, I went to the owner and said, "Mr. Whyte, I think I had better quit before I get fired." He agreed.

While dating a very fine young lady who was Roman Catholic, I became interested in her religion, She answered all of my questions in detail and gave me a good example of how a person should act. So I went to a place called St. Bonaventure's Monastery for instructions. I was living at the YMCA at the time and it was not too far to go to. Father Felix and Father Cyril, who were Capuchin monks and members of the order of St. Francis of Assisi, gave the instructions. I really went through it all with them. It took a year and a half. We would meet and I asked questions and got good answers. I would have been there longer but my National Guard Unit was mobilized into the U.S. Army. I really enjoyed those chats and was indebted to that young lady for her attention to my becoming a Catholic. When I hear people say that one religion is as good as another, I say if that is so, I sure picked a tough one.

My California Adventure. I certainly was not suited for the automobile field, so I decided to do what the phrase said: "Go west, young man, go west." It all started with an introduction by a friend's father to a service offered by a firm tied to Chevrolet Motor Division. The firm wanted to deliver brand-new Chevrolets to the West Coast, but not by railroad, which was too expensive. I was hired or, rather, used to drive a new car to Los Angeles. I had to make a security deposit of around $100 to ensure that the car would be delivered in good condition. Oh yes, I also was told to take with me a certain amount of cash to pay bridge tolls, which I imagined would be penny ante. I got the car, with routing instructions, and noticed that the hubcaps were not on the wheels. I was told they might get scratched or dented from the road, so they were in the trunk of the Chevrolet. I was given about seven days to complete the trip. There would be no side trips. So off I went. The car had a governor on it, set on 45 mph, to keep me from speeding. All went well until I got to the California border just past Las Vegas, Nevada. There, I was stopped and told I had to pay a caravanning fee. A what? Seems that new cars had to pay a tax for going into California. Of course, this took a bite into my cash resources. I recall it was $50, more than half of the available cash I had to live on. I had no choice but to pay it, or lose the deposit I made back in Michigan, so I did. When I asked them how they knew that my car was a new car that had to pay the fee, they said, "Oh, that's easy, your car does not have hubcaps on the wheels." Boy, was I learning. When the folks back in Michigan had said there might be toll fees, I figured less than a dollar, not $50. So off I went into friendly California, oh yeah! I was driving along in the wide-open spaces when I was pulled over by a state police car. It seems I was speeding 70 miles in a 45-mile zone. Not so, I said, this car has a governor on it, so it can't go over 45 miles per hour. The officer, in a very polite way, said, "Yes, but you were on the Bakersfield Grade. It is 18 miles long and you were going downhill. The governor was unable to hold the car to 45 mph. It just coasted, so to speak." That was my introduction to the friendly state of California. I was to show up at the courthouse in San Bernadino on a given date. When I appeared before the judge, I was told my fine would be $25 or two days in jail. I told the judge I had very limited funds and could not afford the fine. He said, well, come back at one o'clock and tell me what your decision is. After a walk around town, I went back and said I'd have to go to jail. Okay, the judge said, we'll count today as a day. You'll be there one more day. So off I went to jail. Talk about a scared kid. Wow! I was put in this jail with all kinds of criminals, thieves, robbers, rapists, and one murderer. They corralled me and said I would have to go through jail court, a kangaroo court. I was assigned a defenseman, and they stood me against the wall, and read the charge "breaking and entering without notifying the inmates." An older inmate told me to plead guilty. Otherwise, they would make me scrub the whole cellblock. I did, and was fined 50 cents, which they all used for tobacco.

After I got out of jail I found a rooming house and a job washing dishes for a restaurant, earning just enough to barely get by. Down the street was a beautiful Catholic church that I would go into for some private reflection. I read all of the literature that was in the back of the church and became interested in belonging to the church. With a very strange feeling, I went to the priest's house and rang the bell. An old man answered the door. In a gruff voice he asked what I wanted. With a very timorous voice I said, "I guess I want to become a Catholic." He growled, "What makes you think you should become a Catholic?" I was taken aback by his rudeness, said, "Never mind," and left, never to go back to that place again in California.

I received a letter from my brother in Michigan, offering me a chance to work where he worked, at a shop called Colonial Broach. He even sent me the bus fare to go home, which I did. Thus ended my efforts to be a millionaire in California.

I was living away from home at the YMCA and making good money, but I was not cut out to be a grinder on a machine. My brother fit right in, however.

I stayed at the YMCA until World War II broke out. I did not want to be drafted and wind up in the infantry or engineers, so I enlisted in a National Guard unit that a lot of the men at the YMCA had joined the field artillery. I knew that the national draft would catch me, so I made plans for the better part. The infantry walked, while the artillery rides in trucks that pull the howitzers. Made sense to me. I had to go to the National Guard Armory once a week to train, but that was okay. It sure beat having to walk, as they do in the infantry.

Our unit was called into service, and I served at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and Camp Butner, North Carolina. Before my unit was mobilized into service, I had reached the grade of private first class. I felt pretty important about the promotion from buck private. Not only that, I got a pay raise. I had been making $14 per month and now it was $21 per month. The army life seemed to fit me well because I soon made the grade of corporal and, later, sergeant. In that role, I had a gun crew of 11 men, most from the South, seven of whom could not read or write. It was a challenge to train them to become the soldiers Uncle Sam wanted. However, we did become one of the best gun crews in the battery of four guns.

Howitzers are cannons that shoot their shells over mountain terrain, for miles, if needed. They fired six-inch shells with a great loud bang and with such force that the wheels of the howitzer would sometimes bounce six inches in the air from the recoil.

Of course, many of these men hated army life and would do anything to get out. One man said a witch had put a spell on him and he could not march because she had put a green snake in his leg. He went to the hospital, and everything was done to get that green snake out of his leg but he said the easiest way was for that witch to remove the spell. He was actually discharged because he could not solve his problems. Life in the army was interesting. I felt it did me a lot of good. I always said it made a man out of me. Three years of my life were accounted for this way.

While I was in the Army, I was able to get what was called a permanent pass, which allowed me to get out of and back into the Army post without any problem, but I was restricted to going only 50 miles away from the Army post. I had it because I had gotten myself on special services duty and could go and come as I pleased. My special service duty was that I became assigned to an Army show, a musical that was going to perform in St. Louis, Mo., at the municipal auditorium. I was in charge of the backstage part of the show. It was great. I did not have to stand for roll call or reveille. I could come and go as I wished, which I did. I used to take the weekend off and go wherever I wanted. I went to visit my monk friend Father Benedict at the Trappist monastery in Iowa, and one time I took off for home in Michigan. I had an agreement with the clerk in the commanding officer's office that he would phone me if for any reason the first sergeant smelled that I was not operating as he expected. I was home for 10 days when I did get a call from him. He said I'd better get to camp in time to sign the payroll. You bet. So back I went and, after signing the payroll, told the first sergeant that my special services would end in a week. This allowed be to make another trip to the Trappist monks in Iowa again. A scary thing happened on the way back to camp. It was December 7, 1941. I hitchhiked a ride with a couple, who made the observation, "That was a terrible thing, wasn't it?" I said, "What?" They told me that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. I had no idea what they were talking about and asked, "Who was Pearl Harbor?" I thought they were talking about a woman. They said they figured I was being called back to service. Holy cats! Now I had to make sure to get back in time for morning roll call. I just made it by two hours. I then had to resume training as before.

It was back to the same old grind train, train and train. Also, the Army had a way of making the GIs get frustrated. Always be there long before needed. The phrase "Hurry up and wait" was standard operation. It was nothing to be loaded in our trucks with guns in line and behind the trucks, waiting for the officers to give the command, "Let's roll."

In the army you do what you are told to do, unless you are able to find a way to do otherwise. This became my goal. The problem was that the unit I was in, the 182nd Field Artillery, was training, training, and training. I frankly was sick of it. We were in a war, and I felt that I should be overseas with the rest of the army. So when I found that I could transfer to the U.S. Parachute Troops, I made application for a transfer. However, the powers-that-be kept delaying my application. The officers could not refuse the transfer, but they could delay it, and they did. Finally, I was called into my commanding officer's office and told it was ready to go. Great, but the C.O. said they had to send a non-commissioned officer like me, a corporal, to form another unit. If the outfit lost me and another corporal it would be bad for them, so they offered me an advance in grade to sergeant if I would stay and they would send someone else. It was up to me: stay with a promotion or go, promoted to sergeant, to the new unit to be formed. I said I would go. I felt that I could train the new unit and get to Europe, where the war was faster. How wrong could I be? From Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., I went to Camp Butner, N.C., as sergeant, but training a new unit was tough, especially when seven of the 11 men on my gun crew could not read or write. Finally, after a long time with these rookies I was found to have punctured eardrums, due, I guess, to the concussion from firing the howitzers. While in the hospital, I was visited by an officer who said they wanted a man of my technical grade to run a camp for Italian prisoners of war. I could take my pick of the jobs, mess sergeant, supply, or first sergeant. I said no to it all and took my discharge from the Army. If I could not go overseas, I wanted out. I even refused a pension so I could get out earlier. I would have had to stay only two weeks to a month longer to get it.

After my honorable discharge from the U.S. Army at the age of 23 in 1942, I decided to go to Dubuque, Iowa, to visit with the Trappist monks. I had been corresponding with one of them, a Father Benedict. I felt very strongly about the wonderful men and applied for entrance, which was given to me. At New Mellery Abbey, the Trappists all take a vow of silence. They don't speak, not even a hello or goodbye, unless the abbot gives them special permission. It did not take very long for me to learn that this was not the life I wanted.

The only contact I ever had with religion was as a teenager, when I played basketball with a group that attended a Methodist church. My attendance at the Baptist Children's Home was as a very young child, and nothing stuck.

After the Army I moved in with Jack and got a job at the airport with Capitol Airlines, which eventually became part of USAir. I started as an operations agent. My job was to figure how the luggage, mail and freight should be loaded onto the airplane while it was on the ground. This was very important, because the C.D., or center of gravity, balanced the plane. There were gas tanks in the wings and in the tail of the airliner, and balancing the load right determined the ability of the plane to get off the ground. After working there for some time I was told I was to be promoted to senior agent, which meant that I would be in charge of that operation. The day before my promotion was to take effect, I was working for a senior agent named Mary Ann, whom we all called Mike. She was the best boss I ever had. On this particular day, I had the plane all loaded in the rear compartment. The gas, however, was in the rear tanks, and when Mike discovered how I had told the cargo handlers to load, she blew a fuse! If the plane had tried to take off, it would have crashed. I could have wound up in jail. Reloading all the bags and cargo in the front of the plane averted a disaster. I had misread the device that showed the C.D. of the plane after it was loaded. Boy, I'll never forget that incident, or Mike's temper.

Some nice perks went with the job when I was senior agent on duty with Capitol Airlines. We could fly one time at no charge anywhere in the United States, and when the pilots brought an airplane in for mechanical work, any employee could go along when they took the plane out for test flights after the work was done. Just fly around Michigan and go back. But they put the plane in some rather heavy flights. I recall one flight when the plane went out, but the toilet had not been emptied yet. Boy, what a mess that was!

We were always anxious to make connections with incoming planes and often kept a plane on the ground a few minutes past flight schedule. However, this had to be changed. An order came down from corporate headquarters: From now on, never ever delay a flight for any incoming connection. Well, I was on duty and a plane was on the way, but a little late, and I was asked if I would delay the plane on the ground to connect. When I said no, I was told that C. Bedell Monroe, the president of the airline, was on the plane and had to make the connection. I still said no, and sent the plane at the gate out on time. That really caused a stir. I was called on the carpet in the station manager's office, but I said the order was, "Do not hold a flight to connect, under any conditions." Things were a little tense, but it all cooled down.

While living with Jack, I tried to get him to make dates with the girls he knew, but he never did. He was too shy and did not know how to go about asking for a date. I never had any problem this way, however, so we double-dated a lot.

In 1946, I learned that my father was ill. My brother Dick called me and said that my dad did not look too good. Well, he was the only father I had, so off I went to see him. Upon arriving, I could tell that he was in serious straits. I asked him if he had seen a doctor, and he said, yes, that an osteopathic doctor had come out and told him he had acute indigestion. Baloney. I called Mercy Hospital and told them I wanted him admitted. They wanted to know who his M.D. was. I told them he didn't have a medical doctor, and was told he could not be entered without an M.D. admitting him. They said, Sorry! That made me MAD, and I asked them if they wanted him to die because of their silly rules. That did it. They said bring him in. I called an ambulance, and off we went. They found that he had a ruptured ulcer in his stomach. They tried to build him up for surgery, but it was too late. I was with him when he went to meet his Maker with a dying gasp. I'll never forget it! My father was buried December 24, 1946, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.

I was appointed the administrator of his affairs. There were bills to pay and real estate to sell and, while going through his papers, I learned that he had remarried and was divorced from a woman in Pennsylvania, with a minor child who had rights to part of his estate funds. I settled the whole thing up and took care of the Pennsylvania folks by mail, but never met or talked to them. They must have been satisfied.

His estate consisted primarily of land upon which he had built a glass greenhouse, in Redford Township, just outside of Detroit, on Eight Mile Road near a juncture of roads that were called Five Points because of the streets that met there. I imagine that land would be very valuable today. Dad died near Easter, with a greenhouse full of flowers. I spent a considerable amount of time selling those beautiful flowers and plants. He was well liked by those who knew him. It seems he was always broke, because several people told me they had loaned him money. The milkman said that once while he was trying to collect for a past-due bill, he wound up making a loan to my dad. This was all taken care of by me as administrator of his estate from the funds realized from the sale of his things. There wasn't much left after all the claims. I heard lots of tales that his friends told me about him. Too bad I never really got to know my father!

One of the unfortunate things that happened while I was a young man was that my mother, as she was on her way to work, broke her back. This happened as she was getting on the streetcar, which was the transportation method of the time. Before she had both feet inside, the man operating the streetcar started up and mother fell into the street and broke her back. She was in the hospital for a long time and had to wear a brace for the rest of her life. She did, however, bring a lawsuit against the Detroit Street Railways (DSR). She had to move to Ohio so the case would be filed in federal court. She eventually won $25,000, which was a lot in those days. Of course, the law firm had to take their fee, but even then it was a substantial settlement

When I learned that General Mills Inc. was interviewing for more salesmen, I applied and was hired. After a year or so of training in territories in Dearborn, Michigan, I was sent to Flint to be the manager of that territory. My job consisted of selling General Mills products to large chains and wholesale grocery companies, and then calling on the stores in that territory to work the products out of the wholesale warehouse. My territory covered all of Flint, west to Owosso, east to Lapeer, and 10 miles north of Flint. I really enjoyed working for General Mills. It gave me experiences that would pay off later in many ways. I hired ladies to sample our products in the larger stores on weekends and helped move those wonderful Betty Crocker products into the market. I had cake-baking contests using our "Soft As Silk" cake flour. On one occasion, the entire sales force in Michigan was called in for a special sales meeting, where we were told, "Load up your warehouses and retail stores with cake flour." No reason was given. "Sell your customers more than they will ever need," they said, so I did. If a store needed two cases, I sold them 10 cases. Boy, I was ready for whatever promotion was coming. But when I learned what it was -- a recipe using oil instead of shortening -- I was devastated. I knew I would be a dead man as soon as I went back and I told my accounts that the promotion was for a recipe for chiffon cake. How wrong could I be? That recipe moved the cake flour out of the stores just like my bosses said. I think I established a record that was never beaten. The moral of this is "Do what you are told," which I did, and as a result sales were excellent.

When General Mills promoted me to manage the Flint territory, the move was an interesting one. After I had been in Flint for less than two weeks and looking for a place to stay, I lived at the Durant Hotel in downtown Flint. I woke up one morning and, lo and behold, there was water all over. The downtown area was covered with water six feet deep, cutting the city into two parts. If you didn't know where the bridges were -- and I didn't -- you were lost. A side light of the flood was that one of our large accounts had just received a carload of Bisquick, a flour mix for which all you did was add water. Boy, it was a mess. I finally was able to locate a rooming house on Cadillac Street and moved out of the hotel, which pleased my boss and cut my expenses.

My transfer to Flint, Michigan, by General Mills was an important day in my life. All would begin here for the next 50 years. I met the finest girl in the world: Julia Hoder.


I believe that our marriage was truly made in heaven. When I first came to Flint, I registered at St. John Vianney parish and asked the priest how I could meet a nice girl. He kind of laughed and said that they don't line up all the available girls and then I could take my pick. The other priest said, we should introduce him to Jaye Hoder. I asked, who? I missed the name, and they would not repeat it. Of course, I met Jaye Hoder later.

Here's how it came about. I now was a practicing Catholic and found out about a shop called the Flint Catholic Shop. Since I wanted a book I'd heard about, called The True Devotion, I went in to purchase it. This very nice girl clerk told me they did not have it on hand, but would be glad to order it for me. I said, that's a good idea, and left my card for them to call me when it came in. While there, I mentioned that I had just been transferred to Flint and was trying to find out what to do in Flint to meet people. She seized this idea and explained that a group called the Theater Guild was being organized in the city. This sounded like a good idea to me and I got the information on where, when, and how to join. When I showed up, I was told that Jaye Hoder had alerted them that I was to be there and to pay special attention to me, because I looked like a good candidate. I, of course, wanted to know if Jaye Hoder was there, and just about that time she walked in. I was very interested, joined her at the meeting, and made the first of many dates with this charming girl. I recall that our first date was for dinner at the Masonic Lodge downtown. We had an enjoyable meal and made sure we would be able to see each other again. At the end of one evening, after about six months, I asked her to be my wife. She was taken aback, and I said, "No hurry. You can give me your answer tomorrow." I guess she was ready, because the next day she said yes. We were married some months later.

We had been courting in a very nice way. We both attended daily Mass at church, and I would phone her to meet me at the church, or she would call me to do the same. It was kind of a contest, to see who would call first. I lived in a rooming house about a quarter of a mile away and she lived in an apartment. It was kind of nice because we saw each other every day this way.

Jaye took me up north to Standish, Michigan, to meet her father. When he learned that we were to be married, he asked me about farming. I said that I had no interest in being a farmer. He offered to teach me, but I said, nope, not for me.

The wedding was quite an affair. Three priests were in attendance and performed the ceremony. Father Henry Mayotte was the main celebrant. My boss from General Mills was there, and family, family, family were all over the place. Jack O'Herron was my best man. He wasn't too happy to lose a drinking buddy or, for that matter, the guy who arranged double dates with him. We lived in Julie's one-room apartment for a short time until I could arrange to purchase a house at 2000 Bagley Street in Flint. We paid the unheard-of price of $7,500. I had only $1,500 to make the down payment and the bank said I needed another $1,000 down to get the mortgage. That was a problem, but since I had military service I was able to get that extra $1,000 from the Veterans Administration. How about that? The interest rate was extremely high 3.5 percent and the payments were very high $49 per month. Kind of unheard of, eh? So we moved in and started acting like old married people.

We were married for months without any babies on the way. We began to worry that we would not have any children, but then the doctor announced the first blessed event, and the first of seven was born, Robert Francis Ross.

We were fortunate that my mother came to help us for about six weeks after the baby came and she came after each of our children were born. I was the last of her three children to get married. I was 29 years old when we tied the knot. I had been afraid to get married because many in my family had been divorced and I wanted to make sure I married the right girl. As it worked out, I got the prize in Julia Hoder.

One of the nicest things our family did was go to Julie's birthplace, the farm near Standish. We would roam in the fields, swim in the Rifle River, which ran past the farm, pick apples from the trees, and just have a great time. We had a dog we called Pepper who was like one of the family and enjoyed the farm as much as any of us. When we were on the way to the farm we kept the kids from getting on one another's nerves by having them count the cows, one side of the road against the other, and watch for deer. One of the things I did with the young Rosses was to play ball in the street, with a whiffle ball. We played kind of a scrub game. Whenever the batter made an out he or she moved to the last place, the outfield. If anyone hit a ball into a neighbor's yard they were out. This did not stop the neighbors from calling the patrol cars, and the cops would put a stop to our game, but it was always fun. I pitched for everyone. Even today they remember the great time they had playing ball in front of the house.

Julie and I both believed in keeping them, especially the boys, busy and not hanging out with other kids in sort of a gang. I guess it paid off, because they all kept out of trouble. We were strict parents. I always felt that a good father was one who held children tight, with an open hand. In other words, know when to hold and know when to let go.

I was happy working for General Mills, but I had married a person who was in business. I felt that this business of hers could be expanded into a larger operation, so we began to explore the possibility of turning it into a larger operation if I joined it. Of course, we would have to purchase the other partners' share in the operation. We needed $1,500 to make the transaction go. We had no funds, of course, and the bank just laughed at us. At that point, a priest friend of ours introduced us to a doctor. This man had funds that were not giving him the interest that he wanted at the bank, and as long as a member of the clergy vouched for us, it was go. At an interest rate of 13 percent, we signed a paper that gave us terms and a payment schedule, and we were off and running. We learned later that 13 percent was an illegal note, but we didn't care, we just needed funds. I quit my job at General Mills and we moved downtown just before the Christmas season. We had a good season and were very pleased. Now for the bad part! I had just finished taking the inventory for tax purposes and took the books home to work on them, when on a Sunday I got a call telling me that our store building was on fire. I raced downtown and, sure enough, it was a total loss. Fortunately, we had insurance and had the inventory documents at home. Of course, this meant we had to start all over. I received a call from General Mills, telling me to come back, that my job had not been filled and they wanted me back! I said no, that I was determined to make a go of it. Julie was disappointed, though. She said she would rather have the security of a position with promotion possibilities. This was the only major difference we ever had. Fortunately, I was right. We eventually wound up on a good-sized store location on Kearsley Street, just across the street from the fire location. We had room to grow there, even an elevator that the Ross kids like to operate, under supervision. We put the young Rosses to work doing things they could do, like assembling First Communion kits. It actually wasn't much of a job, just putting child-size rosaries in little pouches. We had sold thousands of these kits all over Michigan to various Catholic schools. I guess the Rosses learned how to work at a very young age and this way also learned something about the world of business.

Now, in order to make a go of it, the responsibilities were on my shoulders, not my wife's, as before. I had to do the buying and running the company. We changed the name from the Catholic Shop to Flint Catholic Supply and then finally to Ross Church Goods Inc. This was because I was going after the supplies needed by churches, not just selling religious articles to the lay people in the church.

This meant that I would have to go traveling on the Michigan roads to call on the rectories where the church offices for the priests were. It was slow and hard work, but it began to pay dividends. Then, I decided to issue an annual church-supply catalog. For this I organized a group of dealers just like us from various parts of the United States, as far away as California and Louisiana. We met in New York City each year to interview and to decide what went into the catalog, and I came back to Flint and published the catalog. Each dealer had their own identification on the cover and order forms inside. This worked very well and, as a matter of fact, the group sent me to Europe on a buying trip one year. We operated in downtown Flint for years, had a salesman on the road, and supported our family from these efforts.

Once a month Julie would come downtown to work at our store. She took care of all of the office work, sending out statements to our accounts to get them paid on time, and she paid the bills. There is no way I could have done what she did. I have always been oriented in the direction of sales and promotion. I also did the buying of merchandise, because I had to sell what was purchased. When Julie was at the store, we had a baby sitter come in to take care of the kids at home. Mrs. King was just what we needed. She handled the Ross tribe in a gentle but firm way. When we came home she would just say, "Oh, we have been busy," never complaining. Mrs. King usually stayed overnight at our place while Julie went to our store to take care of the office work, usually about five days a month.

After the Vatican II Council was held in the early 1960s, the church supply business tapered off drastically, so I closed the doors and began to manufacture. I invented a couple of items that we sold to the many church goods dealers all over the country. I secured a warehouse operation from a friend of mine and as the orders came in I shipped the products I made under the name Ross Manufacturing Co. One was a hymnal holder made of durable plastic that was mounted on the back of the church pews. Another was a plastic vestment holder that held wide-yoke garments to keep them off the floor. Another was a kit for making silk-screened banners for churches. These sold very well, and as they did I found I had funds needed to buy a larger house for our growing family, and we moved to 701 Dougherty Place in Flint. It was a good move! Eventually, I received an offer to sell the manufacturing operation to a concern in the East, and I did so. That allowed me to concentrate on my new venture, real estate. I have always felt that every work situation was a stepping stone to the next field to work in.

I had to find something to do that would support a family of nine, so I got a real estate license as an associate at a local real estate office. I found that, while selling houses was okay, I preferred the commercial field, where tax-free exchanges were more to my liking. I did quite a bit in this field and was rewarded accordingly. By this time I had my own office. I operated alone, not wanting to be there if another person was not making the grade. I still had the manufacturing business going, and at a profit, I might add. I also became an Amway distributor and had quite a large group of distributors under me. I enjoyed this because it allowed me to deal with people and my Julia was there to assist me in every way. We would go to the homes of our distributors and explain the operations to those in attendance, and many would join us in the business. It was fun!

 

Julia

I don't know how I was ever fortunate enough to find the perfect spouse like my Julia Hoder Ross. She was the perfect person for me to marry. We agreed on almost every facet of married life, raising our children, and finance, and when we did differ, which was seldom, I was smart enough to side with her on her philosophy. We began by both accepting the souls that the good God sent us. No birth control for this couple. God was good to us. We had only seven, although it could have been 12. And each one of them is individually different from the others; even our twins have their own personality. And at this writing, we have 20 loving grandchildren.

Family

My Julia and I believed that a child has to be taught right from wrong early in life and that they must be accountable for their actions. We were strict, but with a loving method. I guess we were on track, because none of them was ever arrested or put in jail. The pastor of our church used to say, "I can spot a Ross child across the playground." I am not saying that they didn't get into scrapes they did but they paid for their indiscretions. I know that we were stricter than most parents, but I think it paid off. I can recall that the little ones used to wait on the corner for my car to show up, then race me home on foot, kind of a game. Their mother had them in sight all the time or knew where they were. She was one of the best. They went to parochial schools.

As a matter of fact, our oldest, Bob, went to Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit for high school. There were young men in that seminary who are now priests. Bob decided that it wasn't for him so he went to Oakland University, then University of Michigan, and is now working at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida as a marketing writer and editor of their publications. He has a son, two stepdaughters, and four granddaughters.

Our oldest daughter, Mary, graduated from the University of Michigan and has taught school, even in Australia, for a year. She is now married and has three wonderful children who are just before college age.

Our son Paul, the one who had the greatest desire to be a little different, has, and as you might know, became a practicing attorney with his own office in Lansing, Michigan, is married and has a daughter in college. A person has to admire a young man when he passes the state bar examination and sets out to establish his own office. Think of it: this plunge into the unknown takes a great deal of courage. I believe he felt that no one could pay him what he was really worth, and there was no way he wanted to play second fiddle to those among whom he knew he was more qualified. I think the proof of the pudding is that he almost always wins the cases that he takes in competition to the Big Boys.

I always told our sons and daughters, be the best and never, never, settle for anything less, which they have done.

Number three, Thomas, is married, with a printing and advertising business in California, and has five children, two in college and another just getting ready to go.

Next, Christopher has a very successful jewelry business in Ohio, and a lovely daughter, the apple of her parents' eyes.

We were fortunate to have twins, Margaret and Michael. Margie, as we call her, graduated from Michigan State University with an agricultural degree and was employed by the University of Michigan's Botanical Gardens until she married. She has a boy and a girl. Her brother Michael is a medical doctor, employed by Beaumont Hospital in Detroit as an emergency physician. He also travels throughout the United States, giving lectures on emergency medicine to hospitals that want to improve their operations. He has written extensively in medical journals and has a book on the subject. He is married and has four children.

There is no easy way to success, only determination and hard work.

I recall a person once telling me that I was very lucky in the business world. My answer was, "Yeah, I notice the harder I work, the luckier I am." I know that he was surprised by the answer.

Our family had seven children, which seemed to us kind of normal. Our friends all had good-sized families, as well. The Charette family had seven, the Strands had seven, and the Borkas had seven. One time, on our way to Canada for a summer vacation, we stopped at a restaurant, and as we all trailed in, a lady stood by and asked me if this was two or three families. We used to vacation with our friends, the Charettes, and our 14 children slept in large cardboard boxes. The kids all liked it. It's a good thing they did, because there where not enough beds for everyone.

It is amazing to think what has happened to the cost of living in the past half-century or so. When I was a boy, it only cost 25 cents for a gallon of gas, bread was 12 or 15 cents a loaf, and a movie only 25 cents. As time creeps on, the costs increase. Recently, while going through some old papers, I found a 50-year-old bill from St. Joseph Hospital, which we paid for the birth of one of our sons. I paid all medical expenses, because we did not have insurance. The bill was for Julie giving birth. She was in the hospital, according to the bill, for five days, and all care came to the extremely high price of $120, which included $2 for a surgical procedure that was performed on almost all male infants. However, in this case it was NOT performed on this male infant! Our family has had some interesting conversations about this since I showed them the bill, laughingly asking if they should go to the hospital and demand a refund plus 50 years' interest on a $2 overcharge! I suppose it was billed in error because the procedure is normally preformed.

 

Julia's Illness

My wife and I used to work on local elections when they came up, as officials who attended the voting places. Eventually I became chairman of our precinct and had to assign and supervise the various functions of others in our precinct.

I assigned Julia to a station where she was to check the registry to approve the voter's right to vote. I kept coming over to see if all was okay, but she just sat there, doing nothing. The other workers were performing the job she was supposed to do. This was the first sign to me that there was a problem that had to be checked. It was the last election she worked. Time went on and, while Julia looked great, I knew that we had to see a specialist in the medical field. So off we went, and after about three hours'  evaluation, the doctor told me that without question Julia Ross had Alzheimer's Disease. I was devastated by this news and broke down right there.

It was the beginning of 12 to 15 years of heartbreak.

Earlier, I had come up with another product that I patented, a squirrel feeder called Friskee Feeder. I sublet the work and shipping operation and did very well, as far as revenue to me was concerned. We had 15 sales reps and excellent sales all over the United States. But I had a problem with the operation at home. Julia would answer the telephone and never pass along the information that she received. So I sold the rights to the Friskee Feeder and disposed of the manufacturing operation so I could spend 100 percent of my time with Julia. As far as I know the product is still being sold.

Julia had no idea what was going on, and denied having Alzheimer's, but the disease made more progress as time passed. We went to see her doctor every six weeks, but as far as she was concerned it was just a nice outing.

As time passed, roughly eight years, I had my hands full. I believed that she had taken care of me for years, and now it was my turn.

The doctor told me that it was time for me to check out nursing facilities, which I did. I eventually had her admitted, but it did not bother her in the least. She knew that I would be there for her, and I was. I went there at noon and at suppertime to feed her, because she was unable to feed herself. I had been helping her to eat for years. She would not do it without my help. The folks at the nursing home loved her, because she had such a wonderful disposition.

My darling was in the nursing home for five years.

I have never been a person who could just sit around. I had to have something constructive to do. While knowing that I could not become involved in operating a business, due to my need to attend to Julia at the nursing facility, I learned about SCORE, an organization that mentors people who want to go into business or may need help if they are already in business. SCORE, which is sponsored by the Small Business Administration, had a local office at the Flint Area Chamber of Commerce. I applied and was accepted as a counselor. This allowed me to set my own hours, so I could see my Julia twice each day. It was just what I needed. Now I was able to be occupied with a type of activity that was in my line of interest and also be able to take care of my sweetheart as I wanted.

I only worked about six hours a day. I went to the office to answer the telephone calls on my machine and conduct interviews that I set up. Larry Ford, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, was very good to me. I fit right in, business-wise. I would leave the office just before lunchtime, go and assist with Julia's needs, and come back to my office to take care of whatever I had planned.

Eventually Julia became uncommunicative. It was a matter of time before she would lose the fight to live. Our children were always there, visiting their mom, even though she didn't know who they were. As for me, I think she thought that I must be one of the employees at the nursing home. She lost her ability to communicate and just smiled at everyone as they came in to see her.

When we were told that it was just a matter of time we set up a schedule so someone from our family was always there for her. She died on Christmas day with one of our sons at her side. It is never easy to lose someone you love, but I think we all were more prepared for this than a sudden death. We all know she is in heaven with our dear Lord.

Afterwards

Because I had been through the patent process, I asked Larry Ford if he thought that it would be a good idea if I were to organize an inventors organization. He said, go ahead and see what you can do. So I contacted the TV stations and newspapers about it and got some excellent results. At the first meeting, 137 people showed up and we had to move the meeting place because we had expected only 20 or 25 people to show up.

As a result of this fine turnout, we set monthly meetings and began what, to date, is an organization that has about seven years' experience. Our goal was and still is to assist the novice inventor in bringing his idea and product to market. We have had some very nice success.

About three years ago, I found that I have Parkinson's Disease. This slowed me down a little, but the big blow came when I was also diagnosed as having ALS, a disease that is also called Lou Gehrig's Disease. This put a real crimp in my life and activity, because I have lost my ability to speak, among other things. It was with sadness that I had to relinquish the control of the Inventors Council of Mid-Michigan. Fortunately, there are capable members who continue to run the group as it has been.

 

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