The Heroines

Mildred Gross Marcus

is honored with a Medium Bench from Howard and Rose Marcus.

 Mildred Gross Marcus

My Grandma
by David Marcus

My Grandma, Milly Gross, was born in her parents' home in Chicago in 1909. When she was five years old, the family moved to Cicero, a suburb of Chicago. She was the oldest of eight children. Her father worked as a postal clerk for $25 a week, which was good pay back then. Milly slept with her sisters, three in a bed, while her brothers slept in the other bed.

When Milly went to school, she was nicknamed Cleina Gross, which means Little Big. She weighed about 64 pounds when she was in fifth or sixth grade. While Milly was in school, she did piecework, or child labor. For her weekly allowance, she used to get a nickel, the price of a movie, called the nickel show. She saw mostly Pearl White serials.

Milly's father, David Gross, for whom I was named, and her mother, Bertha Gross, were in a way "poor." She could not afford to go to any school parties and dances when she was young, although one summer she did go to a YMCA Girl Reserve Camp.

After World War I, she remembers her uncle coming back from the war. She remembers people celebrating and dancing in the streets because of America's victory.

At the age of 16, Milly walked three miles to her high school every day. After school, she worked as bookkeeper and secretary for an arch support firm for $5 a week. When she had saved $22, she bought a cloth coat with a fur collar. She also volunteered her services at the Jane Adams Hull House Settlement and taught piano lessons after school. She recalls that Al Capone, the famous gangster lived in Cicero at the same time she lived there.

After graduating from high school, Milly was employed at a wholesale jewelry firm where she worked for 12 years, starting with a salary of $15 a week, until raises brought her income to $25 a week.

Milly was 18 when she met my Grandpa, Sam Marcus, at a Temple dance. She continued to see him because her girlfriend was his neighbor. My Grandpa had a Tin Lizzie, which my Grandma recalls was a very special car because he was the only kid on the block who had one.

At the age of 23, in 1932, Milly Gross married Sam Marcus. In 1940, my Dad, Howard, was born in Chicago. In 1941, they moved to Wichita, where my Uncle Jerry was born in 1942.

At about that time, Milly got involved in the Wichita community by taking orders as a distributor for Holland Flower Bulbs as a project for Temple Emanuel. Even now, Grandma is called the "tulip lady" of Wichita. She also does a lot of volunteer work for the community. "A lot" is not the best word for describing what she does. All her life, she joined countless volunteer clubs all over Wichita. Usually, when I visit her, she is working on some project for one of the clubs she belongs to.

Grandma saves stamps for me everyday, and occasionally invites us over for dinner. I admire her for this, and much more. First, she is so organized, and gets everything done on time when it is due. She always is so happy when I talk to her. For example, the day I interviewed her, she was so willing to show me pictures of her sisters and brothers and all the things we talked about. My Grandma is also very well known and well liked in the community, and I am very proud of her. She's especially special to me because she is my Grandma.
Milly Marcus recently celebrated her 90th birthday on March 19, 1999. She is blessed with six grandchildren. Her children, Rose and Howard Marcus, are honoring her as a true heroine: a devoted mother, grandmother and consummate community volunteer, beloved by all whose lives she has touched.

David Marcus, who wrote his grandmother's story as a class assignment when he was in junior high school, finished a four year residency in psychiatry and is now completing a two-year NIH Fellowship in Neurology at the University of Rochester Medical School in New York.

October 1, 1999