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Board remembers 'pioneer for Menomonee Falls'

Village plans memorial for Herbert Gross

Sept. 6, 2013

Menomonee Falls — The Menomonee Falls Village Board last week reflected on long time Menomonee Falls resident and village leader Herbert J. Gross.

Gross, who was instrumental in the creation of Menomonee Falls, passed away on Aug. 24 at the age of 87.

As a community leader, he paved the way for the current configuration of the village. If it wasn't for him, Menomonee Falls as it sits today could very easily be called Lannon instead, Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald said at the board meeting Sept. 3. Gross was a predominant developer and "pillar of the community," he said.

Plans are in the works to develop a memorial in honor of all that Gross has done for the village. Staff plans to work closely with his family as they develop the memorial.

Village historian

As one of Falls' "best historians," said Village President Randy Newman, it seems only fitting that Gross played a key role in documenting the community's past.

In 2008, Gross participated in a 47-minute program on the Falls Cable Access channel where he explained how the town of Menomonee and the village of Menomonee Falls were incorporated to create the village boundaries that exist today.

"He truly was a pioneer for Menomonee Falls," Newman said.

He added that if it wasn't for the efforts of Gross and a group of select men, the Village Board could have been sitting in Lannon discussing village issues instead of Menomonee Falls.

At one point in time, Menomonee Falls was a mile and a half stretch of land that was located in the middle of the town of Menomonee. It wasn't until 1958 that the two combined to form the current 33-square-mile village.

As lands in southeastern Wisconsin were constantly being combined and annexed, it became "a race to the courthouse because at that point it was more likely the village of Lannon was going to combine with the town of Menomonee," Fitzgerald said. "The whole structure of how we exist today was pretty much because of what Herb did back in the late 50s."

A spark leads to growth

The growth of the village started surprisingly and, somewhat dramatically, because of baseball.

Gross said during the Falls Cable Access program that on Oct. 12, 1956, he expected to pick up the paper and read how the Milwaukee Braves blew their chances of making it to the World Series. Instead, he read that he was now a resident of Lannon, not Menomonee. The town of Lannon and the town of Menomonee boards unanimously voted that Lannon was to annex Menomonee.

Gross, who operated Gross Reality on Main Street at that time, became part of a committee known as the "Minutemen." The group created a petition and held a meeting, where residents of Menomonee overwhelmingly voted to stay separate from Lannon.

That was the "first major threat to the town of Menomonee," Gross said in the interview. But, it wasn't the last.

A lot of steps were taken before Menomonee Falls annexed the town of Menomonee and Gross was one of the few who was there every step of the way. To hear him explain the growth of the village in his interview, visit FallsCableAccess.com. Falls Cable Access is replaying the program occasionally on Channel 14, for residents with Time Warner. A disc of the show is also available at the Menomonee Falls Public Library.

The program featuring Gross is part of a Falls Cable Access series called "I Remember...Menomonee Falls." It includes 10 other topics related to the history of Falls including the original police and fire departments, village officials, neighbors, holidays, commerce, the hospital and the recent high school classes from the 40s, 50s and 60s, said Harry Stoetzel, who runs Falls Cable Access. This is an ongoing project to document the history of the village through interviews with those who have lived it, he said.

Next will be a show on the high school classes from the 1970s.

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