With great sadness, our beloved and most precious head honcho, James (Jim) R Gross, 86, passed away the morning of May 7, 2022 at home in Helena, surrounded by his wife and five children.
Jim, the oldest of three, was born in Helena to Fredrick and Evelyn Gross on April 7th, 1936. He attended grade school at Kessler Elementary, graduated from Cathedral High in 1954 and was a standout basketball player for the “Greenies”. He was multifaceted and not only was the Sports Editor of the school newspaper, but also participated in Drama and had the lead in ‘The School Prince’ and ‘The Fortune Teller’, sang in the choir and lettered in track and basketball. He formed lifelong friendships and continued to meet some of his old teammates once a month for lunch, up until a year ago.
After graduating high school, Jim worked at Texaco in Helena. Shortly after, he enlisted in the United States Army and served at the Pentagon, specializing in communications. Upon honorable discharge, Jim returned to Helena, attended Carroll College, played basketball and graduated with a Bachelor of Art degree in History and Education. He went on to pursue his masters degree in Education from Colorado State University, graduating with honors in the spring of 1968. He returned to Helena to embark on his passions: teaching, coaching, and raising his family.
Jim and Sandra Surman met in High School, lived three houses away from each on Breckinridge Street, married in 1959, and were blessed with six children. They just celebrated their 63rd Wedding Anniversary on April 11th, 2022.
Dad was a basketball enthusiast.! He coached at Helena High School and Carroll College for 5 decades, including 40+ years as a head coach. He was a knowledgeable, well known and respected coach throughout Montana, as well as across the country. He spent most of his career at Helena High, teaching History, Government and coaching basketball, however in his early years he coached track, golf and football. Jim spent countless hours in the gym sharing his knowledge of the game, including opening any gym he could find to provide the opportunity for Helena youth to learn and play the game he took such pride in. You could find him at basketball practice in jeans, a polo shirt, a whistle around his neck and to complete his coaching attire… his Tony Lama Cowboy boots. Numerous coaches from all over would call and or meet with him to pick his brain and seek advice because of his expertise on and off the court. Napkins at the Gross household were used for basketball graffiti ( play diagrams) and not to be thrown away! He was the first coach ever in Montana to win the AA State Championship Title for both girls and boys; Helena High Girls in 1983 and Helena Boys in 1991. He was named “Coach of the Year” in 1991, and received the prestigious Dick Muffick award for his dedication to young people.
He was an assistant coach for both the men and women’s basketball teams at Carroll College in the 1970’s and 1980’s and he ended up becoming the head women's coach in 1992. He was also the Director of Athletics and retired from Carroll College in 2003. His 1998-99 Carroll women's team was inducted into the Carroll College Hall of Fame in 2014. Under his tenure, the Saints won a conference title in 1999. Jim, along with good friends Tom Kelly and Jim Trudnowski, founded the Carroll College basketball camps in the early 70’s.
He spent his summers coaching and directing the camps instilling the fundamentals of the game into a multitude of youth from Montana and beyond. Through the camps he established long lasting friendships with colleagues, which provided him an opportunity to spend time every summer coaching camps out of state, which included fishing in Alaska. His yearly Alaska trip was one of his highlights, as it gave him an excuse to have a big family barbeque showing off his prowess as a fisherman and cook.
He was always up for a cold red beer, glass of red wine, and most recently enjoyed having a strawberry milkshake, while watching old westerns. John Wayne was one of his favorites! As a man of great undeniable faith, he instilled the love of Jesus Christ and moral values in his children and grandchildren. A man so relentlessly focused, generous, dedicated, compassionate and kind, with a keen sense of humor we so loved and appreciated. “Grandpa, did you get a haircut?”, “No, I got them all cut!”
He was never far from Carroll, supporting basketball and football from the sidelines. He was a member of the Carroll College quarterback club to ensure future success of the program. In December, Jim was notified of his upcoming induction into the 2022 Helena Sports Hall of Fame. He was looking forward to the banquet in July, but unfortunately he went home to heaven way too early. A trail blazer in his own right, he was a source of inspiration, and had a profound effect, as he touched the lives of countless people.
He was the guiding force in the Gross family and is reunited in heaven with his parents, Fred and Evelyn Gross, and joins his sister Charlene Bernasek, brother in-law Bill Bernasek, in-laws, Steve and Peg Surman, sister in-law Shari Redfern, son in-law Theo Nehl and infant son Micheal
Those left to treasure his memory include his wife Sandra of 63 years, 5 children: Steve Gross, Lori Burglin (Joe), Lisa Nehl, Karen Keller (Bill), Kristi Starz (Rob), sister Dale McKnight (Ed), brother in-law Jay Redfern, 17 grandchildren: Kaycee Thoeny, Kurtis Gross, Koleman Gross, Shelby Harris, Brooke Leary, Jordan Burglin, Sandra Burglin, Jonah Burglin, Taylor Nehl, Weslee Nehl, Kyndall Keller, Kash Keller, Sydnee Starz, Cayl Starz, Haydn Starz, Quincee Starz, RJ Starz, along with 16 great grandchildren and numerous nieces, nephews, extended family, friends and a cohort of former players and coaches that have meant so much to him over the years.
With heartfelt thanks to all the astounding caregivers at Broadwater Health Center, Corrina, Paul, Kasi, Matt and Regina with Encompass Health, James Olson at Epaga Home Care and Colin, Madi, Tayvia, Spencer and Nicole at Simple Cremations, Monsignor O’Neill and Deacon Bob at Cathedral of St. Helena. Your care and compassion will never be forgotten!
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 12:00 PM on Wednesday, May 25th at the Cathedral of St. Helena. A luncheon will immediately follow in the Brondel Center (basement) of the Cathedral.
The family wishes memorial contributions be made to the Cathedral of Saint Helena or Carroll College.
It broke our hearts to lose you, but you didn't go alone, part of us went with you, the day God called you home. Well done, good and faithful servant! We will love you forever!
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