Oliver Aaron Gross knew how to get things off the ground.
He was an airline mechanic at the former Pan Am in the early 1960s. Later, he became an educator in the agricultural department of William H. Turner Technological Arts School.
“He impacted a number of children’s lives and was instrumental in facilitating some scholarships for some of the Turner Tech students to go to FAMU in its agricultural program,” said son Oliver Gross Jr.
His Turner Tech students raised cattle and chickens and entered them in Miami-Dade Youth Fair competitions. “These were some of his proudest moments when his students would be awarded and would be recognized for the animals they raised,” said Gross Jr.
Never miss a local story.
Gross died Jan. 27 at age 84 at the home he lived in for more than 40 years in the Bunche Park neighborhood with his wife, Blanche Gross.
That sense of grounding also defined Gross’ life. He was born to parents Willie and Laura Gross in Wrens, Georgia, on Aug. 31, 1930. The family moved often because his father worked for a highway construction company. A move to Miami at age 12 finally allowed Gross to catch up on his schooling and find community in Coconut Grove.
“My grandmother said to my granddad, ‘We are not moving or this boy will never finish school!’” said Gross Jr., president of New Urban Development LLC and an Elder at The Church of God Tabernacle in Liberty City.
Gross graduated from George Washington Carver School in 1951 and excelled in track and football under Coach Nathaniel “Traz” Powell. He earned an athletic scholarship to play for coach Jake Gaither on Florida A&M University’s football team and was also on the track and field team.
His friends and family say that there was no one who loved FAMU more than Gross. “He never failed to let anyone he met know it,” said Bea Hines, Friends and Neighbors columnist for the Miami Herald.
“He absolutely thought there was no better place to get an education,” his son added. Gross would serve as vice president and chaplain of the Gold Coast Chapter of the FAMU Alumni Association.
After serving in the Army, Gross became one of the first black mechanics for Pan Am when the mechanics’ workforce was integrated. For more than 20 years he commuted between his home in Miami and his Pan Am job in New York. After retiring from the airline and joining Turner Tech, he was named president of the Pan Am Social Club and Pan Am Pioneers.
“My dad instilled in me a sense of accomplishment ... to focus in terms of where you are going and not so much in terms of where you’ve been. For me, that’s been a cornerstone of our relationship. He always thought you ought to be trying to do the best that you could and he had an unusual appreciation for the value of education.”
In addition to his wife and son, Gross is survived by his children Malcolm, Lori and Terryce Gross, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. A viewing will be held from 3 to 8 p.m. Friday at Range Funeral Home, 5727 NW 17th Ave., Miami. The funeral is at 11 a.m. Saturday at Mount Hermon AME Church, 17800 NW 25th Ave., Miami Gardens.
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.