LARNED — “How on earth did you get to be a championship boxer in your early days?”
“If I were to assess my life, I’d say that for some reason, if something was going on, I had to get involved in it!” said Bill Gross of Larned.
That is only the beginning of the Bill Gross boxing career, of which few know the real details!
Bill got interested in this sport while serving in the Navy.
A group of guys wanted to box.
During a “smoker” (a Navy term for a rest break), one of the men challenged anyone to take him on in the ring.
Bill’s friends pointed at him. Bill, not one to pass up a challenge, got in the ring with the egotistical boaster and knocked him out.
Bill attended high school in Hutchinson, but quit school in the middle of his senior year to join the Navy.
The nation was at war in 1945.
Bill and five of his buddies enlisted together, choosing different branches. After their stint, the guys were united again in Macksville. Bill’s parents lived there, where his father worked as a butcher for C.O. Mammel grocery chain.
While in Macksville, Bill played football and basketball; then completed his senior year and graduated from high school.
Soon Bill was hired at the C.O. Mammel Grocery store, transferred to the Russell store for 1 ½ years, where he was promoted to manager there. Mammel’s transferred Bill to Larned in 1950.
However, Bill was already avidly involved in his boxing career in Russell before he moved to Larned.
He was well known throughout the state and had a winning record in his bouts.
One of the newspaper clippings described how he qualified as one of the five champions from Kansas and surrounding states.
He was pitted in the ring against champion Golden Gloves champions from Wichita, Hutchinson, Russell, Springfield Mo., and other locations.
It was when he moved to Larned as store manager that Bill first got a glimpse of a beautiful girl in high heels, “all dressed up.”
She was Jean Deighton, and he was smitten. Jean’s sister, Ladayne, told Bill to “stay away from my sister.”
Bill didn’t listen.
They began to date and soon, they married.
The Mammel store at that time was located where Tabler Furniture sits today. The grocery store was located on the corner of 4th and Broadway at the end of the block.
Downstairs of the Tabler building, there was a sidewalk basement entrance on 4th Street which gave access to the basement of the “then” Mammel Store.
It was in that basement where the “boxing club” began.
This basement space was where Bill spent time working out, teaching others boxing, and using the area as a work out location for the enthusiasts.
At that time, C.M. Phinney Sr., Vane Tabler, and Jess Hayslip were also boxing fans, and supporters of the club.
Boxing was a wildly popular sport in those days, and there were boxing matches throughout the state. A tournament featured eight to 12 matches.
The old City Auditorium, located where the Jordaan Library is today, was the boxing arena where the Larned tourneys were staged. The ring would have to be erected and taken down after the matches since the auditorium was used for many other purposes.
It was not unusual for Bill to TKO (technical knock out) his opponents.
However, once he was on the receiving end and garnered a very sore jaw to show for it.
Bill owns a scrapbook of newspaper articles featuring the boxing tournaments throughout the state. He won most of them.
The Hutchinson News Herald gave the boxing sport much attention and published the daily goings on of the state bouts and tournaments.
As Bill managed the C.O. Mammel Store in Larned, it continued to increase in sales and thrive. Soon, a new store was built, and the building is the present USDA building, just west of the Welcome Inn.
The opportunity soon came for Bill to own his own store, and “Uncle Bill’s A.G. Store” was born.
It was a beautiful, large grocery store and his business flourished. Bill knew the business. That store is the present building housing the High Plains Farm Credit Building directly across the street (west) from the First State Bank on Main Street.
This past month, Bill was recognized for 65 years of perfect attendance at the Lions Club meetings. His Lions friends applauded his accomplishment.
“It meant so much to me,” Bill replied.
It’s not the first honor Bill has received from the Lions Club.
Bill is the recipient of the highest award one can receive from the Lions Club International — the prestigious Melvin Jones Fellow award. Melvin Jones was the founder of the Lions, and this year the organization is celebrating its 100th year.
Bill dressed up as Santa Claus in the Christmas parade for many years. He served on the school board in the middle ’60s, and served on the city council from 1989-1997.
To summarize his life, Bill says he’s a participant.
If no one volunteered for anything, he did.
There are pictures of Bill in his scrapbook dressed up as a clown for the parades and various events in Pawnee County.
“The good Lord just kept opening doors for me, and I simply took the opportunities and had fun.”
Bill and Jean raised two children: Cindy, who is deceased and was married to Jerrel; and Steve, who is a crop duster in Larned. They are the grandparents of Meghan Gross Norris, Talia Gross Huff, Tanner Gross, Israel Hagerman, Lydia Hagerman Begnaud, Isaac Hagerman and Isaiah Hagerman, and 18 great-grandchildren.