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Bev Gross of Cottage Grove, who was named the city's volunteer of the year for 2011

Cottage Grove's volunteer of the year knows local history

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Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Two years ago Cottage Grove native and lifelong resident Bev Gross was awarded local preservationist of the year.

"I thought, well, that's going to be it now," said Gross, content with that recognition for her volunteer efforts to unearth and chronicle Cottage Grove history.

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"And now all of a sudden this comes up," she said, laughing.

Gross was referring to her latest recognition: she was named Cottage Grove Volunteer of the Year for 2011. She spends countless hours researching local history - digging up records and stories about people of Cottage Grove's past - and serves on the city's Advisory Commission on Historic Preservation and the South Washington Heritage Society.

Gross, whose own family history is steeped in the Cottage Grove area, said she believes local history needs to be recorded for the community now and in the future.

"It's really important that when people move in here from other areas, it's important that they know what has happened here in Cottage Grove," Gross said of the city she recalls as once being "nothing but prairie land and a few farms."

Gross, 75, grew up in Old Cottage Grove, the daughter of local telephone company operator Art Brown. She said her interest in local people and history probably dates to when she would join her father on telephone service calls to homes in south Washington County.

"It all started out when I was little," she recalled. "My father was just a really communicative person, so we'd go to all these places and I got to know all these people. I think that part just stuck with me.

"It gets in your blood," she said of an interest in local history.

She did not go far from her roots. She and her husband, Bud, built a house years ago on land next to the home she grew up in. She has lived there 52 years, and joked that she would be willing to live only one other place, if necessary: "I suppose a nursing home."

She worked as a tour guide for 16 years at Cedarhurst Mansion. From there she got a call to join the city's preservation commission.

Gross said she did not expect the city award, given to her at a city banquet April 26, but got suspicious when the description of the recipient sounded familiar.

"They're reading about this person whose dining room table is full of books all the time and hand-writes a lot of things and I thought, 'Oh, no, it can't be,'" she said.

It was her, but Gross said others deserve recognition, too.

"There's a lot of people in Cottage Grove who volunteer to do a lot of things," she said.

The nomination letter for Gross' award noted that the recipient is "someone who has made unique contributions and does so because they are needed, not for an award or prestige."

"The center of her concern is with the past so others will know about this place," the letter said of Gross. It noted that she's on a first-name basis with Minnesota History Center researchers because of her frequent visits, and she surrounds herself with paperwork, photographs and old clippings she collects to document the past.

And there is more of the past to chronicle.

Gross said she is hustling to compile the history of a small house near her home in Old Cottage Grove. The house, built in 1900 but lacking striking and preservation-worthy architecture, is set to be razed soon. She is documenting the house's history and its owners.

Beyond that, she wants to put together another deck of history-themed playing cards. Gross worked with the city to produce a deck of cards that featured 52 tales of local history and said it was popular in the community and in schools.

There are more tales to share.

"I've got another 52 stories to put on cards," she said. "I'm ready for the next deck."

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