It’s not unusual for one’s family name to play a significant role in one’s life. Sometimes its influence opens doors that might otherwise be closed.
That wasn’t the case with Lloyd Ross. The impact Lloyd’s name had on his life was simply a matter of the alphabet. In 1940 he started Sharon High School, where they seated students alphabetically. That put him close to a girl named Eleanor Anita Ruffo.
“Ross, Ruffo, we were always in the same room,” Lloyd said. “At first she wouldn’t even give me the time of day. The end of the Sophomore year is when the ice broke. She’s the only girl I’ve ever loved.”
Lloyd graduated in 1944, then immediately headed off to serve his country. After basic training and gunnery school, he was sent to Barksdale Air Force Base near Shreveport, Louisiana. He was assigned to a B-29 crew, but the war was over before they completed training. He ended up going to Europe to serve in the army of occupation.
“We were going into Germany when most of the troops were coming out. They said, ‘Get your cognac, boys.’ I ended up in Kitzingen, Germany, at a Luftwaffe base. I was there for nine or ten months.”
American soldiers have always been known for their enterprising spirit. That certainly showed itself in Kitzingen – though not in a good way.
“The GIs were selling everything,” Lloyd said, “weapons carriers, jeeps, guns, anything. And they would send the money home on money orders. So they closed the post office to try and stop the stealing. Then they came out with currency control books. You couldn’t send home more money than you had been paid.”
Of course mail is always of prime importance to soldiers overseas, so new provisions had to be made for postal service. Lloyd was put in charge of opening a post office for the base. Lloyd had been a mail clerk but knew nothing about running a post office. He was issued a jeep, then sent to Wurzburg to learn how to run one and to get everything he needed – bags, scales, applications for money orders, etc.
“Running the post office was a piece of cake. There were prisoners to do the physical work. I had my own jeep, and I was free from all the standard military routines such as formations.
His jeep gave him an opportunity to observe a major historical event. Two Jewish doctors asked him if he would drive them to the Nurnberg war trials. He jumped at the opportunity.
He said it was just like you see in the movies about the trials.
“The balcony could hold about 50 or 60 onlookers, right in the courtroom. The German prisoners were on the left on the floor level, with all of the soldiers in the back. In front on the first row was Hermann Goering, then Hess. There were two rows of them. And the judges from all the countries were out front. In the middle was a stand where the prisoners came to make their plea. I was there the first day Hermann Goering got up. They said he spoke for eight days in his own defense. He was wearing that purple tunic he was noted for.”
Lloyd took advantage of the opportunity to do a little free enterprising of his own.
“Before I went to Nurnberg, I had a seven day pass to Switzerland. There was a sign over the jewelry store, buy a watch for $1.00. I bought ten of them. I took them with me to Nurnberg and sold them all for $25 each. One Russian spoke a little broken English. He told me that when he went back to Russia, that watch would buy him a cow. I never forgot him telling me that.”
Lloyd enjoyed his time in Europe, but after 22 months in the Air Corps he was ready to get out and get on with life.
“I had a sweetheart back home,” he said.
Lloyd decided to go to a photography school in Chicago. He married his sweetheart on April 12, 1947. After another year in Chicago, they moved back to the Valley. Lloyd couldn’t make any money with photography, so he got a job at Westinghouse.
Their first daughter, Cheryl, was born in 1948.
“Eleanor had a hard time with that pregnancy,” Lloyd said. “She had to stay in bed for three months. The doctor said if she has to go to the bathroom, I had to carry her. He said we couldn’t have any more kids, because it would be too hard on Eleanor.”
Lloyd would work six months at Westinghouse, then be off six months.
“I got tired of that. We always talked about building a brick home. I said I’m not going to pay anybody $3.75 an hour to lay bricks. I’m going to learn enough so I can do it by myself. $3.75 an hour was top rate at that time.”
So Lloyd went to bricklaying school for a year. He gained experience by doing small jobs here and there.
“I was working at General American. I would look at those guys and I couldn’t picture myself doing that in 20 years. Finally in 1952 I told my wife I was going to quit the mill.”
Making it as a bricklayer was a struggle.
“The first year I made $3,300. I borrowed enough money from my dad to get through the winter. Little by little I got more and more work. After a few years I had five people working for me. It worked out good. We made a lot of money and spent every winter in Florida. Anything my wife wanted, she got. ”
Despite the doctor’s warning about having more children, Lloyd and Eleanor decided to try. After a normal pregnancy, their second daughter, Janell, was born in 1955.
Lloyd was always ready to try something new. On impulse, he bought a run-down building across the street from the courthouse in Mercer. It housed the Carriage Inn restaurant, a card shop, a barber shop, and nine apartments. Lloyd took his work crew in and renovated it.
His next step was to buy the Carriage Inn. It, too, was a mess, so he closed it down for a month, cleaned it all up, and bought new equipment. From the day he opened it, he had all the business he could handle – actually, more than he could handle.
“You never saw such a flood of people in your life. We got all the judges coming, all the juries, and all the tourists. When the court recessed, we would have fifty or sixty people all walk in at the same time – the judges, the juries, everybody. I didn’t know anything about running a restaurant. Finally I got two or three good people. I learned to do the stuff in the kitchen. My wife was making pies and everything, and we used her recipes.”
Like all of his ventures, this one turned out to be financially successful. Four years after buying the building, he sold it for three times as much as he had bought it for.
“After that I laid around for a couple of years. Then Dr. Swanson, my neighbor, said Sharon General needed someone in maintenance. He said he would get me a job there.”
Lloyd worked there until he was 62, then part time doing maintenance at Dr. Swanson’s medical arts building on Elm Street.
All her life, Eleanor loved to play bridge.
“She would play five days a week, night and day. When we would go to Florida for the winter, when they knew Eleanor was in town, the phone would ring for invitations to play.”
Unfortunately, the bridge fell by the wayside when she developed Alzheimer’s Disease.
“She fell in the garage and broke her hip. I took her down to the hospital. I knew most of the nurses. The old timers were still there. When we went to Rehab, I always went down with her. They said, ‘Mr. Ross, your wife doesn’t want to eat.’ I said, ‘Give me that spoon.’ I said, ‘Come on sweetie, do it, open your mouth.’ From then on I fed my wife every meal in that hospital.”
When the hospital had done all it could do for her, they asked Lloyd what nursing home they should send her to.
“I said no nursing home. You get an ambulance and get her home. The nurse said, ‘Do you realize how much work there will be?’ I said, ‘Listen here, girl, I took care of her for over eight years. Now, bring her home.’ We brought her home. In ten days she was dead. That’s all she lasted.”
It hasn’t been easy for Lloyd to say good-by to the woman whom the alphabet had brought into his life 59 years before.
“My wife has been dead just a little over two years. And I miss her so much. I talk to her picture every day. I went to church today and prayed for her. All her clothes are hanging in the closet just like she left them. I haven’t touched them. I don’t know what to do with them. In fact, I don’t even want to start.”
After Eleanor passed away, Lloyd started helping out with Meals on Wheels. It takes him through his old neighborhoods in Sharon and Farrell, where he remembers the good times.
Excerpted from Lives of Quiet Inspiration, Volume 2, by Joe Zentis. Hermitage, PA: Green Street Press, 2008
Lloyd passes away on January 23, 2013