Barb Gross, 2019 Citizen of the Year, Encourages Community to Give Back

By Julia Caulfield

Barb Gross (center left) with her husband and daughters

Barb Gross (center left) with her husband and daughters

It was a chance encounter that brought Barb Gross to Telluride, and thank goodness for that.

She moved to Telluride in 1984 after meeting the person who would become her husband.

“I was on vacation, getting ready to move back to the east coast, and I was on vacation in Hawaii.”

She met her future husband on the beach.

“I said ‘hey, if you get to San Diego in the next couple days, come look me up’.”

And he did. Gary, that’s Gross’ husband, visited her in California and asked her if she’d give him a ride back to Colorado. To Telluride. The rest you could say is history. Gross did spend a few months on the east coast, but quickly moved back to town.

Gross raised her children here, worked and volunteered, and earlier this summer she was named the 2019 Citizen of the Year by the Telluride Foundation.

“I actually had to sit with it for a couple days to actually process it. I had no idea I was even nominated. I feel really honored. I feel really honored.”

According to the Foundation, the purpose of the citizen of the year award is to “honor individuals who unselfishly make extraordinary contributions to the region’s quality of life.”

Gross has been serving the community for over 35 years. Although her education is in geriatric social work, she began working in Telluride at the Rainbow Preschool.

“We literally competed to who could have the best idea that day, for the kids. It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work. But I loved every moment of it.”

Elaine Schroedl nominated Gross for the award. They met when their kids were at Rainbow together in the 1980’s and have known each other ever since.

Schroedl points to all the hours Gross has spent volunteering for the community as her reason for the nomination.

“She’s just and extraordinary person. When you hear about people having won the award, or whatever, for years I thought ‘Barb deserves that’. I don’t know anyone more deserving than Barb.”

In the years since leaving Rainbow Preschool, Gross has taken up the role as head of the Angel Basket’s Food Bank in Telluride. In that role, as a volunteer herself, she manages 25 volunteers to staff the food bank, coordinate deliveries with local businesses, and distribute food each week.

But despite all her work, Gross make sure to note that the award really recognizes all the people who work to make the food bank possible.

“I was unloading a truck and there were two people who sometimes come to the food bank, and I said ‘hey can you help me unload this?’ Boom. Stop. Do it right away. So it recognizes a lot of people.”

And at the root of it all, Gross just wants people to take time to volunteer in the community.

“Give back, if you can. Give back to this community and you will get back into your own life. You will feel more involved in the fabric of the community, and you’ll truly – in any way you volunteer – you’ll truly be helping.”

As part of the award for Citizen of the Year, Gross gets $5,000 to donate to an organization of her choice.

There will be a celebration in honor of Barb Gross at the Ah Haa School for the Arts on September 18th.