Settling In, Not Down
After morning stretches and calisthenics, Irving “Butch” Grossman rides his bike for six miles-then climbs 100 steps and does 12 chin-ups. Meanwhile his wife, Ann, can be found walking around the campus at Martins Run, the continuing care retirement community in Media, PA that the couple recently moved to. She makes three laps around the 22-acre campus three times a week.
The couple may agree on the importance of staying physically and mentally active, but they readily admit that they do not always see eye to eye. Ann smiles as she explains, “I’ll look outside on a morning when it’s going to rain and tell myself that I probably shouldn’t go out and walk in this. And he’ll take one look and tell himself that he’d better get out there now and get his ride in before it starts raining.” They say that the key to remaining happily married for 48 years is understanding each other’s different perspectives. “You have to have a balance,” they both agree.
Like many couples approaching their Golden Anniversary, they have found a natural rhythm and routinely finish each other’s sentences. Yet, the way they praise one another, you would think they were newlyweds. Butch and Ann’s relationship was actually atypical of the era in which they grew up. Not only were they not married until she was 30 and he was 38, but Ann had also completed both undergraduate and graduate work before marrying Butch and moving to Puerto Rico with him.
When Butch Grossman started Brooklyn College, in his native New York City, it was as a philosophy major. Because of an elective geology course and a supportive geology professor he was graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in geology and a letter of recommendation to Columbia University for graduate work in the field. When he completed his graduate study in 1946, he took a job as an instructor in geology at the University of North Dakota and stayed for three years.
After three years at the University, Butch moved to Washington, D.C. Following a brief stint with the Bureau of Mines, he went to work for the U.S. Geological Survey, the organization he would stay with until his retirement. Butch’s first assignment for the U.S. Geological Survey was in Albany, New York-Ann’s native city.
Ann was born and raised in Albany, and after finishing high school, she was prepared to move on to Albany State College. Instead, her high school principal informed her that she had been selected to receive a scholarship to Cornell University. In addition to the money from the Cornell endowment, Ann also received a New York State Regent’s Scholarship. She supplemented these scholarships by working in the dining room of her dormitories in exchange for free room and board.
Ann was graduated from Cornell with a degree in classical studies and began teaching at a school near Albany with plans to earn the money to get a Master’s degree. She attended the University of Michigan for her graduate studies.
Back in Albany after graduation, Ann was teaching and acting in a local theater group that was putting on a performance of “Uncle Harry.” Butch had volunteered to help with this production and was in charge of props and raising and lowering the curtain. At the play’s closing night party, Ann and Butch met and talked all night long on the street outside of the restaurant where the party had been held.
Butch chuckles when he says, “We talked for what seemed like a short time, but it must have been a long time because before we knew it the sun was coming up. It was 5 a.m.” After a courtship that lasted less than a year, the two were married in August of 1956.
Butch’s first Geological Survey assignment after their marriage was in Puerto Rico, where they stayed for five years. “I could talk about Puerto Rico for hours. The people were absolutely wonderful and really took us to their bosom,” said Butch. They feel they had a unique experience because instead of opting to live in an area with many other “Yanks,” Ann and Butch chose to live in a native neighborhood.
Ann gave birth to their two boys while they were living in Puerto Rico. Butch was president and Ann secretary of the Natural Historical Society, an organization which they helped to found to preserve the natural landscapes in Puerto Rico. The couple worked closely with the society’s treasurer, a man who had a very interesting past.
The group’s treasurer was Nathan Leopold, one of the defendants in the Bobby Franks murder trial in Chicago in 1924-also known as the “Crime of the Century.” Butch describes Leopold as “the model of rehabilitation.” Leopold was released in 1958 after 34 years in prison, and he migrated to Puerto Rico and worked as a laboratory technician and taught at the University of Puerto Rico. Butch and Ann became good friends with Leopold and his future wife, Trudy, and the four stayed in touch over the years until Leopold’s death in 1971.
Finishing up his assignment in Puerto Rico, Butch was relocated to the Hartford, CT area. Ann and Butch stayed in Connecticut for 15 years and raised their children through high school. The couple later spent five years in Reston, VA before moving to Yardley, PA. In 1984, Butch retired from the U.S. Geological Survey. However, this would not be the end of their travels.
After 38 years, Toung, a young Chinese man with whom Butch became friendly while working at the University of North Dakota, had once again found him. Now a professor at the University of Beijing, Toung wanted Butch to share his knowledge of environmental geology with students in Beijing. Butch was made a full professor of environmental geology at the University, where he taught an intensive three-week class. Ann was treated like a queen, seeing all of the sites and shopping in first-class style.
For two weeks after Butch finished teaching, they traveled throughout China as guests of the government -seeing the excavated tombs of past Emperors and taking in the historic culture. “When I returned, for weeks, all I did was tell my friends that if they had the chance, they should go to China. It was the most wonderful experience,” recalls Ann.
After retiring, Butch took a job with the State of New Jersey as a geological editor. When the administration was downsized, Butch stepped aside to give a younger person the job and began volunteering. The volunteering led to a consultant position that he still has to this day.
While they were in Yardley, Ann kept busy with various volunteer activities. She sang in the Har Sinai Temple choir, as did Butch, and worked with the Friends of the Yardley-Makefield Library. Ann also did extensive work with the American Association of University Women, often planning outings and cultural events. When the AAUW published a report showing that young women were not encouraged to move forward in math and science, Ann helped to organize the annual Girls Recognition Dinner to honor 7th graders who excelled in the subjects. What started as an annual potluck dinner with Ann baking cookies for the group has turned into the highest profile event of the AAUW, and the group receives grants each year from major contributors like Bristol Myers Squib.
Later, as a volunteer for CAPS, the Levittown-based organization Children with Aging Parents, Ann was able to assist many members of the “sandwich” generation-a generation that is attempting to simultaneously care for their own children and their elderly parents. Because of this experience, she knew exactly what to look for in a retirement community.
To her surprise, though, she did not have to work hard to convince Butch that a retirement community was the right option for them. During their first visit to Martins Run almost five years ago, they put down their priority deposit. She explains, “My husband was loath to agree to the idea of moving to a retirement community. So, he surprised me when he took out his checkbook and put down a deposit.”
Ann and Butch explain that one of the major reasons they chose to come to Martins Run was the intellectual stimulation and the cultural activities available. The residents are very well educated and there’s never a lack of new and interesting things to do. Ann even started a new book club at Martins Run, which has grown to 25 members. Ann adds, “The residents are happy to be here. In our earlier visits, I used to stop people in the hall to ask if they enjoyed it here. Even the ones who had fallen ill still told me that they were very happy at Martins Run. And that we liked.”
If the Grossman’s are not making laps on foot or on a bike around the expansive campus or working on their latest volunteer project, they can be found in their apartment-which is a testament to the richness of their life together. The apartment is filled with geological and personal memorabilia from their travels. Shelves, overflowing with books, line the walls. These two energetic intellectuals have not slowed down at all, but they have certainly settled into their new home.