SALEM — Some people go on a cruise. Others move to Palm Springs.
Seventy-year-old Ted Gross ran a marathon.
Gross finished his career at the Yamhill Valley Campus of Chemeketa Community College in McMinnville by running from his job to his gym in West Salem. He officially will retire June 27 after 20 years of student advising at the college campus.
Those who really know Gross — like his son Neil Gross — were not surprised that he chose to celebrate this way.
“He’s always the guy to go the extra mile,” said Neil Gross, a head and neck surgeon at Oregon Health & Science University. “He’ll put himself into everything he does and really is there for his students at Chemeketa, so it’s kind of fitting that he would run essentially a marathon on his last day of work.”
Neil Gross said his father is unassuming and the type to run a marathon on his own and perhaps tell people about it later. But this marathon was different.
Although co-workers helped him map out the route, others, like his twin sister Betsy Holland, ran, biked and drove parts of the journey with him. They began at the Bayou golf course in McMinnville around 7:45 a.m., ran south through Willamette Valley wine country on Highway 99W and headed east on Highway 22 into West Salem.
His colleague and fellow student adviser at Chemeketa, Rod Maskew, helped Gross plan his run and followed him on the highway shoulder in his car, creating a barrier between the runners and passing traffic.
“We’ve all got our obsessions, and that’s Ted’s,” Maskew said. “He’s not at a blazing pace, but he maintains.”
Among the caravan of supporters who traveled 26 nine-minute miles with Gross was 19-year-old Jacob Peterson, a student completing his prerequisites at Chemeketa Community College. Monday morning, Peterson had intended to run only a few miles with Gross — the farthest he had ever run was 15 miles and he had recently suffered injuries.
But the first few miles eventually passed and before he knew it, Peterson ran the entire route without stopping.
“The most amazing thing is I was able to keep up with Ted,” Peterson said. “The hardest part was to keep on going.”
But Peterson said they cheered each other on during the run, much the same way Gross did when he needed help at school.
“It was my first year, I was stressed out,” Jacobson said.
Neil Gross said his father always has had a passion for helping young people succeed. He graduated with a master’s degree in teaching and started his career in special education before working for the Navy as a recruiter for 18 years. It was there that he developed his passion for running.
“A friend in the Navy thought I should try running,” Gross said.
So he did. He gradually worked up the distance. At one of his first half-marathons, he told a stranger he was thinking about running a full marathon.
“He said, ‘You could do it,’ and that was it,” Gross said.
Since then he has run more than a dozen marathons, including the Boston Marathon twice. His most recent was the New York Marathon in 2004.
At Chemeketa, Gross was instrumental in organizing many GED tests for students to get into college, his son said. He also helped with financial aid and class placement.
“He gets his greatest kick out of seeing other people do well,” he said. “That’s why he has liked the job.”
But when he retires, Gross intends to do something he’s never done before: rest.
Although he eventually might return to volunteering and community service, he hasn’t committed to anything right away, said Neil Gross.
After he finished running, a group of friends and family awaited his arrival at Annette’s Westgate Cafe in West Salem with snacks and refreshments. Photos of Gross finishing past marathons hung on the wall.
“I hope I did something today that encouraged (people), that they can do it,” he said.
Come June 27, Gross no longer will make the daily drive to McMinnville. But one thing he will do is keep running.
“I’m retiring from work, but I’m not retiring from life.”