LIMA — Jake Gross was only 43 when he died of a heart attack April 8, 1945. The son of Russian immigrants Morris and Lena Gross, Gross managed Empire Linen Supply with his brother, Herman, from 1922 until his death.
But Gross was not just a businessman. He also was a boxer and a pretty good one in the era of Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. Boxing in the 1920s, 20 years or so before television, was big and often dominated local sports pages.
In February 1918, 16-year-old Jake Gross was making a name for himself. Commenting on local fans attending a welterweight fight in Toledo between champion Ted Lewis and Jimmy Duffy, the Lima Daily News noted Feb. 19 that “Kid St. Elmas, of Lima, and his manager were at ringside and made a contract to participate in a preliminary bout to the Jack Dillon fight March 4 at Toledo.”
St. Elmas, the paper reported a week later, “is managed by Ed Schlatter of the St. Elmas Café and is a sure ‘comer.’”
Gross, known as Kid St. Elmas, grew up in the 100 block of East High Street. Schlatters’ St. Elmas Café was just down the street in the 200 block of East High, across from the Central Fire Station.
Gross knocked out Tim Riley in that preliminary bout at the Toledo Coliseum on March 4, 1918. Four more victories followed, and on Thanksgiving Day 1919 he was matched against the pride of south Lima.
“Kid St. Elmas, local fighter, brought a grueling contest to a close when he registered a technical knockout on Young Don Baxter, another Lima boy, in the eighth round of their ten round go before a record-breaking crowd in Hawisher Hall Thanksgiving night,” the Daily News reported Nov. 28, 1919.
The Baxter fight got Gross noticed.
“Jake Gross, or Kid St. Elmas, as he is popularly known in ring circles, has ascended the pugilistic ladder with rapid strides since knocking Don Baxter cold at Hawisher Hall here on Thanksgiving Day,” the Daily News wrote Feb. 8, 1920. “His rise has been so sudden it has taken local sports fans by storm and few realize that St. Elmas, heralded by Michigan critics as a man of great future, is the 18-year-old local lad who has been trodding local rings in oblivion for some three odd years.”
After three more wins, Gross was booked to fight Billy Duso in Detroit on Feb. 9, 1920.
“Should St. Elmas cop the Detroit scrap he will be well on the road to matches with practically any bantam in the country, Detroit promoters say,” the Daily News noted the day before the fight.
It didn’t work out. Duso won a decision over Gross, who promptly returned to knocking out other fighters. Neal Brogan – “one of the best scrappers in Eastern Ohio,” according to the Lima Republican Gazette – went down in the fourth round of a fight at Youngstown on March 25, 1920. Jimmy Pappas, the former bantamweight champion of the Hawaiian Islands in Lima as a military recruiter, was knocked out in the first round of a bout at Memorial Hall four days later, the Daily News reported.
Kid Dayton, “regarded as one of the championship contenders for bantamweight honors in the United States” according to the Republican Gazette, was signed to fight Gross on May 1, 1920, in Memorial Hall. Gross won a decision and again became a prime target of promoters.
“It is understood that St. Elmas, having satisfied local fans that he is ready to meet the best in his class, will not meet any fighter on a Lima stage unless he is guaranteed a better percentage than he received when he met Kid Dayton,” the Lima News reported May 9, 1920.
A week later, with the money difficulties ironed out, the News wrote that Gross would meet Cleveland’s Joe Ertle.
“Ertle has a sleep producer in either hand,” Gross’ trainer Johnny Lewis told the Republican Gazette May 27, 1920. Ertle didn’t put Gross to sleep but won a decision in the May 31, 1920, fight.
On Dec. 2, 1920, Gross split with Schlatter, according to the Lima News & Times-Democrat because Schlatter was “not taking the proper sort of interest in him.”
Gross would no longer fight as Kid St. Elmas.
“Immediately after their split,” the News reported, “Schlatter cancelled 14 fights for St. Elmas.”
It wasn’t until September 1921 that Gross signed a contract “to train and box under the management of Earl Smith, proprietor of the Arcade Cigar Store, East Market Street.” After nearly a year between fights, Gross defeated Young Ellinwood on a technical knockout in Wapakoneta on Nov. 2, 1921.
Gross would not be idle much after that. Between Dec. 19, 1921, and May 6,1922, he reeled off a string of six wins and two draws before losing a decision to Eddie Ketchell in Kokomo, Ind., on May 8, 1922. Gross fought three times between April 26 and May 8, 1922, and Smith turned down an offer for yet another fight several days later.
“There is no question but that Jakie is a tough youngster, capable of withstanding all sorts of ring activity, but there’s a limit to any athlete’s endurance,” Smith told the News.
Gross lost to Willie Ames, whom he’d earlier defeated by disqualification, in a fight in Barberton on June 6, 1922. The day before his loss to Ames, Lima fighter Babe Bream, managed by Schlatter, began trying to pick a fight with Gross, claiming Gross was ducking him.
On June 13, 1922, Gross and Bream agreed to a match at the Murphy Street Ball Park.
“Odds on the Jake Gross-Babe Bream fracas July 4 at the Murphy Street Park are even as a general thing, but in some quarters Jake is a 2-1 favorite. Unless it rains, upward of 3,000 fans will carry their opinions to the arena,” the Lima News wrote June 18, 1922. Upwards of 3,000 fans saw Gross knock out Bream in the sixth round.
Gross would fight several more times in 1922, including another knock out of Brogan, before breaking his hand in a fight in the fall of that year. Returning to the ring in March 1923, he lost a decision to Joe Peppers of Cleveland in a fight in Bucyrus. He would fight Peppers to a draw in an April 9 fight in the Elks Hall and defeat him on points April 25 in Memorial Hall.
Between June 25, 1923, and Jan. 21, 1924, Gross would win three times, lose twice and fight to two draws, including in a rematch with Babe Bream in Fort Wayne.
On April 39, 1924, Gross was disqualified for hitting low in the first round of a bout with Ray Hahn, of Indianapolis, in Fort Wayne. Hahn knocked out Gross “with a hard right to the jaw” in the first round of a rematch at Fort Wayne on Oct. 30, 1924. On April 14, 1925, Gross and Hahn fought to a draw in Delphos, while Gross won a decision over Hahn in a Dec. 8, 1925, bout in Indianapolis.
From Jan. 7, 1926, until April 18, 1928, Gross would win once, lose four times and fight to one draw. The lone win, one of the losses and the draw came against Al Wolgast, one of three Wolgast brothers from Michigan involved in professional boxing. Brother Adolphus Wolgast was a lightweight champion in 1911.
Gross fought one last time in February 1930 against Nick Elmwood, of Fort Wayne.
“Both boys failed to come up to expectations and instead of a slashing, hard-punching scrap that it was thought might develop, it was full of clinching,” a newspaper wrote. Elmwood was declared the winner in the fight at Fort Wayne.
Gross was involved in wrestling, both as a participant and a referee, during the 1930s. He also remained active as a boxing referee. He’s buried in Shaare Zedek Cemetery.