Arthur Lavern (Vern) Ross, the son of Arthur and Marge Ross, was born August 29, 1931, in Norfolk Nebraska, the middle child of three boys. He often shared vivid childhood stories about work, life and play, mostly on the farm and living in rural Iowa. Vern graduated from Correctionville High School in 1949, an American Legion Senior Honors recipient. He was particularly proud of his college experience where he allegedly hitch-hiked to the University of Iowa to enroll and study. He was on the freshman wrestling team there and did some tutoring for other students. There he met the love of his life, JoAnn Witt, from Storm Lake Iowa. The two were married in 1950 and their first child, Steven, was born (1951) while students at the U of I. Vern attended school full time while working part time at the local Standard gas station. He graduated from the University of Iowa in 1953 with a bachelor’s degree in Commerce, Marketing. Upon graduation, Vern was one of 200 nationwide, recruited to work for Ford Motor Company. The couple moved to Detroit, Michigan, where his career was abruptly interrupted by the war in Korea. He expected deployment overseas, but once his degree in finance was discovered, he was assigned instead to the Army Finance Corp. in Fort Bliss, El Paso Texas. He served from November 1953 to November 1955, where he achieved the rank of 1st Lieutenant. Their second child, Scott, was born in 1954. Up to his final days, Vern enjoyed “real Mexican cuisine- spicy please!”.
Following his 2 years of service, Vern’s father-in-law, Dale Witt, invited him to join Witt Sales of Storm Lake, Iowa, as an executive in their local food service business. Witt Sales initially sold candy and tobacco products, but later expanded to include many forms of food service and frozen and canned foods. Witt Sales was a charter member of Nugget Distributors Cooperative (1966), and the company soon expanded to Spencer, Iowa, where the Ross family resided for the remainder of Vern’s lifetime. Vern and JoAnn welcomed two additional children, Kathleen in 1957 and Kelly in 1962.
Through his leadership as CEO, Witt Sales purchased several business locations in Spencer, with the final warehouse being built near the Spencer Regional Airport, now owned by Demco, Inc. Witt Sales was an early adopter of the mainframe computer system, one of many innovations that Vern was interested in. Vern served as the president of the Iowa Association of Tobacco Distributors in 1980-1981.
Vern was involved in the social community of Spencer. He was named the JC’s Boss of the Year in the 1960’s and the family were active members of Grace United Methodist Church. He served on the Board of Directors at Home Federal. Vern was an active supporter of Spencer’s Little League baseball, playing a significant role in re-locating the baseball fields from the often-flooded location near the Little Sioux River, to its current location on the east side of Spencer. He was also a board member of the Spencer Regional Airport during the time when the airport expanded services. Once retired from Witt Sales, Vern joined Rides as a driver. He particularly enjoyed the families and children that utilized Rides, many of them with special needs. He wakened as early as 4 a.m. to be “ready for service” by 6:30. He reluctantly fully retired at the age of 82.
Vern enjoyed many hobbies through his lifetime. This included travel with his wife JoAnn, hunting, fishing, obtaining a pilot’s license (and shared ownership in a Cessna 182), La Danza Dance Club, and of course- cuisine. The family enjoyed many “tastings” of the food products that Witt Sales sold to restaurants. Homemade pizzas made from scratch (crust included) required day-long prep. Cooking fine beef was a specialty, but any red meat was game. Actually, any game was game (ducks and pheasants included). He loved exploring restaurants, locally, nationally, and internationally.
Vern was an avid Iowa Hawkeye fan and if they weren’t playing against each other, he also supported the Iowa State Cyclones. Herky and Cy, carved and painted from two large tree trunks in his backyard, greeted golfers playing the third hole at the Country Club. He greatly enjoyed family gatherings, storytelling and time with kids, grandkids and great grandkids. He cherished close friendships. An ideal morning was spent in a duck boat with good friends, his black labs, and a gourmet breakfast. And then there were cats. Monty the cat was Vern’s loyal companion during his later years at home.
Vern may have been considered a bit stubborn by some. He lived in the home that he and JoAnn built in 1964 in the Spencer Country Club until his health required his moving to Prairie View Assisted Living in Sanborn, Iowa, in July 2022. He was the last of the original homeowners in the neighborhood. Vern often stated, “I’m going to do things MY way” (oh- and he loved Frank Sinatra too). Vern passed away suddenly the morning of October 15, 2022. He was joking with staff the evening before, sharing that he’d already escaped death many times (a true story). He was up early that morning, but never arrived for breakfast. Once again, we believe he accomplished his goal of doing things “his way”.
Vern passed away on Saturday, October 15, 2022, at the Prairie View Inn Assisted Living in Sanborn, IA at the age of 91. He was preceded in death by his parents; wife, JoAnn; son, Kelly and brothers: Norman (Jack) Ross and Marvin (Bill) Ross. He is survived by his children: Steven Ross of Spencer, Scott Ross of Fort Peck, Montana and Kathleen Kunath of Waukee, Iowa; nine grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; other relatives and many friends. He will be greatly missed, but his stories and large personality will live on.
Vern had a big heart for children with disabilities. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to Shayla Bee in Spencer Iowa: https://www.shaylabeefund.com/.
JoaAnn Ross, the daughter of Dale and Wilma Bloom Witt, was born January 7, 1931 in Storm Lake, IA where she received her education graduating from Storm Lake High School.
She was married to Arthur (Vern) Ross on July 23, 1950 in Storm Lake. They lived in a variety of location, but settled in Spencer, IA in 1956. She was a homemaker and assisted in the operation of Witt Sales Co. She enjoyed traveling, reading, sewing and was an avid fam of the Iowa Hawkeyes, the Iowa State Cyclones, and the Chicago Cubs. JoAnn was much loved for her home cooking, her spirit of selfless giving, and most of all for providing unconditional support for her husband and children. Her greatest joy was spending quiet time with her children and their families.
Mrs. Ross died of cancer at the Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, IA on Wednesday, March 13, 2002 at the age of 71. She was preceded in death by her parents, Dale and Wilma Witt of Storm Lake, and father-in-law, Arthur S. Ross of Denver, CO.
JoAnn is survived by her husband, Arthur (Vern) Ross of Spencer; 3 sons, Steve of Royal, IA, Scott of Philadelphia, PA, and Kelly of Spencer; a daughter, Kathy Kunath of Waukee; 9 grandchildren; mother-in-law, Marge Ross of Spencer; other relatives; and many friends.