Garden City man's estate goes to help Idaho Humane Society

Norm Gross had an eclectic career and many loves - none as great as for his four-legged friends.

kmoeller@idahostatesman.comMarch 30, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE EASY FUND

    The Easy Fund is for dogs only, and its name can never be changed. It may not be used for routine veterinary care or administrative fees.

    Norm Gross wanted others to contribute to the fund, and he encouraged IHS to create a community awareness campaign and donor recognition program. An annual summary of the fund's accomplishments will be provided to local media.

    Eligibility for funds will be determined by a committee made up of the shelter director, veterinary services director and medical center director.

    Should the IHS not meet the terms of the agreement, the fund's assets will be passed to the Canyon County Animal Shelter. If neither IHS nor the Canyon shelter is willing or able to administer the fund, it will go to the Meridian Valley Humane Society.

    Norm's estate has not yet been finalized, but that's expected to happen later this year. Once that's done, dog owners will be able to apply for help.

Norman J. "Norm" Gross was a regular at Applebee's in Garden City. He was known for taking a couple of hamburgers or small steaks to go for his dogs.

"He almost always had a boating magazine," said Gayle Moore, who chatted with him frequently during after-work dinners at the restaurant bar. "We didn't agree on politics much ... We would tease each other back and forth."

Norm loved hunting, fishing and expensive boats. The retiree had a yacht in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and he spent as much time as he could sailing. His fondness for animals - particularly dogs - led to his involvement in animal shelters in Mexico and Boise, according to friends and acquaintances.

"He inspired me as an activist and would always encourage other guests to contribute to the (Idaho) Humane Society, either financially or ask them to volunteer their time," said Joe Christophersen, a bartender at the Applebee's.

Norm, who was 72 when he died of pancreatic cancer last year, contributed to the state's largest animal welfare group in myriad ways that won't soon be forgotten. In willing the majority of his estate to the shelter, he created a financial helping hand - the Easy Fund - for shelter dogs and owners of dogs who can't afford life-saving medical procedures for their pets.

"It is the largest single gift that the Idaho Humane Society has ever received," said Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO and director of the shelter, estimating the value to be about $1.5 million.

ROOTS IN NEW YORK, HEART IN BOISE

Those close to Norm say he was very private - an obituary was published against his wishes, and no services were held at his request. But he did occasionally talk about his childhood, career and family.

He was Jewish and grew up in New York City. He mentioned to more than one person that he went to school with Bernie Madoff.

His father was an attorney, and Norm earned a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.

"He knew Yiddish ... or lots of words," Rosenthal said.

He thought fast, talked fast and had endless energy and ideas, which he called "elevator pitches." Patience wasn't one of his virtues, and he could be pushy.

His quirks included naming all of his boats and some of his dogs "Easy." No one seems to know why.

He had a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot named Big Bird. With some prompting, the bird would sing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," said Boise veterinarian Mike Koob, who cared for Norm's pets for many years before he became chief of staff at the Idaho Humane Society's Medical Center.

Norm collected cookbooks, amassing about 35 boxes of them before his death.

His career began in law but he veered into other ventures. He built and co-owned New York's Wall Street Racquet Club, a private tennis club on Manhattan's East Side piers, according to an obituary in The New York Times.

He later found success as a diamond seller. In the 1980s, he accepted a job as general manager of the leather outerwear and sportswear business Robert Comstock, which was founded in Boise in 1976 and has a showroom in New York City.

"That is what brought him to Idaho," said Ralph Comstock, brother of founder Robert Comstock.

In Boise, the divorced father of two found his happy place. After his stint at Comstock, he formed Sleepy Hollow Construction Co. and was a builder of luxury homes.

THRIFTY, GENEROUS 'TRUE INSIDER'

Norm lavished attention and gifts on those he admired - from the servers at his favorite eateries to the employees and volunteers at the Idaho Humane Society.

His generosity seemed to know no bounds. He gave $100 tips or jewelry at Christmas, Christophersen said, and countless gifts to brighten his associates' daily lives.

"He would pick up a cake at Pastry Perfection and bring it to the staff," said Cathleen Catti, who met Norm at IHS after he became a fellow volunteer in 2006-07. "If somebody didn't have all the money for an adoption fee, he would kick it in."

Catti, founder of Boise Bully Breed Rescue, became one of Norm's closest friends. She found new homes for his golden retriever, herding dog and 30-year-old parrot when he became too ill to care for them.

She also carried out his wish for his ashes - mixed with ashes of beloved pets that preceded him in death - to be spread in the Boise River near his Garden City home.

While volunteering over a roughly seven-year period, Norm got to know the shelter from top to bottom.

"Unlike most donors, Norm was a true insider," Rosenthal said. "He knew literally every single employee who worked here, what their job was and what they did all day long."

Norm took on all sorts of special projects at the shelter, many fueled by his own gumption.

The two IHS signs on Interstate 84? Undaunted by the red tape and paperwork, Norm got it done.

The gazebo and porch where employees take lunch breaks? Norm had that built. He later had another one built for special events.

An industrial-quality washer/dryer for shelter laundry? He searched high and low for the best deal in the Treasure Valley.

"He would go and haggle with people and negotiate with them to get it as low as possible," Rosenthal said.

Classical music is used to calm the pups that pass through the shelter's kennels. Norm researched the sound system and had it installed.

The list goes on and on, and it isn't just about stuff. He enjoyed helping would-be adopters find the right dog for them.

"It thrilled him to no end to help that dog get a home," said IHS Adoption and Behavior Programs Director Dee Fugit, who has worked at the shelter for 25 years. Norm spent Thanksgiving at her house more than once.

"I think he thought of us as family," said Fugit, smiling at mementos in her office that remind her of him. "This is where he spent the majority of his time."

THE EASY FUND

Norm lived more than a year beyond what doctors expected, passing away in January 2013.

Very ill and frail in his final months - his weight fell below 100 pounds - he remained interested in events at the shelter.

"Even towards the end, he hobbled out to IHS," Catti said. When he could no longer visit in person, he enjoyed regular updates by phone.

Norm began working on the Easy Fund years before he died, creating the original agreement with IHS in 2010. His friends said he was estranged from his children. The Statesman was unable to reach them for this article.

The stated purpose of the fund is to provide "urgently needed veterinary care to companion animals of families, seniors and individuals in the community that aren't otherwise able to afford the care," and immediate medical care for ill and injured ownerless animals.

"A lot of people dump their dog at a shelter because they can't afford to provide the treatment," Catti said.

The goal is for the fund to last in perpetuity. Its disbursements will be 2.5 percent to 5 percent annually, or about $40,000 to $50,000 a year.

"(Norm) wanted to have a continued impact on people's lives and dogs' lives," Rosenthal said. "It doesn't have a huge impact on an annual basis. It has a huge impact on a long-term basis."

Katy Moeller: 377-6413

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