Babette Joyce Gross of St. Louis Park died the way she lived, with a generally sunny disposition.
Dementia began to take a toll on her nearly a decade ago, and although it quickly robbed her of her memory, she somehow kept a positive outlook until she reached the end of her 94 years on Sept. 1, said her son Hal Gross. She never went through the hostility that often accompanies dementia, he said.
"She was very positive, always forward looking," he added. "She didn't spend a lot of time regretting."
Babette Gross got her attitude from her parents, Hal Gross wrote in her paid obituary. Her father, Henry Kopald, was an adventurous businessman who sailed to China and Japan looking for opportunities. On a trip to Minnesota he met Rose Bergman of Minnetonka and married her three days later. They moved to Chicago, where Henry Kopald became a distributor for MGM Studios.
Through her father's contacts, Babette, born in 1924, and her brother, Lynn Kopald, auditioned for the "Spanky and Our Gang" movie series, but the family opted to stay in Chicago.
"It was here that Babette, as a child, had dinner at their apartment with the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who were among the many MGM studio celebrities she met," her obituary says. Babette even met Chicago mob boss Al Capone, it says.
The Great Depression hit the family hard in the 1930s, and they moved to the Dakotas for a spell before returning to Minneapolis. Babette graduated from West High School and studied fashion design at the University of Minnesota for a year before she met Mort Gross, a Navy pharmacist who went on to start his own pharmacies in the Twin Cities. They were married 55 years and had two sons, Hal and Charles Gross.
Hal Gross said his mother was pressured to be a "nice Jewish mom" and stay home with the kids, which she did. But she remained outgoing.
In the 1940s, she created a dance club that included the Jewish friends she grew up with and gentiles she'd met as adults, instigating a rare intermingling of cultures for the time. They would meet weekly, rotating through club members' homes or the country club.
"She had no prejudice in her," Hal Gross said.
She also took to tournament sports and won a number of trophies in bowling, golf and tennis. In 1960, she joined the Sports and Health Club of St. Louis Park, where she took yoga and aerobics classes.
In the 1960s, she met George Shea at the Red Carpet Beauty Salon, which he started with his partner and Minneapolis art dealer Gordon Locksley, whom she later met. She attended extravagant parties at the Locksley mansion on Mount Curve Avenue in Minneapolis and met many famous artists there, including Roy Lichtenstein and Christo Vladimirov Javacheff. Andy Warhol once offered her one of his "Campbell's Soup Can" works for $250, her obituary says, but she turned him down, saying, "Who wants a painting of a soup can on their wall?"
Babette's tastes ran more to Lichtenstein, Philip Guston and Alexander Calder, whose works she purchased from the Locksley Shea Art Gallery.
Her love of fashion endured, and over the years, she worked for several women's clothing shops in Edina. Hal Gross said her sense of fashion was so keen that many customers sought out her advice.
Hal Gross said his mother, nicknamed "Babulous" and "Dancing Babs," endeared herself to the staff at the Breck Homes in Bloomington, where she spent her last seven years.
Services have been held.