Sheldon Museum’s WWI exhibit featuring local heroes closing Sunday

MIDDLEBURY — Nov. 11, 2018, marks the 100th anniversary of the armistice ending World War I. It is also the last day to see the exhibit “Doughboys and Flyboys: World War I Stories by Vermonters from the Home and Battlefront” at the Sheldon Museum in Middlebury. The exhibit tells many stories about Vermonters who fought in the war, and the families who waited for their return.
The Sheldon’s exhibit has made an impression on the many local visitors and those from around the world who have seen it. Their comments include:
•  “Loved the stories of the brave men who fought for our country’s freedom.”
•  “No words to describe it.”
•  “Moving to tears.”
•  “WWI exhibit was phenomenal!”
•  “Awesome and humbling WWI exhibit.”
•  “Especially enjoyed reading the correspondence letters between Jacob Ross and Elizabeth. I felt as if I was there as they were written — thank you for the rich detailed history of a time that I know very little.”
Many mentioned that the exhibit demonstrated what a deep impact the World War I veterans and their sacrifices (and more broadly, all veterans) have had on generations of Americans.
One such story central to the exhibit is that of Dr. Jacob Johnson Ross, M.D., and his wife, Hannah Elizabeth Holmes Ross. Veterans Day, Nov. 11, is an appropriate time to recall all World War I veterans, but the story of Dr. and Mrs. Ross and the subsequent careers of their four children and some of their grandchildren are illustrative of commitments by Vermonters to national service and active citizenship. The two Ross sons served in the military during World War II, as did two of their sons-in-law, while three of their grandsons were officers in the military during post-Cold War eras. Currently one great-great-grandson, a graduate of Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, serves as an officer in the U.S. Army and has had one tour in Afghanistan.
The Sheldon’s exhibit highlights the World War I service of Dr. Ross as the flight surgeon for the 17th Aero Squadron stationed in France and the letters he exchanged with his wife, Elizabeth, who remained in Middlebury caring for their three children all under age 10. These letters are part of the Sheldon’s extensive archives. Ross writes of witnessing the horrors of war and attending to the physical and emotional needs of the young pilots and the support staff of the squadron. Elizabeth writes of the impact of the Spanish Influenza in the towns of Middlebury and Charlotte, the resulting local illnesses and deaths, and the scarcity of medical doctors in Vermont. Foremost throughout the letters are their expressions of love for one another and their shared anticipation of his eventual return and their reunion.
The letters cease in late March 1919 just before his return to Middlebury. There is no written recording of the family’s suffering upon the death of five-year-old daughter Ruth, their middle child, who succumbs to bronchial pneumonia, often a symptom of the Spanish Influenza, just weeks after his return home.
Born in Huntington on July 14, 1877, Dr. Ross was the son of Austin H. Ross and Catherine Johnson Ross and raised on the family farm. Mrs. Ross grew up on the family’s apple, Merino sheep and Morgan horse farm on Lake Street in Charlotte, a beautiful lake-front property just south of the Charlotte town beach and the Holmes covered bridge.
THE FOUR SURVIVING children of World War I veteran Jacob Ross and Hannah Elizabeth Holmes Ross — Katherine, Austin, Helen, Charlie — were all accomplished adults, each of whom was World War II veteran or wife of a veteran. Below, the Ross family as children.
After attending public schools in Huntington, Jacob Ross entered the Montpelier Seminary with the Class of 1900, subsequently moving on to the Agricultural Department of the University of Vermont, where he graduated in 1904. He then changed his course, entered medical school at UVM and received his M.D. in 1908. It is here that he met his future wife, Hannah Elizabeth Holmes, who was born Nov. 20, 1881, to Charles T. and Clara Russell Holmes of Charlotte. She had attended Burlington High School and was class of 1906 at the University of Vermont, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. They were married on June 12, 1909.
Their children Katherine Ross (1910-1986) and Austin Holmes Ross (1916-1992) were joined after the war by siblings Charles Robert Ross (1920-2003) and Helen Russell Patterson (1922-2008). These children and subsequent generations were inspired by Dr. and Mrs. Ross. Katherine graduated from Abbott Academy, Radcliffe College, and received a graduate degree in French history from Mills College, followed by a successful marriage, raising three children, and as a middle school math teacher. Her husband served in the U.S. Navy as a navigator on a PBY, and both their sons served in the military during the Vietnam era, one as a naval supply officer aboard a mine sweep and the other as special agent and captain in the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Austin graduated from UVM in only three years and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, as was his mother. A celebrated athlete, Austin was a 1973 UVM Hall of Fame inductee and one of the top scholar-athletes ever at Vermont, Austin H. Ross was elected to the Sports Illustrated Silver Anniversary All-American team in 1961 along with such great football personalities as the late Vince Lombardi and former Oklahoma football coach Bud Wilkinson.
A small college All-American football player in 1936, he also was captain of the Catamounts that season, his senior year. In addition, the cum laude graduate co-captained the track and field team and won letters in basketball and tennis. While at UVM, Austin was a member of several honoraries, including Gold Key, Sophomore and Military Honoraries, Scabbard and Blade and was a consistent Dean’s List student in engineering. He also won the Phelps Prize in Civil Engineering, the Kidder Medal for character, leadership and scholarship and athletic attainment and the Loyal Legion Saber for military and scholastic excellence. Austin served in World War II as an officer in the Engineering Corps was subsequently owner of a successful construction firm in Anchorage, Ky. Austin’s son Scott Ross was a naval aviator serving during Desert Storm 1991, retiring as a commander.
The second son, Charles “Charlie” Robert Ross, graduated from University of Michigan in 1941, served in the U.S. Army in World War II, returning on the GI Bill to earn an MBA and JDL in 1948. While an attorney practicing in Burlington, Vt., he was appointed to the Federal Power Commission by President John F. Kennedy and reappointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He and wife, Charlotte, returned to Vermont and raised Morgan horses on their farm “Taproot” in Hinesburg and he continued to serve on the International Joint Commissions (Canada and the United States). Their son Charles Robert Ross II was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives from Hinesburg, served on the staff Sen. Patrick Leahy as State Director, was appointed Vermont Secretary of Agriculture by Gov. Peter Shumlin, and is currently UVM Extension director.
The second surviving daughter, Helen Russell Ross, graduated from the Northfield School for Girls, Radcliffe College, and earned a Master’s Degree in Chemistry from Middlebury College. There followed a successful marriage and even while raising four children Helen found time to devote to local politics.
The children and subsequent generations of Dr. and Mrs. Ross always summered in the Lake Champlain Valley, many owning or renting seasonal camps at Long Point in North Ferrisburgh. There, Dr. and Mrs. Ross purchased a camp in 1920; it is still in the family. Vermont remains the permanent home to members of the succeeding three generations.
As we recognize those Vermonters who served in World War I, don’t miss “Doughboys and Flyboys” at the Henry Sheldon Museum. The Ross family is only one of many celebrated in the exhibit.
The Henry Sheldon Museum offers a diverse, in-depth look at the history and art of the Mid-Lake Champlain region of Vermont. The Museum is located at One Park Street in downtown Middlebury across from the Ilsley Library. For more information call 388-2117 or visit

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