When retired Fort Wayne teacher Don Goss died in March at age 87, not only was it a loss for the many art and theater students he taught for 54 years, but also for the dozens of people who came each year to buy rhizomes from “the Iris Man.”
Each spring Goss tended his large iris bed at his Smith Road home, weeding a little between resting in the lawn chair he had placed next to it. Buyers who saw the sign out at the property at 6311 Smith Road would stop in, take a typed 5-page listing of the flowers, look over the well-organized 17 rows of irises – each variety with a metal engraved name to the south of it – and place their orders with cash or check. When July-August arrived, Goss would call the buyer, and in his raspy voice, say the order was ready for pickup.
“One of the last things Don did before he died was do the 2019 price list,” said nephew Phil Goss, who has come from Warsaw – the city in Poland, not northeast Indiana – to stay at the property and organize an auction in September of the many antiques and tools collected in the 1914 8-room Sears Roebuck home that originally was his grandparents’. Don Goss lived on the 45-acre property since then, except for his time at college and in the Army, tending the irises since the 1940s.
Phil Goss also was prepping for May 24 when he put out the sign that signals the irises are near peak blooming time and ready for viewing by buyers. He’s carefully been looking over the iris bed for poison ivy or stinging nettles that he needed to evict before buyers with curious children arrived, as well as washing out the coffee and lemonade containers, and testing his ice-cream making abilities that he’ll share with visitors.
Don Goss’ flowers include many on the American Iris Society Symposium List, with the 2018 list’s flowers noted on the sales sheet with an asterisk along with the flowers’ names, colors and prices: “Hollywood Nights, purple black, white spray 4.00*”
Names like Boogie Woogie, Drama Queen, Uncle Charlie, Ring Around Rosie and Chasing Rainbows fill the list. Most of the rhizomes are listed for $1-$6, while others are $10, $22, $28 or $30. The list also has some priced at $55, including 2012’s Accessorized with its white ruffles and 2011’s Carpe Diem, described as “yellow white spot horns,” but the word “SPACE” is beside them, indicating they’re missing and no longer available.
A former student of Don Goss is in charge of the irises, with recent rain hindering some of the weeding. The irises seem happy enough. Already on May 22, deep purple and yellow falls – the lower flower petals that hang down – had emerged amid the sea of green leaf fans.
“This is going to pop this weekend,” Phil Goss said as he looked at some of the flowers.
Within the coming weeks the iris bed will we dotted with dark purples and burgundies and bright yellows and blues, something that drew another of Don Goss’ former students last year to paint them, along with a woman who cataloged the bed.
Including the missing flowers, Don Goss placed over 400 on his sales list.
Phil Goss said his uncle had past heart problems and, most recently, cancer.
“He said he was going to live to be 100, and I had no reason to doubt him,” Phil Goss said.
With his uncle’s declining health, age, and lack of what his nephew called proper tools, Phil Goss said he has a lot that he needs to do with the property, including calling a tree surgeon. He doesn’t want to sell the family’s antique tractor, but there just isn’t space, and it isn’t needed, like the tools his uncle used to refinish furniture after he retired from the former Elmhurst High School. He also needs to organize the 1,400 books and shelves of white hobnail milk glass and other antiques that fill the house, even after he’s sold 20 pieces of furniture. He also plans renovations to the home.
Phil Goss plans an antique sale at the house Sept. 21.
He is taking time out from his job as vice president at Perła Brewery in Poland to take care of things. He also does voice work on the side.