Samuel Eberly Gross had an enormous impact on the formation of the Village of Brookfield, which was originally called Grossdale. As a real estate developer, he had a certain vision for Brookfield in the late 1800s.

He offered free train excursions to this western suburb from Chicago, with the hopes a selling land. People would get of the train and be greeted by a marching band and much fanfare.

Gross’s goal? On the surface, it would appear to be to make a profit for himself by selling land. Was there more to it than this? Was he trying to help people achieve their dreams of owning a home?

We don’t know. Maybe he truly was being philanthropic. Either way, capitalism was quite alive and well in the late 1880s, and it would be hard to fault someone for this.

Gross also served in the Civil War and, at one time, was nominated to run for the mayor of Chicago. He initiated home buying on a payment plan, allowing more families to own a home.

He built many homes in Brookfield, some of which are still standing. Many of the early streets were named by Gross. He built the Grossdale Station in 1889, hoping to make Brookfield a key stop on the railroad for people on their way to and from Chicago.

This station is still standing and houses the Brookfield Historical Society. It is the oldest surviving public building in Brookfield, and it is the only building in Brookfield on the National Register of Historical Places.

In 1894, families in Brookfield were asked to donate $2 to build a schoolhouse. Gross donated $1,300. There supposedly is a letter with a condition that this school should remain named after Gross.

This letter has not been found in recent times. Does it exist? Was that a condition of Gross making his donation? If so, his donation, along with his conditions, was accepted by the residents of Brookfield, ultimately leading to the building of S. E. Gross School.

Would there been a school without Gross? Maybe, but we don’t know. We do know that with Gross’s help the school was built. Now, some hundred years later, that donation, those conditions and that acceptance by the then-residents of Brookfield are being questioned.

What if these truly were the conditions? What if this was all gladly accepted by the then-residents of Brookfield so that this school for educating their children could be built? Shouldn’t today’s residents, as well as future generations, be caretakers of this part of our past?

It’s hard to look back on people and events from over 100 years ago from today’s perspective. Everything around us is different from back then. How can we truly judge a person that we have never met, who we have never heard.

It would be hard to find anyone who does not have any faults-and those faults depend on who is doing the judging.

On the surface, it sure appears that Samuel Eberly Gross has had a profound impact on the history of Brookfield-worthy of a school being named after him. It would be a shame that a school, which has existed for over a 100 years, with thousands of alumni who can say they went to S.E. Gross School, would no longer exist.

In history class at school, we are taught the past to better understand how and why things are the way they are today and will be in the future. In the case of potentially changing the name of S.E. Gross School, it would appear the history of “today” is taking precedent, so that the past may be changed to fit today’s perspective.

Kit P. Ketchmark is a Brookfield village trustee and director of the Brookfield Historical Society.