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Oma Cross, founder of Haas Museum, dies

Published Oct. 18, 2005

The city has lost a keeper of its past. Oma Cross, founder of the Haas Museum and former curator of both the Haas and the St. Petersburg Historical Museum, died Monday (Oct. 29, 1990) at Edward White Hospital after a long illness. She was 89.

Her death came three months before the Haas itself will become history. The Haas complex at 3511 Second Ave. S. _ four old houses, a blacksmith shop, a caboose, a trolley car and an eagle's nest _ will close Feb. 1. Since its opening in 1962 it has been a mecca for schoolchildren, local history buffs and tourists.

Mrs. Cross personified the Haas after Edna and Arthur Haas, teachers who were brother and sister, gave it to her in the early 1960s when she was curator of the St. Petersburg Historical Museum. Mrs. Cross became its curator and supervised its many additions over the years.

She retired in 1984 after a hip injury.

A longtime resident of a house on the grounds of the complex, the slender, white-haired woman had a love of old things and was ideally suited to her job.

A resource for historians, she often helped researchers with her accurate recollections of her adopted city. Her reverence for the past was reflected in her collection of antiques, ranging from unusual tools to old photos.

She kept detailed notes on all sorts of things, from dedications and fancy teas to visits from dignitaries. The notes included mention of refreshments served. And jokes told.

"I've always been a bookkeeper," she said last year. "I write everything down."

Oma Martha Baker was born in Washta, Iowa, and lived in Spirit Lake and Lake Park, Iowa, where she attended high school. At the age of 12, she earned $5 a week playing the piano for silent movies in Milford, Iowa.

About 1918, her parents, Emanuel and Mary Elizabeth Baker, brought her South on a visit to relatives who were spending the winter.

"I fell in love with St. Petersburg and wanted to move here right then," Mrs. Cross recalled in 1989.

First, however, she went to Sioux Falls, S.D., to attend business school. Graduating in 1920, she met and married Cecil Cross, a shoe salesman. The following year she talked him into settling in St. Petersburg.

"We drove down in an old Overland. The banks closed the next year, 1922, with all our money in a Sioux Falls bank."

Times were hard in St. Petersburg as well. She took a job as bookkeeper at McIntosh Awning Co. and later worked at the R.

S. Pearce Drugstore.

In 1930 she became interested in antiques through a friend, Mrs. Glen Petty. Together they opened a shop in the Roy S. Hanna house on First Street and First Avenue N, across from the Soreno Hotel.

The following year Mrs. Cross went into business on her own, opening "The Antique Shop, The Oldest Shop In Town" at 146 Central Ave.

"You could look through the roof and see the sky," she remembered. "There were such big holes in the wall you could throw a cat through them _ and it had an outhouse in the back. I had $20 when I started; baked pies for the Women's Exchange on lower First Avenue to pay my rent."

Mrs. Cross operated her antique shop on Central until 1945 when the two-story wooden structure, one of the city's oldest, was razed. She moved her shop to 329 Second Ave. S, and closed it for good in 1953 after becoming curator of the St. Petersburg Historical Society.

She and Cecil Cross divorced in 1941. Her second husband, Charles Ashby Bayne, died in 1963.

Mrs. Cross, as she was known to virtually everyone, was a member of the Collectors Club of the Historical Society, St. Petersburg Shell Club and United Daughters of the Confederacy, Dixie Chapter 1008.

Survivors include a daughter, Elizabeth L. Cross-Dean, North Palm Beach; a son, Cecil C. Cross Jr., Flourtown, Pa.; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 1 p.m. Friday at the First Christian Church of Seminole, 13272 Park Blvd. N, Seminole, with the Rev. David Hull officiating. Burial will be in Bay Pines National Cemetery.

Richard E. Sorensen, Gee & Sorensen Funeral Home, is in charge of arrangements.

The family suggested memorial contributions to the Haas Museum complex.

_ Some information in this obituary came from St. Petersburg Times stories by Betty Jean Miller, Jacquin Sanders and Nano Riley.