Obituary: Thomas “Tom” Groene

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12/29/1931 – 5/11/2024
Lawrence, KS

Superman has gone home. If Tom Groene was not born on the planet Krypton, he was still a superhero to his children, grandchildren and quite a few kids in the neighborhood. He passed away May 11 at the age of 92.

Born December 29, 1931 to Anthony and Regina Groene in Winfield Kansas, Dad was the youngest son of ten children. His first education was in a traditional one room schoolhouse where most of the other students were his siblings. He went to high school in Winfield and perhaps did not yet shine as a student but was certainly busy. As his long-time friend Melvin Lawrence said-We spent a lot of time driving around looking to do good. It just took us most of the night to do it.

Dad assumed that he would be a farmer and rancher. He raised cattle with his dad and brother. It was time when it was still possible to drive a herd of cattle down the country roads from one pasture to another on horseback.

Dad played baseball in the Winfield city night leagues and a lot of pick-up games. After one game in the field across from the Scott family farm, he got up the nerve to ask Grandma Scott if he could take her daughter Gaye out on a date, It would have gone better if he had thought to remove his baseball cleats before walking through the house. Grandma did forgive him but no one is sure when. He and Mom were married in April of 1953. It was a union that lasted 71 years.

Dad was asked to try out for the St. Louis Browns baseball team. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army draft came first and sent him to Korea. Fortunately, the armistice was signed as he was on the boat headed to Korea and most of the conflict had quieted.  Despite his disinclination to be there, in what was a hallmark of Dad’s character, he made the best of it. The army organized football and baseball leagues to occupy the troops and Dad slipped right in, running the recreation facilities, playing sports and avoiding marching on the parade grounds.

After several years driving a truck for Dowell and working construction, Dad and Mom made the momentous decision for him to go to college at Southwestern College in Winfield. With the GI bill, a football scholarship and a night job at the gas company, Dad was able to go to school and support a family. Graduating in three and a half years, Dad turned down an invitation to try out for the St Louis Cardinals football team to begin a career with Travelers Insurance. He continued with Travelers through several moves and promotions until 1968 when he moved the family to Lawrence and took the opportunity to buy Cliff Calvin’s share of what is now CEK. Until his retirement, he remained at CEK with his business partners Bill Eddy, joined later by Joe Baker.

Cliff Calvin served as a mentor to Dad and told him that if he made his money in this town then he should work to give back to it and he did. Dad served on the boards of and became president of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Cottonwood Foundation, Lawrence Rotary, Lawrence Memorial Hospital Foundation, Lawrence Country Club, O’Connell Youth Ranch for Boys. He served on the boards of Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club, United Way and Lawrence National Bank. He founded the Penny Jones Open in 1982 to benefit the LMH Foundation and chaired it for the first 25 years. He was a coordinator for the KU Relays and President of the Quarterback Club and Roundball Club. He served as a chairman of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals and treasurer of the Action Eighty Committee. He coached Little League football and helped with Boy Scouts. He was awarded the Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year, Cottonwood’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Rotary’s Paul Harris Award, and the Boys and Girls Club Man of the Year Award.

After his retirement, he and Mom traveled widely, often with the education-based Elder Hostel tours. He played a lot of golf. He helped Mom maintain a huge garden and developed a devoted following of grandchildren who will always remember helping Grandpa drive the tractor.

He is survived by his wife Gaye, their children: Scott (Christy) Groene, Moab, Ut. and Marsha (Mark) Buhler, Jonathan (Jennifer) Groene and Brett (Sandy) Groene all of Lawrence, 13 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

Services for Dad will be held Saturday May 18 at Corpus Christi Catholic Church at 10:00, followed by a visitation. A private interment will take place later.

In recognition of the impact of education on Dad’s life, memorial contributions may be made to Southwestern College in Tom Groene’s name and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary, 120 W. 13th Street, Lawrence, KS 66044.

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