Gary F. Groce

Gary F.
Gary F. Groce was born in East St. Louis, Illinois, on 27 April 1936, to Milo Albert Groce (carpenter) and Zetta Marie Groce (nee Groves). He was the youngest of three children: his older sister and brother being Patsy Irene Grant and Milo Albert Groce. Gary graduated from Cahokia High School in 1954, where he met his future wife, Jean Marie Bollinger, class of ’55. He lettered in basketball, baseball, and track, but he was selected All-American in football for his prowess as a high school running back.
Although he was offered a full-ride, athletic scholarship at Bradley University, a high school coach encouraged him to attend a Big Ten school, namely, the University of Illinois. While he’d always regretted turning down that offer from Bradley, he was one of two players to make the Fighting Illini basketball team as a freshman walk-on. Gary then transferred to Illinois State University where he played basketball under coach Warren S. Crews (d. 2017), but remained only one semester. He also played football at Washington University in St. Louis. In 1956, Gary signed a contract with the Cardinals organization and pitched for the Decatur Commodores.
His baseball career was interrupted when he was drafted into the US Army, 47th Infantry Regiment, and assigned to the Pentomic Division. The Pentomic division required at least two years of college studies, which may be why he was selected for service there. Gary married Jean Marie on 22 March 1957, at the Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, shortly after being drafted. Their ceremony was held three weeks before Gary left for basic training at Ft. Lewis, where the couple lived off-base in Olympia, WA. While serving, Gary played football for the 47th Infantry Panthers. The team, coached by Tom Davis, achieved a perfect record in the 1957/58 season.
After serving his two years, Gary signed another contract to play for the Cardinals organization, this time in Keokuk, Iowa. He was the number one starting pitcher with 14 wins that season, the most of the pitching staff. His catcher was Hall of Famer Tim McCarver. After this season, Gary decided to leave baseball. His childhood friend, and one-time catcher, Cal Neeman (Cubs, etc.), encouraged him to stick with baseball, but Gary was determined to quit and begin a family. He returned to the E. St. Louis area with Jean.
Gary worked out of the union hall for Local 100 in E. St. Louis until he landed a steady position with the Commonfields Cahokia Water Company. Meanwhile, Jean completed her training as a radiology technician. During this time, the couple had two children: Terry (1962) and Scott (1961). In the late-sixties, the couple moved to Belleville, IL. Jean worked as a technician at Belleville Memorial Hospital, eventually settling into mammography. She worked there for twenty-one years until her retirement in 1996, while Gary retired in 1998.
When both retired, the couple moved to Warsaw, MO, where they lived happily for twenty years. They were members of the Edmonson Baptist Church in Lincoln, and enjoyed an extended “church family.” Their neighbors in Warsaw were helpful to the point of being selfless. Friends and neighbors, knowing that either Jean or Gary was not in good health, would cut their grass, bring them food, clear their driveway of snow, etc. Their social life was rich, and Gary was able to join friends interested in woodworking for periodic meetings; he visited his favorite coffee shop (Cosmic Café); and he studied The Bible with The Moses Club (Warsaw Bible Church).
After twenty years in Warsaw’s Sterett Creek Village near Truman Lake, Jean and Gary sold their home and moved to Oregon to be closer to their sons. They relocated to Tillamook, coastal Oregon, where Jean Marie Groce passed away on the morning of 26 November 2019, the day of her only grandson’s birthday. Gary F. Groce did the same on Friday evening, 2 April 2021.
His memorial service, officiated by Pastor Brad Smith, was held at LifeChange Christian Fellowship in Tillamook on Saturday, April 10th. He is interred, as is his wife Jean, in the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, OR.