BY TONY KRUKOWSKI
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
– Dr. Seuss
The latest interview tells the stories of 75-year-old Grosse Ile resident Jo-Anne Gronlund.
How long have you been a resident of Grosse Ile?
My husband, Bob, and I became acquainted with Grosse Ile in 1966 when we came to the Island to look at a boat that was for sale at the Ford Yacht Club. We were immediately impressed with the beauty of the Island, and that thought remained with us until we finally made the decision to buy a house on Grosse Ile in 1968.
What is your first memory of moving to the Island?
My husband and I had just gone through a stressful time living in northwest Detroit during the 1967 riots. Bob was also an avid boater and wanted to find a location near the water. What finally clinched it for us as far as a move to the Island was a drive to Swan Island after a big snow storm in late 1967. What under normal circumstances is a beautiful area of Grosse Ile became literally breathtaking and almost magical with the houses, roads, bushes, and trees heavily laden with snow. That beautiful winter scene still replays in my mind even after all these years. We decided at that moment that we wanted to make Swan Island our home.
What was the Island like when you first moved here?
The Island was certainly more sparsely populated. There were still vacant lots on Swan Island. What immediately impressed us, however, was how much people cooperated and looked out for each other. The Island churches certainly are a perfect example of this. There is a concerted effort to work together on various projects like the Boar’s Head Festival, the high school baccalaureate program, and ChristNet for everyone’s benefit.
Have you ever lived anywhere else?
I actually grew up across the water in Windsor. I met my husband when we both worked for the accounting firm Ernst & Ernst (now Ernst & Young) in Detroit. We had one of those all-too-rare successful work place romances, and we married in 1962. For a time, we lived in an apartment in Detroit and later in a home in northwest Detroit.
What are some of your favorite memories of living on the Island?
My favorite memories are linked to my interactions with the people in the community. I worked for Grosse Ile Township Schools at Meridian Elementary as a secretary for 29 years and met thousands of children and their parents over that time. It still gives me a thrill when I meet someone on the street, and they connect me with my time at the school district.
I also used to love the opportunity to make students feel welcome to our building by showing them pictures of their parents when they attended Meridian Elementary as young children. We have a rich tradition of generation after generation growing up on the Island.
The Veterans Day celebration at Meridian Elementary each November holds a special place in my heart. My colleague at that time, Judy Ventro, questioned why we did not recognize our Island veterans as they did in nearby communities. So, in 2000 we organized a program to honor our veterans, and were pleased with a turnout of 12 veterans. Well, that program has grown over the years, and last year over 80 veterans attended. It is a truly moving event for the veterans, students and school staff, and a fitting way to honor our veterans who have given so much to preserve our way of life.
My husband, Bob, loved to sail and it was a great way for us to meet people. One of my favorite memories is of him and his friends, Curt Crysler and Dave Dowhan, sailing over to Duffy’s in Amherstburg. They became such regulars that the Canadian Customs would ask Bob when he would radio in whether Curt and Dave were with him.
What are the biggest changes you have witnessed on the Island?
Some businesses I haven’t thought about in years like Brown’s Pharmacy and the Kickapoo Restaurant were still operating on Macomb Street when we first moved to Grosse Ile. There were certainly fewer people and fewer houses. The school population on the other hand has stayed pretty much the same even though the general population has increased because the number of children per family is fewer.
What are some things that people might be surprised to learn about you?
I find researching our family genealogy to be fascinating. My husband’s relatives came from Sweden to America, but there is a branch of his family that ended up in Australia. My roots are in Ireland and Scotland. I have been successful in tracing our roots back several hundred years but have run into some roadblocks because of the common first and last names of some of our ancestors.
I also love to travel. Over the years I have visited Africa, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Sweden and most of the Caribbean. One of my most unique trips resulted from winning a raffle sponsored by the International Wildlife Refuge Alliance for a ride on a freighter. In August 2015, my three daughters and I were able to take a six-day trip on the Kaye E. Barker, a 767-foot freighter. The trip started in the Rouge River and then proceeded up the Detroit River to Meldrum Bay, Ontario, where we took on a load of dolomite. From there, we went on to Marquette to unload the dolomite at one dock, switch docks to reload with iron ore pellets, and then proceed back to the Rouge River. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience traveling the Great Lakes.
Any final comments?
Depending on what you like to do, Grosse Ile probably isn’t for everybody. Unlike many communities, there are not a lot of attractions like a movie theater or shopping malls. However, if you like nature, boating, biking, and hiking amidst peaceful, cottage-like surroundings, this is the perfect place for you. I would not want to live anywhere else.