But that one face could often be found poking into myriad East Contra Costa community activities and events over the last 50-plus years that Gromm lived on Bethel Island.
Among the many hats worn by Gromm, who died June 18 at the age of 93, were yacht harbor owner, hospital district director, fair board member, fire commissioner, businessman, newspaper editor, book author, government watchdog, historian.
Gromm wrote a lengthy history of Bethel Island, served as the editor of a weekly newspaper (the Brentwood News), wrote articles for various publications, managed a business – Prince Harbor on Dutch Slough – and outlived two wives.
An important piece of his legacy is the unfinished John Marsh State Park outside of Brentwood.
Marsh, Contra Costa County’s first white settler, was considered responsible for much of the early settlement of Northern California thanks to letters he wrote to friends back east extolling the wonders of this area. He was murdered in 1856, and his seven-gabled stone mansion outside current-day Brentwood fell into disrepair. Gromm, appalled at the neglect of Marsh’s legacy, mobilized East Contra Costa residents to form the John Marsh Historical Memorial Association. Gromm lobbied legislators and ran fundraisers to generate money and community attention. “At least they (the state) could put a roof over it to keep it from deteriorating any further,” he told a reporter during a tour 40 years ago.
Banging around in many an East Contra Costa dresser drawer is a brass belt buckle with the Marsh House likeness on it, sold by Gromm or another association member for the restoration project.
Frustrated but never discouraged, Gromm and fellow Marsh Home advocates persisted in hectoring state and local officials to restore the home.
Kathy Leighton of the East Contra Costa Historical Society credits Gromm’s determination for the as-yet-unopened park. “That house would not be standing but for Bob,” she said.
A complete list of Gromm’s community achievements and involvement, compiled by Leighton, runs a full page, spanning the time he came to Bethel Island from San Francisco with his first wife, the late Dorothy Ann Robinson. Some of the highlights include service on the Contra Costa County Fair Board of Directors, reclamation district director, Bethel Island Citizen of the Year 1999-2000, East Contra Costa Historical Society Member of the Year 1998-99, business owner, chairman of the Ironhouse Sanitary District, board member Delta Memorial Hospital Association, Bethel Island Fire District commissioner and numerous others.
A San Francisco boy, Gromm attended Balboa High School and attended San Francisco City College. When World War II erupted, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served as an aviation cadet instructor at Williams Field in Mesa, Ariz.
In 1960, Gromm moved to Bethel Island, settling on 587 feet of waterfront on Dutch Slough, eventually known as Prince Harbor.
After Dorothy’s death in 1994, Gromm married Margaret Hotchkiss Cox, who also preceded him in death.
He is survived by a son, Robert Jr.; daughter -in-law, Grace; and daughter, Claudia Cannata; four grandchildren, Jeffrey Cannata, Courtney Bishop (Patrick), Evan Chang-Siu (Kaori), Eric Chang-Gromm; and three great grandsons, Breck Bishop, Liam Bishop and Kenta Siu.
Gromm requested that there be no services and that donations in his memory be made to the East Contra Costa Historical Society, P.O. Box 202, Brentwood, CA 94513.
Two years ago, Gromm declared he was retiring from many community activities, expressing the hope to a reporter he would see the Marsh home restored “before I’m no longer vertical.”
In that interview, Gromm said, “I’ve had an interesting life. I’m proud to have been able to be of assistance.”