In his 91 years, he’s been editor of the Brentwood News, president of the East Contra Costa Historical Society, a Bethel Island fire commissioner, a board member at the Delta Memorial Hospital, and a charter member of the Ironhouse Sanitary District Board. And that’s only a fraction of his resumé.
Most recently, Gromm served as a board member of the John Marsh Historic Trust, an organization dedicated to raising funds to restore the home of the California pioneer who helped settle the area. Gromm helped form the organization to save the Marsh House, located off Marsh Creek Road in Brentwood, in 1971 and served as president, vice president and secretary over the years.
It was an ideal position for Gromm, as his passion for history helped fuel his interest in repairing and renovating the house so that it can be enjoyed by future generations. But he decided to retire from his post to make way for the younger generation.
“I’ve been at it too long,” Gromm said. “It’s time for the younger, more energetic people to step in and bring some new ideas. It’s time to give the young people a chance, give them an opportunity to get their feet wet. I’ll still help out if they need me – I’m not completely cut out of it.”
Even though he retired from the board earlier this year, the Bethel Island resident hasn’t abandoned his interest in history. Just last weekend he was out at the East Contra Costa Historical Society Museum volunteering as a docent.
Gromm said he’s always been interested in history, guided by his fascination to understand how East County communities have evolved. He published a history book about Bethel Island in 2006 and is currently working on a book about Oakley, which he hopes to finish by the end of the year.
He keeps folders with information about local communities and their histories, but nothing compares to the binder that overflows with information about John Marsh. The binder is so rich with information that Gromm keeps a second folder to hold what won’t fit in the bursting three-ring binder. “The most interesting thing about the John Marsh story is that he was one of the first U.S. citizens to come out to California territory. He worked hard toward getting this area annexed into the United States. He also shipped crops out to gold rush country so the miners would have something to eat. He did a lot for this area.”
Gromm holds his own place in the John Marsh story. According to local historian Kathy Leighton, Gromm is the last person to spend the night at the Marsh House before it was closed to the public.
Gromm fondly recalls the day: Mother’s Day, 1972, when the John Marsh Memorial Association held an event called Romeria to raise funds to save the house. “I planned this big party, our first fundraiser for the association, but people said no one would come since it was Mother’s Day, but we ended up with 1,500 people in attendance because everyone came with their mothers.”
During his service as a member of the Trust, Gromm has helped raise thousands of dollars to retrofit the house and make it earthquake safe so it can be open to the public again. But it will take millions of dollars to make that happen, a reality Gromm would like to see in his lifetime.
“I’ve had an interesting life,” Gromm said. “I can’t complain. I’m proud that I’ve been able to be of assistance to the community. I hope to see the Marsh House restored before I’m no longer vertical, but other than that, I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do. I have a wonderful family and I’ve had a nice life. I guess the only thing I didn’t do was become a millionaire.”