“Family always came first for my dad,” said Jeff Groll, one of Gene’s five children. “He loved to be a firefighter. Growing up, we always did firefighting things together. If there was a fire department function or a parade, we would always be a part of it.”
Groll, 86, died Wednesday, Sept. 8, after a long illness.
Jeff said his father was the consummate professional, “a firefighter’s firefighter,” who enjoyed helping train the rank and file.
“He was a very good teacher, very patient. He was a very kind person. It was always easy for him to work with people,” said Jeff.
His dad considered the fire department as his extended family, added Jeff.
“It wasn’t just a job. The people he worked with were also family. He thought that people who worked together, and enjoyed themselves together after work, were most effective. If you could play together after work, it was easy to work together.”
Oregon Fire Chief Ed Ellis called Gene “a good guy.”
“He was a very fair and equitable leader. He treated the part-time firefighters like people rather than his subordinates,” said Ellis. “He was easy to talk to and have a discussion with. He was just an all-around, really nice guy.”
Gene was protective of the rank and file, even after he retired, said Ellis.
When firefighters’ morale dropped after ex-Mayor Marge Brown appointed Bill Wilkins as the new fire chief in 2006, Groll fired off a letter to the editor that appeared in The Press that raised questions about the hiring process. Wilkins, who was from Defiance, held the position of assistant chief briefly before Brown had appointed him fire chief. Firefighters were frustrated that they had not been given a chance to apply for the assistant fire chief and fire chief positions.
Groll stated that the administration had added a new qualification for the chief’s position - possession of a 240 hour firefighter certificate - that had excluded nearly everyone in the Oregon Fire Department from applying for the job.
“Why wasn’t this information put out six months in advance so members could take the course?” Groll stated in the letter to the editor.
And when Brown, former City Administrator Ken Fillipiak, and Wilkins discussed plans of making the fire department full-time, a move strongly opposed by the fire department, Groll defended the efficiency of the volunteer firefighters.
“Why would anyone want to change this operation that’s proved it is working with no complaints from our citizens?” Groll stated in the same letter to the editor. “Call your elected officials and tell them to leave our volunteer department as it is. Well done, firemen. Thank goodness for our volunteers.”
Wilkins resigned soon after current Mayor Mike Seferian, who was endorsed by the fire department, defeated Brown for re-election in the general election last November.
Generations of Grolls
Since the Oregon Fire Department was established, there’s always been a member of the Groll family in the department, said Jeff.
Gene’s father, George, helped establish the fire department in 1937.
“George was one of the founders of the first Oregon Fire Department. When my dad joined, my grandfather was still in the department,” said Jeff.
Gene’s son Robert, who is retired from the fire department, was district fire chief of station No. 1. And two of Gene’s grandsons, Rob and Will, are currently serving in the department, said Jeff.
Ward Ensign, who later became the city’s first full-time fire chief, joined the department on the same day as Gene, said Jeff. Gene became a deputy district fire chief under Ensign.
When Ensign died in 1980, Gene replaced him as city fire chief.
Gene, a 1942 graduate of Clay High School, lived in Oregon his entire life. He attended Ohio State University, and served in the Army Air Force during World War II, where he flew 32 combat missions, including two missions on D-Day.
After the war, he was employed at the Standard Oil Refinery for 36 years and retired as an instrumentation supervisor.
He was a past commander of VFW Post 9455 and one of the founders of the Bay Area Credit Union.
He enjoyed farming, traveling and fishing. He and his wife, Elnore, traveled extensively in their motor home, said Jeff.
Visitation was Friday from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Eggleston-Meinert Pavley, on S. Coy Road. A full firemen’s funeral (last call services) was planned for Saturday before interment in St. John’s Cemetery with American Legion Dunberger Post military rites.
Besides his wife, Elnore, and sons Jeff (Teresa) and Robert (Cathy), Gene is survived by children Deborah (Al) DePaolo, of Ft. Myers Beach; Mike (Violet Gaddis) and Sue (Bruce) Seibert, of Oregon, and 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Gene was “thrilled” to see his most recent great-grandchild, J.J., born last month, said Jeff, J.J.’s grandfather. “It lit up his eyes to see that baby.”