To many, he was a longtime civic leader, a city commissioner and a businessman.


To many, he was a longtime civic leader, a city commissioner and a businessman.

And those close to him, Joel Grodberg was a friend who was always available and happy to talk. The 59-year-old Leavenworth resident passed away Saturday after a four-year battle with cancer.

He is said to have moved to Leavenworth at age 25 to pursue a business opportunity. Grodberg made an impact on the community soon enough, eventually joining the Leavenworth Rotary Club, in which he served as a president in 1999 and also as an assistant district governor. His dedication to that club was said to have carried through to the end of his life — friend Bettye Brown said she was told by his family that Grodberg passed away wearing a “very elegant” white sweatshirt, embossed with chenille letters spelling out “Rotary.”

Brown said she also remembers Grodberg coming to the local United Way office for long conversations with her husband and then executive director of the organization, Royal Brown, who was also a Rotarian and former mayor of Leavenworth, about the challenges facing the community.

“My husband found him to be very perceptive in analyzing the problems and possible solutions,” she said.

Grodberg also served as a Leavenworth city commissioner beginning in 1989. He served from that time until 1993, with a one-year stint as mayor starting in April 1991.

John Donovan, current Rotary president, said it was for those types of service that Grodberg will certainly be remembered.

“Joel was a pillar of Rotary and a pillar of the community,” he said.

Paul Kittle, another friend and fellow Rotarian, said Grodberg was the type of person who would stand up for what he believed was right and best for the community and seemed to have an innate understanding of the political process. He provided guidance to Kittle, Grodberg’s wife Marianne and Rod Rivard on a ballot initiative to flouridate the drinking water in Leavenworth.

“He worked very with us to get it through,” Rivard said.

Even in his career as the owner of the Pizza Hut franchises in Leavenworth and Lansing, Donovan said Grodberg carried his committment to serving the  people. He said he remembers Grodberg’s fight to keep Coca-Cola products, his customers’ preference, in the restaurants even after Pizza Hut was bought by the Pepsi-Cola Company. It was a battle he eventually lost, Donovan said.

"The fact that he kept the fight, I think, speaks volumes about Joel,” he said.

But in addition to his public and professional personas, Brown said she will Grodberg as a compassionate, thoughtful, friendly person.

“I found that he was very intelligent, very perceptive,” she said. “He was someone that I just liked to meet and be around.”

Brown said when her own husband passed away in 2007, Grodberg was there to lend an ear or a shoulder, as he was for many other Rotarian wives and widows.

Rivard and Kittle said they also considered Grodberg more than a partner in civic or Rotary affairs. All three originally hailed from the New England area and bonded as avid Boston Red Sox fans. Rivard said the three had even planned to travel to Boston to attend some games before Grodberg’s illness prevented him from extensive traveling.

“We all understood it,” Kittle said of the game. “You know how people watch it — we understood the strategy behind it.”

Linda Brown, a congregant of St. Paul’s Episopal Church, said members of her congregation along with representatives of the Rotary Club, the PEO Club of which Marianne is a member and anyone else wishing to honor Grodberg’s memory, are planning to clean up debris from the recent storms at Mount Zion Cemetery, the historically Jewish cemetery of 172nd Street outside Leavenworth where he is to be burried. Though Joel attended services at St. Paul and was involved in its men’s groups and as a lay reader, Linda said he retained a connection to his Jewish faith and that she sees the cleaning of the cemetery, scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday, as part of the Jewish tradition of shiva, or seven days of mourning tied to the Biblical story of creation.

“We are recreating our world that no longer has Joel in it as a physical precense,” she said. “This is our way of entering into this process in an active way, which is the way he always engaged life himself.”

Though his physical precense will be gone, Linda said the many memories and impressions that Joel Grodberg left on the people and the city of Leavenworth will remain.

“He was not like a lot of other people in Leavenworth,” she said. “And I mean that in a good sense.”