Sometimes, high school sweethearts blossom into sweethearts for a lifetime.
Colleen and Lester Grotzinger knew each other from around their high school in the northcentral Pennsylvania town of Renovo. At a New Year’s Eve Party, they started talking, which led to their first date.
Today, the recent Homeland residents savor 66 active and adventurous years together
Married in 1951, Colleen had just graduated from college, and Lester had just finished basic training after his Pittsburgh-based National Guard battalion activated for service. The Korean War was underway, but the Army didn’t send Lester to Korea. He served in anti-aircraft artillery installations along the East Coast.
“Most people don’t even know that at one point, U.S. cities were protected by anti-aircraft artillery,” he says. “The U.S. was afraid of Russia bombing East Coast cities.”
While he served two years in the Army, Colleen lived in off-base apartments or back home in Renovo. When he left the service, he finished his studies at Carnegie Mellon University and launched a career as a mechanical engineer.
Les always knew he wanted to be an engineer. Growing up, he helped his dad around the house, building things and trying to understand how they worked. He devoted his career to a company that manufactured equipment – often rotating, high-speed compressors, steam turbines, and gas turbines – for chemical plants and refineries.
“They were big machines,” he says “Some of them were up to 200,000 horsepower. I had a very good career.”
Colleen was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania who majored in elementary education. In those days, she says career choices for women were limited to teaching or nursing. At Penn’s exclusive Wharton School of Business, women weren’t even allowed in the building. When the Grotzingers returned to Penn for her 50th reunion, the group was waiting for a visit by the university president. The president’s car pulled up, and out stepped a woman.
“Things have changed just a little bit,” Les remarked to Colleen.
Today, adds Colleen, “I have grandchildren going there now.”
Colleen taught language arts in a middle school. Some say that’s a difficult age to teach, but she learned to have fun with her students.
“They were funny, in a comical way,” she says. “They want to make each other laugh, but they also made me laugh.”
Living in the southwestern Pennsylvania town of Greensburg, she was active in the League of Women’s Voters. For 35 years, both were active in a book club that read “anything and everything,” Colleen says, and even sometimes gathered on New Year’s Eve to do a play reading.
They also took on the challenge of renovating a fixer-upper, which they purchased after Les got out of the Army and had little money. With his skills as a handyman, he did much of the work, replacing windows and wiring, plumbing and ductwork.
“Everything Colleen wanted, we added in one fell swoop,” Les says. “A big addition for a living room and a fireplace and a two-car garage and a patio, all in one swoop.”
Les’ work took him around the world, sometimes to remote spots in North Africa or western Canada. When it was possible, Colleen came along. They have traveled to all 50 states, plus Canada, the Caribbean, England, and Europe. In Germany, they visited the Bavarian village of Lester’s ancestors. In Ireland, they met relatives of Colleen’s still living in the family homestead near the Cliffs of Moher.
Colleen couldn’t pick a favorite spot among their travels. She’d be happy to “go back to any of them.” Lester recalled a memorable trip to Italy, where he appreciated “the culture and the openness of the society.”