Last updated 10/4/2022 at Noon
Some mighty trees have fallen in Sisters’ cultural forest in the past couple of weeks.
Jim Anderson “went out among the stars” last month, and the same week saw the passing of Joe Leonardi, one of the pillars of Sisters arts scene for decades (see obituary, page 8). On Sunday, we got word that pioneering Sisters businessman and community servant Bob Grooney has died.
For folks who knew these men, there is a sudden, palpable sense of absence in Sisters. It was strange to take in a Sisters Folk Festival without seeing Joe soaking up the music all over town. Joe carried music in the very core of his being — his old Fender bass thumped out a heartbeat, for him and for the whole Sisters music scene, which he helped to plant and nurture from decades back.
Throughout Folk Festival weekend, I was approached dozens of times by people who were touched by Jim Anderson’s life. Some knew him personally and wistfully recounted their interactions with a man who had boundless — and contagious — enthusiasm for the natural bounty of Sisters Country. Others knew him only from his writing in his column in The Nugget — yet they felt a connection, and they already miss him.
The very fact that Sisters has a vibrant downtown core that can welcome and support an event like Sisters Folk Festival owes a lot to Bob Grooney. A Marine Corps veteran of World War II, Bob worked in the grocery business in Southern California for almost three decades before moving to Sisters and opening The Gallimaufry and Sisters Liquor Store. Grooney tirelessly promoted Sisters as a good place to operate a business and raise a family — and his encouragement led many people to take a chance on what was then a very small town, and make a life here.
And Bob worked hard to make life here better. Believing in Sisters’ businesses Bob served on the board of Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce for more than two decades. When he was the emcee at a Chamber function, it was sure to be lively affair. I can attest that if you were going to engage in repartee with Bob Grooney, you’d better come with your wit freshly sharpened — because his was like a razor.
Every family that has seen their child thrive at Sisters High School owes a tip of the hat to Bob Grooney. He served as school board chair and was instrumental in bringing Sisters High School back to the community in 1992. He was also a long-time Kiwanian and a founding member of what is now Sisters Park & Recreation District.
Reflecting on these profoundly impactful lives offers a reminder that the work we do and the way we serve others is the measure of a life — and it lasts well beyond our short spin on this big, blue ball. We feel a sense of absence because these men were so present. But they’re not really gone. Everywhere in Sisters, we see and feel their work — in the song of birds, in the hum of the downtown core on a busy day, in the lingering notes of the sweet music that fills the air.
The Romans and their cultural heirs cultivated an ethos expressed in the motto Memento Mori — “remember that you must die.” This is not a morbid fixation — it is a call to live fully, with joy, and purpose, and humility, leaving your mark as a legacy that encourages others to live fully and humbly as they follow in your footsteps.
We may all aspire to live so well.