Singer, horticulturalist, accordionist, storyteller. Born on June 9, 1929, in Boskoop, the Netherlands; died on June 30, 2014, in Campbellcroft, Ont., of natural causes, aged 85.
Anyone who met John Groeneveld could tell you that he loved to sing, to garden, and to tell a good story.
Until his early 80s, he was a member of three choirs. He had his own band, the Welcome Buskers, in which he played accordion and sang. Every month, the band would play at nursing and retirement homes across Ontario’s Northumberland County.
Once, when John was getting a haircut, the barber began joking in Italian to his co-worker, suggesting that perhaps John was wearing a wig because of he had such a full head of hair for a man of his age. John began to laugh, explaining that he understood their banter thanks to the opera Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville). He then proceeded to sing from it. From that day on, every time he went for a haircut, John would first favour the entire shop with an Italian aria.
John was an avid gardener and horticulturalist. After he came to Canada in 1953, he worked in greenhouses in Brampton and Bowmanville, Ont., with a brief stint driving a coal truck in Toronto. But it was always his dream to run his own business.
One story he told was about working in a greenhouse pruning rose bushes. The clippings from the roses would fall to the floor and, when sweeping them up at the end of a day, John would scoop some of the young shoots into his pockets. He began propagating them in the bathroom of a Bowmanville apartment.
One day, the greenhouse owner called him into his office. He had found out what John was doing and told him that he wanted to continue working there, he would have to stop – and get rid of those roses in the bathroom.
John replied, “I quit, today.”
Over time, he was able to build and open his own garden centre and nursery, Treetop Nursery. Then he started Groeneveld Landscaping, which he ran into the 1980s.
An exceptional storyteller, John loved to regale others with stories about his early years in Holland, living through the Second World War as a teenager, and meeting Maartje (Marsha) Offers, the love of his life. They immigrated to Canada in 1953, married, and began a new life together, finally settling in the rural farming community of Wesleyville with their three young sons, Nick, Neil, and John.
In 1969, their land was expropriated by Ontario Hydro to build a hydro tower that was never used. John called the still-standing tower “a monument to stupidity.”
From Wesleyville, they moved to Campbellcroft, where they built a new home, integrating pieces of their old Wesleyville cottage into the new structure. Their daughter, Elizabeth, was a welcomed surprise when John and Marsha were in their mid-40s.
John approached everything with an intense work ethic, as well as humour, thoughtfulness, and precision: from learning the bass line to a piece of choral music, to grafting an apple tree, to timing the delivery of a punchline to a perfect story.
Elizabeth Groeneveld is John’s daughter.