Dr. Fred Groverman currently walks with a limp, but many people are amazed that he is walking at all. He was recently hit from behind by a ram that shattered one of his knees.
At 79, Groverman was out of bed and hobbling around as soon as the leg could support weight. That kind of determination and resolve doesn’t surprise people who know the Petaluma native who spent most of his career as a veterinarian in Cotati.
When he was 9, Groverman was milking cows by hand on the family farm. He also was responsible for selling cream, driving the wagon, gathering eggs from the farm’s 8,000 chickens.
He got interested in treating animals when a local vet helped him heal a stubborn cut on his arm using the same compound he had used on the cows a week earlier. After high school he enrolled at UC-Davis.
Three weeks after classes started, his father died unexpectedly. Groverman returned home to tend to the family farm and spent the next year taking classes at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Once back at Davis, he lived in the sheep barn for a year, then moved to the firehouse. For three years he balanced coursework with fire drills, becoming a lieutenant in the process.
Groverman met his wife, Patricia, at UC-Davis and married her in 1957 during his last year in veterinarian school. She passed away last year, after 54 years of marriage.
Although Groverman did not belong to 4-H while growing up, the couple’s four children joined, as have five of their six grandchildren. The lone holdout is only 3.
“I’ve seen what it has done for them,” he said. Daughter Karen now works at the Agricultural Commissioner office in Sacramento County. Son James owns a successful pumpkin patch and corn maze. Daughter Judy is the executive director of the Artisan Cheese Festival and has managed the Santa Rosa Rose Parade for the past 15 years. Son Bill is an appraiser who works with agricultural and commercial properties.
“Because of their success, I am trying to give back,” Groverman said. “I look at my daughter and sons, and I can see how (4-H) leadership has propelled them to be excellent at what they do.”
He started in 1982 with the 4-H foundation, which provides funds for grants, scholarships and promotion, and just finished a four-year term as president.
“His leadership, his vision and his persistence to keeping the program alive is remarkable,” said Executive Director Susan Hansen. “We are so lucky to have his experience and wisdom.”
In the 1970s he started working as an animal solicitor. Each year he asks 60-80 people to let him represent them at the Sonoma County Fair. Using a record of what they paid the year before, he bids on 4-H and FFA animals. With his experience and reputation, they trust him to make the best buy.
“It’s all about the relationship between me and the buyer,” Groverman explained. “If something happens, then I buy the animal.”
Over the past six years, 4-H and FFA have raised more than $1 million a year. “(In) my own kids’ case, they had $8,000 to $12,000 in savings by the time they graduated from high school,” Groverman said.
Since 1976, he also has served as fair veterinarian.
For the past four year, Groverman also has connected with children in the classroom, teaching Veterinary Adventures to fourth, fifth and sixth graders during the summer at Sonoma State University. His granddaughter Megan, 13, took the class and now acts as an unpaid intern.
He leads field trips to his ranch, with the primary goal of teaching the kids about animals.
“I also focus on leadership because that seems to be something really lacking in this world,” he said. Groverman’s newest goal is increasing the amount of diversity in the 4-H program. “You learn from your experiences,” he said. “That is how kids can be successful … from these life skills they learn and observe,” he said.
Even after a lifetime of service, Groverman’s fire seems to burn as bright today as it ever has.
“You get paid for it in the heart,” he said.
“My ultimate goal is that my legacy lives on as they live on. If I can teach some kid something he uses for the rest of his life, that is an impact. Then he can do the same. It becomes contagious and infectious.”