Joann Groce has two great loves: music and human services. And at 81, she's far from losing sight of either one.
Groce, who is from Carey and later lived in Cincinnati and Columbus, has made Tiffin her home, and part of that has included working on some social projects which continue to thrive today.
Although she has always been interested and involved in music, Groce made her mark on Tiffin through volunteerism and social programs. Having moved to Tiffin in 1959 after her husband, John, took a position with Heidelberg University, Groce was involved in teaching music at local schools but was drawn into helping with local church organizations, with which she had experience after college.
This early experience, which involved providing child care for area youth, was just the beginning of her role in human services for the area, as her time as a volunteer led directly to a new job opportunity - First Call for Help.
Groce said the idea came out of the Seneca County Community Council, an organization initiated by Theodora Wilson, who, like Groce, came to the area when her husband began working for Heidelberg.
Groce said Wilson was one of the first social workers in Seneca County, and having experience while living in Brooklyn, N.Y., decided it was important to identify the need for services in the community.
Groce said Wilson had "all these ideas," and when Wilson had a difficult time getting First Call for Help started, she brought in Groce to help pitch the idea. Eventually they got the interest of the United Way and the idea was born as Information and Referral, which opened in May 1978.
At first it was just Groce and a card file, but she was able to take the concept and help link people with the services they needed. Those first calls which came in were often people needing help in paying bills, getting gasoline and food.
Every call was just as important as the next, although some were more interesting than others.
"Somebody asked me at one time if I knew a good lawn mower," she joked. "You just never knew what people would call for."
One part of the job she said she enjoyed was the follow-up, checking to see if people had gotten the assistance they needed. She said it helped her to see if the service was working and gave her some joy in finding help for people.
"I got to know a lot of people that way," she said.
The organization would go through some changes even in her time there. For instance, as the national United Way became involved, they requested the organization be called First Call For Help for consistency.
Groce also was involved with getting the heating assistance program started.
"Information and Referral, when I started, was not really encouraged to get involved directly, to serve people from the office," Groce said. "It was to link people to the service. Now, if you found there was a gap in the service, then you might have to step forward - and that's why the heating fund got started."
As First Call for Help grew more substantial with volunteers and part-time help, Groce decided it was time to move on, leaving in June 1987. But involvement in the community would not end there.
After taking some time off, and getting back into volunteering for a short period, Groce began working in mental health, first as a case manager with Sandusky Valley Center.
She said it, and future positions helping people with developmental disabilities, was hard but rewarding work.
Her involvement with the community has been noted by many.
Pat DeMonte, executive director of the Tiffin-Seneca United Way, worked with Groce and her husband while she was the executive director at Seneca County Agency Transportation - which also was a product of the Community Council. Although it was John who was on the board, the Groces were involved with the program and helped it get off the ground.
"She has a real passion for wanting to help people," DeMonte said. "She is very caring and concerned about the community."
Sue Hampshire, a previous head of First Call for Help, said she met Groce through FISH food pantry, and they became good friends.
"She was kind of a mentor for me throughout the years, and very much a role model," Hampshire said. "She's a wonderful lady who cares about the community and the people, and even now has kept an interest."
"She's doing things and continues to do so with her usual enthusiasm to make the world a better place," Hampshire added.
Today, Groce calls herself a "short-term volunteer," giving of her time to campaigns or projects, such as the recent Tiffin City Schools levy.
While she has a great deal of interest in helping with the community, she said she's not too crazy about boards anymore.
Instead, her retirement has allowed her to focus on other interests, such as traveling. When her husband was alive, they would visit different parts of the country and even made trips to Africa, China and Europe.
She also likes to take "little jaunts" through Ohio, which she said is something she never did in the past.
"Ohio has a lot to offer, and John and I used to just go right through because we were in a hurry to go to North Carolina where he was raised," she said.
But it is her other passion that has taken off recently.
Although she has been involved with various choirs and choruses through church organizations in the past, Groce said she loved being part of the Heidelberg University Community Chorus recently, which she called "wonderful" and a place where she was able to get together with college students for a unified experience.
So, while Groce is no longer volunteering full time, she has far from decided to give up on doing the things she loves.
"I'm fortunate. I have the little problems, a little aging and stuff. The important thing is the attitude," she said. "Limitations are bad, but you can handle them if you keep up with your family, friends and meet young people."