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This Year’s LION: Dennis Gruver: Emergency Coordinator Extraordinaire

This Year’s LION: Dennis Gruver: Emergency Coordinator Extraordinaire

My hopes for the LION column (Leaders in Our Neighborhood) were to make 2020 the Year of the Volunteer, focusing on all the various places that volunteers have faithfully served in our area. Through the year I have highlighted some extraordinary people, but there is one person that I wish to declare my LION of the Year, a man who literally embodies the meaning of volunteerism. Dennis Gruver has served for 64 years as a volunteer in emergency management for the Montgomery Borough, and even though he has resigned as the town’s Emergency Management Coordinator, he intends to continue to help where he can because, as he puts it, “I have been put here to serve, not to receive.”

Dennis Gruver was just a teenager when he volunteered as a junior member of the old Civil Defense Corp in 1955, serving as a ground observer spotting and reporting aircraft over the area. It was serious stuff as he was trained to report his sightings (dialing a 0 on the phone and asking for Air Craft Flash), and this continued even after his graduation from Montgomery Area High School in 1959. Dennis was groomed to take over as Civil Defense Director in 1965 when he was drafted and sent off to Vietnam. He returned home in 1968 and on December 29, 1969, was appointed the CD Director, a position that would later be changed to Emergency Management Coordinator, which he held until December 31, 2020.

In those 51 years, Dennis has seen every kind of disaster imaginable, most of which related to water. When Montgomery had the highest river crest ever reported hit in June of 1972, Dennis and his team of volunteers set up 250 portable beds in the local high school to accommodate all the displaced families from the flooding. This turned into a major help center as even the water and sewer system broke down, and Dennis had to coordinate filling water cans and sewage disposal. It was quite a task for a guy in just his third year as director.

Years later, in 1996, it was the combination of a very cold winter that hit the area with heavy rain and warm temperatures. For several days, the borough of Montgomery had flooding combined with huge blocks of ice washing up and blocking the roads. Dennis had to coordinate with the local landfill to acquire equipment that was able to remove the junior icebergs that had landed in town.

Dennis Gruver’s efforts have not always been appreciated, though. In 1999, a flash flood hit and created a great deal of damage. The mayor and town council were furious and blamed Dennis and decided to fire him from his directorship. The local citizenry, however, knew better. A town meeting was called, and 245 residents had signed a petition for a recall of the mayor and the councilwoman who was pushing Dennis’ removal. Needless to say, Dennis stayed in his position.

Dennis Gruver’s success has several sources, not the least of which was his faithful wife, Nancy. As committed to serving as her husband, evidenced by decades of dedication to supplying Christmas presents and food for needy families in the area, her passing in February of 2019 was a blow to the entire community. After nearly 60 years of marriage, it would not be unexpected for Dennis to pull back, but his faith enabled him to keep moving forward.

Dennis Gruver has put together quite a team of volunteers, many of which have served for decades. They spend endless hours in meetings, projects, work parties, parades, fundraisers and civic events, as well as time in training and preparations for floods, fires, train wrecks, and other possible disasters. And through the years they have worked hard to build up the necessary resources as well. For such a small community, Montgomery has an incredible emergency management system. Their resources include an Incident Management Unit vehicle equipped with two-way radio communications, a Swift Water Team that utilizes four boats, and Special Unit vehicle for carrying various equipment such as three lights trailers, various pumps, generators and lights.

Nothing paints a picture better of the commitment of Dennis Gruver than how he spent Christmas Day in 2020. Starting at 6:00 AM and every hour on the hour till 6:00 PM, Dennis physically checked and reported the water levels at the two locations from the river and a local creek. When I asked why, he said simply, there was a danger from flooding, so someone had to do it.

It would seem that someone like Dennis Gruver would be irreplaceable, but he found a rather reliable person to take over as director — his 45-year-old son, Greg. Dennis intends to still be around, attending meetings, checking water levels, training the new volunteers, etc. Dennis intends to serve as long as his health holds out or until the Lord calls him home. What a man and what an example!

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