• Kristin Wenger

#52Ancestors week 3: Longevity

After last week’s topic required the tough decision of selecting a favorite photograph, I was relieved to find that this week’s prompt had a clear mathematical answer. I had several individuals in the running for the prize for “longevity” who made it to the age of 91 or 92. To my surprise, there was only one who lived past the age of 93. And the winner is…


My maternal grandmother, Lucille A. Norbeck Groenendaal (20 July 1917 – 19 February 2011)


Lucille was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania.[1] The 1920 census captured a snapshot of her family when she was two and a half years old, living with her parents Harry and Lottie (Nagle) Norbeck and her twelve-year-old sister Janice on Hellertown Road in Eastern Salisbury Township, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania.[2] Harry worked as a laborer in the steel mill, which given their proximity, was most likely Bethlehem Steel.[3]


By 1930, her older sister Janice had moved out on her own and twelve-year-old Lucille had moved with her parents to 749 South Frazier Street in Philadelphia, PA.[4] Harry listed his occupation as a boiler worker for the locomotive manufacturer; however, he was unemployed, likely due to the Great Depression. He later worked as a brick mason.


Lucy as a young teenager at the beach


After graduating from high school, Lucy worked as a fashion model and legal secretary in Philadelphia.[5] At age twenty-one, she married John C. Groenendaal, twenty-four, from nearby Upper Darby, Pennsylvania.[6]


Lucy as a young woman in the late 1930s


Their first child, John C. Groenendaal, Jr. (whom they called Jack) was born in Philadelphia on 26 October 1939. Just a few months later, when they were enumerated in the census on 5 April 1940, the young family had moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They lived at 404 Columbia Avenue West, near the intersection with Harvard Avenue (west of Lancaster City). [7] John worked as a wholesale grocery salesman in the bakery division of Corn Products International and Lucy was a homemaker caring for five-month-old baby Jack. They later moved to Narvon to a more rural environment.[8]


Their second son, Denson Lee Groenendaal was born 5 November 1943.


Lucy with sons Jack and Denny, 1944


In July 1950, they moved to a new house in the suburbs north of Lancaster at 1915 Park Plaza.[9]

The Groenendaal home for almost 40 years at 1915 Park Plaza, Lancaster


Daughter, Deirdre Kaaren (Dee Dee), joined the family on 15 February 1952.

Dee Dee


A turning point in Lucy’s life came a few months after Dee Dee was born, when she was in a serious car accident. All of her teeth were knocked out and she wore dentures for the rest of her life. I remember her saying that because God spared her life, He must have a purpose for her. Having been raised Catholic, she developed a deeper faith and more personal relationship with Christ following the accident. She began many years of ministry through Bible studies and especially loved visiting her “shut-ins” (homebound church members).


After her children were older, Lucy worked as a church secretary and volunteered with many organizations as listed in her obituary:

“Lucille was a past president of Lancaster Christian Women's Club, Women's Christian Temperance Union, and American Businessman's Club Auxiliary. She also served as a Friendship Bible Study teacher, a guide at Wheatland, and volunteered as a Red Cross worker and at the Blind Association. She had been involved with the Iris Club, Women's Garden Club, Women's Republican Club, and the Musical Arts Society. Lucille had a large collection of antique and modern dolls and enjoyed presenting doll shows for church groups. A member of Church of the Apostles, Lancaster, she formerly served in visitation ministry and sang in the choir.”


Her daughter, Dee, recalls her mother’s interests in the prime of her life:

  • Ballroom dancing with her husband John

  • Creating artwork with pastels in the late 50s and early 60s

  • Collecting antiques (“When Jack was a baby, she would go to antique markets and garage sales. When she found items she liked, she would strap them on top of the baby carriage.”)

  • Going to the beach and the pool

  • Enjoying music and the theatre, a love she passed down to several generations of women in our family

  • Attending Sandy Cove Bible Conference ("her favorite place on earth")

Lucy with Dee Dee at Sandy Cove, early 1960s


Lucy and John, 1950s


John and Lucy with their children: Jack (R), Denny (L), and Dee Dee, about 1960


My memories of my grandma are the special details that no documents record.

John and Lucille Groenendaal with grandchildren Kristin and Ryan Hornberger, 1983


She absolutely loved all shades of the color purple. She had purple clothes, purple jewelry, a lavender convertible, and even a lavender sofa and carpet. Even now, almost seven years after her death, I will see something purple and think, “Grandma Lucy would have loved this.” To this day, anyone who knew her remembers her as “The Purple Lady.”

Note the various shades of purple in her dress, sofa, and carpet


She loved dolls. As a child, I remember visiting her house and looking at what seemed like hundreds of antique dolls in her collection.


She always wanted to make everything fancy and elegant. For example, even as young children, my brother and I were always served banana milkshakes in antique floral china teacups. I remember taking our milkshakes outside under the evergreen trees at her house to have tea parties.


She was proud of her Irish heritage. Every St. Patrick’s Day, she would tell me that her grandma was a “Kelly.” Sure enough, my research showed that her grandmother was Margaret Kelly and my DNA results came back with just enough Irish to verify it.


She loved animals. Over the years, she had many collies.

Lucy and Sandy (#1)


She stayed in touch. When I went to college, she sent me newspaper articles and wrote letters, always signing with an XOXO. She called me at college and left humorous voicemails that my roommates found quite entertaining.


She was affectionate. She would often pat my hand when she spoke or say “hug, hug, kiss, kiss.” She loved to hold my babies and they brought her so much joy in her later years after her husband John passed away in 2000.


Lucy with great-grandson Joshua Ryan Wenger, April 2002


Lucy with great-granddaughter Alexa Grace Wenger on her first birthday, 4 September 2004.


Lucy holding great-grandson Nathan James Wenger with Josh and Alexa, April 2006


I am so thankful that my kids had the chance to know her. Especially the older two remember going to visit her at Pleasant View Retirement Community in Manheim, Pennsylvania where she lived in her final years. They remember playing the piano for her, pushing her wheelchair to go see ducks in the courtyard, or eating lunch with her in the café. As her vision deteriorated, we decorated her room with their brightly colored preschool artwork. We often snuck her some candy to keep her in her room because she loved sweets!

Lucy, daughter Dee, granddaughter Kristin, and great-grandchildren (L-R) Nathan, Alexa, and Joshua Wenger


The photo below was taken six days before she died, when we were all together on a Sunday evening to celebrate my mom’s birthday.

Lucy with her local great grandchildren: Joshua Wenger, Alexa Wenger holding Juliet Hornberger, and Nathan Wenger on 13 February 2011.


Lucille Norbeck Groenendaal passed away peacefully in her sleep on the morning of 19 February 2011. I am thankful for the years we had to spend with her, and I miss her sweet spirit and smile. Her death was my children’s first experience with losing someone they loved, and it was the impetus for the beginning of my passion for family history. After she was gone, I realized that there were so many questions I had never asked about her early life and her family. I was a busy mom with three young children, but I wish I would have made the time. Records can only tell us so much and the personal stories are now lost to time.


“I wish I had realized that family history is a perishable commodity. It disappears with time, as memories fade, and as loved ones pass on. I wish I had known that the most important aspect of family history is preserving a record of the present for the future.” – Guy Black

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

Take-aways for your family history:

Interview living relatives while you can! Their memories are priceless and cannot be replicated after they are gone. My next blog post will feature some lists of potential questions to ask and tips on how to create oral histories.


All information not cited in the sources below comes from my personal knowledge or that of my mother, Dee Groenendaal Droms.

[1] 1940 U.S. census, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Manor Township, Enumeration District [ED] 36-119, p. 2B (penned), dwelling 404, family 41, John Groenendall [Groenendaal] household; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 18 January 2018); citing National Archives microfilm publication T627, roll 3534.

[2] 1920 U.S. census, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Eastern Salisbury Township, Enumeration District [ED] 228, p. 14B (penned), dwelling 301, family 327, Harry Norbeck household; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 18 January 2018); citing National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 1590, image 365.

[3] Search for “Hellertown Road” and “Bethlehem Steel,” Google Maps (https://www.google.com/maps/: accessed 18 January 2018).

[4] 1930 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Philadelphia City, Ward 46, Block no. 386, Enumeration District [ED] 51-523, p. 13A (penned), dwelling 193, family 204, Harry Norbeck household; digital images, Ancestry (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 18 January 2018); citing National Archives microfilm publication T626, roll 2141, image 189.

[5] “Lucille N. Groenendaal,” Lancaster Newspapers (Lancaster, Pennsylvania), obituary, 22 February 2011; transcription, FindAGrave.com (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/66014567/groe : accessed 18 January 2018).

[6] “Marriage License Applications,” Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, Pennsylvania), 8 March 1939, p. 4; digital image, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/8077254/marriage_license_lucille_groenendaal/?xid=637 : accessed 30 December 2016).

[7] 1940 U.S. census, Lancaster Co., PA, pop. sched., Manor Twp., ED 36-119, p. 2B, dwell. 404, fam. 41, John Groenendall [Groenendaal] household.

[8] Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Deed Book B41:221, Richard G. and Jane H. Tapley to John C. and Lucille N Groenendaal, 17 July 1950: Recorder of Deeds Office, Lancaster; digital images, Lancaster Recorder of Deeds (https://searchdocs.lancasterdeeds.com/ : accessed 19 January 2018).

[9] Ibid.

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