Michael Groh, a '60s activist who remained an activist

  • Article by: BEN COHEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 8, 2008 - 8:55 PM

A longtime consultant to nonprofits, he excelled at helping leaders work through problems, said a colleague.

As a seminary student, Michael Groh arranged football games between seminarians and prison inmates. Later, he helped found nonprofit groups.

"He was all about making a positive difference in the world," said his daughter, Alicia Groh of Minneapolis.

"He had a very strong sense of social justice," she said. "He was a '60s activist who continued to be an activist his whole life."

Groh, 65, a longtime consultant to nonprofits, died of brain cancer Oct. 30 in his Minneapolis home.

He grew up in New Albany, Ind., and received a bachelor's degree in literature in 1965 from Hanover College in Indiana, where he was a tight end on the football team.

Groh moved to the Twin Cities to earn a master's degree in theology from United Theological Seminary in New Brighton in 1969.

He arranged a half dozen football games over two seasons between seminarians and inmates of the prison in Stillwater.

The seminarians won most of the games.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, he cofounded and led Youth Emergency Services in Minneapolis, worked for the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation and the University of Minnesota.

Groh also cofounded the former Phase Five Associates, which specialized in devising new methods for training community leaders. Living and working out of a van, he took community organization skills to lower income neighborhoods in Kansas, helping young people fight drug addiction.

He figured that if the community could come together, it could better watch over at-risk children.

Groh was adept at training leaders of nonprofits, strategic planning and building trust, said his daughter.

During his career, he had worked with 500 groups in North America, Eastern Europe and the Balkans, helping organizations such as food shelves, environmental groups and others in nations with emerging democracies.

Randall Bachman of St. Paul, a vice president for Children's Home Society & Family Services in St. Paul, said he was an "effective and visionary collaborator and leader."

"He was one of the most meaningful persons in my life," said Bachman.

In the 1990s, when Bachman was on the school board in Rochester, Minn., the board arranged for a bonding referendum. The public hearings had been held, and the issue was on the ballot. Then, IBM announced a large layoff, sending a "shockwave through the community," said Bachman.

Board members wrung their hands. Groh gave them simple advice. "Just pull it" from the ballot and try again later, he said.

"No one thought of that," and down the road, the money was found in better economic times, Bachman said.

"He was a master at helping leaders work through daunting challenges and come up with solutions," said Bachman.

When not working, Groh played basketball and led wilderness trips in the American West.

In addition to Alicia, he is survived by his wife, Jane of Minneapolis; son, Aaron of Minneapolis; and a brother, Ken of Floyds Knobs, Ind.

No services are scheduled.

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