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Voni B. Grimes: York loses one of its most well-known, and most cheerful, citizens at 95

Written by Mike Argento/The York Daily Record | Jan 26, 2018 4:38 PM
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Voni Grimes comes to the altar and plays "May the Work I've Done Speak For Me" on his harmonica during a program honoring the life and work of Voni and Lorrayne Grimes at Small Memorial A.M.E Zion Church in York Sunday November 30, 2014.(Photo: Paul Kuehnel, York Daily Record/Sunday News)

(York) -- You never saw Voni B. Grimes without a smile on his face. 

He was unrelentingly positive, a person who dedicated himself, early on, in finding joy in life and spreading it to others. He was a fixture in York for as long as many of us can remember, one of the people who defined the community. 

The old College Avenue Gym in the city bears his name, a testament to his dedication to fitness and healthy living. He rubbed elbows with the movers and shakers in town, but always remained humble, his one nod to vanity being that he always dressed well. 

Grimes passed away Friday, the Boulding Mortuary has confirmed. He had just turned 95 on Dec. 23. 

Tributes to Grimes started to pour in Friday afternoon.

"Voni's long life of service is an inspiration to us all," Governor Tom Wolf tweeted. "He survived WWII and fought racism, spread knowledge at Penn State York and joy with his harmonica and spirit. We shared a love of York and dedication to giving back. Rest in peace, Voni."

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans said in a statement that he was "a truly inspirational figure in the York community."

"His life, from growing up in segregated schools to becoming one of York's most influential leaders, offers an example for us all in overcoming adversity," the statement says. "He was a man of great faith and a friend to everyone, and he gave back to his York community in too many ways to count." 

She expressed her condolences to his family and friends.

"We will miss hearing his stories and his harmonica, and I hope to help keep his memory alive in York for many years to come," Hill-Evanssaid in the statement.

Grimes was an unusual public figure -- a leader without ever being elected to do so. He had a way in inspiring people simply by the virtue of his personality. 

Born in 1922 in Bamberg, S.C., home to many of York's deeply rooted African-American families, he moved north with his family as a young child. He recalled attending segregated schools and wondering why it had to be that way.  

His full name was Vonidoe Buster Grimes. Everybody called him Voni.  

 

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, serving in the Pacific. He worked at Cole Steel and later, as an administrator at Penn State York, where he would often take time to chat with students and encourage them in their studies. 

He married his wife, Lorrayne, on March 31, 1969, a feat he often said was his greatest achievement, having found a partner in his life. He always gave credit to Lorrayne, for everything. He met her a year after his first wife, Irene, passed away from cancer. 

He and Lorrayne were deeply involved in the community. Their volunteer work earned Grimes a term as a district governor for the Lions Club. 

He was always dedicated to fitness, treating his body like a temple. He often attributed his longevity to eating greens every day. That, and his deep faith in his Creator.  

One story he liked to tell was that some 40 years ago, the Ku Klux Klan was recruiting in York's suburbs and had left a flyer in the door of his upscale home in Springettsbury Township, apparently in the misguided belief that such a home was out of the grasp of an African-American family. Grimes considered asking the recruiter to send him the full Klansman regalia, saying he would wear it to a meeting and in the middle of the proceedings, pull up that pointy mask and give the Klansmen a big smile.  

Grimes recalled that the Yorktowne Hotel, when he was a younger man, denied blacks service. He vowed to one day live in the hotel. When he turned 75, he and Lorrayne moved into a sixth-floor suite, moving out when they needed more room for grandchildren and great-grandchildren to visit. 

He was also a musician, playing the harmonica. He carried it with him always and would play it at the drop of a hat. His largest audience, perhaps, was when he performed the National Anthem before a York Revolution game. 

More than all of his accomplishments, which are many, Grimes will probably be best remembered for his sunny disposition and his smile. 

He said his mother once told him never to lose his "irresistible smile." And it was. It was contagious. He carried it with him always. He always felt his greatest gift was being able to make other people happy, to give encouragement to those who were down and out, to live a life filled with joy.  

Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Boulding Mortuary. The details are not complete. 

 

Fondly remembered

On Facebook, some of those who knew him shared the following:

James Krebs: "I had the pleasure of doing a service call for Mr Grimes at his residence a few years ago. I don't think there could possibly be a nicer and interesting person you will ever meet."

Loretta Herman: "We have lost another wonderful human being. Met and talked with him several times, what an absolute sweetheart of a man. He now takes his place in heaven with the God that he loved so much. Will be terribly missed!"

Lorie Tang: "Played harmonica at grandma's funeral, was GREAT !! GREAT MAN !!"

Jill Platts: "Voni did have an infectious smile and we soooo appreciated his tribute to my late mother Babs Platts at her funeral. Mom truly enjoyed her friendship with Voni and valued his service to our community! I am sure those in heaven will enjoy your talents as much as we have!"

James Jesse Olewiler: "R.I.P. Your gym and legacy kept quite a few young men in the city to busy to get into trouble. In fact, I myself had the pleasure of using your gym facility and even roller skating there as a York city youth resident."

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The York Daily Record

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