2021 Grand Marshal, Lady step out from behind the scenes
Grand Lady and Marshal Carolyn and Bob Groninger were poised to preside over the 75th ’49er Days in 2020 when the global pandemic forced cancelation of the annual parade and related festivities celebrating the town’s western heritage.
Now, the Groningers are cautiously optimistic that they will have the occasion to represent the event that Carolyn has been a part of since 1957.
Carolyn, who grew up on a ranch in Mazama and graduated high school in the Methow Valley, said “I’ve been participating in the event since I was 7 years old.”
For her, ’49er Days has long been a family affair. “Both of my sisters were ’49er Days royalty,” she said. “My brother [Methow Valley outfitter and guide Aaron Lee Burkhart of Early Winters Outfitting] has always been a part of the outfitting and packing components of ’49er Days. Now for me to serve as Grand Lady, it’s like coming full circle.”
Carolyn remembers ’49er Days in the 1950s and 1960s: “There would be water races, pole bending, a small carnival, and the bagpipers from Canada.”
The celebration has evolved since Carolyn was a child. “The old guard was a lot of ranchers and rodeos, not a lot of people coming from out of town,” she said. “But now, so many of my old school mates and their families come back for ’49er Days. It’s a little reunion with old friends each year, plus all the visitors that come to town. It’s a gathering of the old and the new; you get to see a lot of people at this time each year.”
The Groningers haven’t served before as Grand Marshals, but for the past 12 years both have helped with ’49er Days events. Carolyn, who has been riding most of her life, has traveled on horseback with the Ride to Rendezvous wagon train as a volunteer EMT, carrying a first aid backpack with her, while Bob — who says he is not much of a horseman — helps in other capacities. Despite her ceremonial duties, Carolyn still plans to support Ride to Rendezvous again this year.
Although they both were stationed in the same area with the U.S. Navy, Bob and Carolyn met later. Bob, who grew up in south Seattle, worked in construction and trucking. While the young couple was working and raising a family on the west side, they kept coming to the Methow Valley for vacations and holidays. “It was harder to go back to the city every time,” Carolyn said.
“It just got too busy over there,” said Bob, who prefers a quiet afternoon by the river to the bustle of the city.
In the early 1990s, the Groningers moved to the valley and Bob began working in the Methow Valley School District on the custodial staff, a position he retired from in 2019. Carolyn became an EMT in 1996 and worked for Aero Methow Rescue Service, where she remains a volunteer on the EMT crew.
When ’49er Days was canceled last year, the Groningers had already assembled their outfits for the parade, and they plan to wear most of that western garb for this year’s event. “It’s a bit of a mix and match,” Carolyn said.
With ’49er Days civic commitments suspended, Carolyn immediately turned her attention to other projects, such as sewing homemade Personal Protective Equipment and distributing it throughout the region. “I was one of the ‘maskateers,’” she said. As a chaplain for the American Legion, Carolyn also provides spiritual counsel and support within that organization.
Both Groningers look forward to serving in a leadership role for what will be Winthrop’s largest public event since the pandemic began, saying “It’s quite an honor to be able to represent the valley this way.”