Farewell to York's 'Uncle Bus,' advocate and educator Voni Grimes
Voni Grimes, a well-known figure in York County for decades as an advocate, educator and friend to all, died Jan. 16, 2018. Family, friends and community members attended the Small Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church on Saturday, Feb. 3 to celebrate his life. (Lindsay VanAsdalan) The York Dispatch
Voni Grimes was not a household name in York County 30 years ago.
"Because we all knew him as Bus," said Bishop Carl H. Scott. "If you would have said Bus Grimes, everybody in York would have immediately known who you were referring to."
Scott, of the Bible Tabernacle Christian Center, said Grimes stood out as someone who loved his community and was determined to make a difference.
He was a regular in City Hall, former York City Mayor Kim Bracey said.
"My mom just reminded me, when I gave him the key to the city I had to remind him it wasn't a key to City Hall," she said, laughing about his many visits.
"Mr. Grimes was raised in another age, in a different America, a different York — beyond the experiences of many of us," Bracey said. "Were it not for persistent work by Mr. Grimes, I would not be standing here today."
More than 100 people filled the Small Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church on Saturday, Feb. 3, to pay tribute to Grimes, who died Jan. 26 at age 95.
Sharing memories: Known as Bus Grimes or "Uncle Bus" in both York County and the church community, Grimes left an impression on many.
"We are celebrating the life and legacy of our own legend and hero," said the Rev. Oscar Rossum, of the Mount Zion Community Fellowship Church in York City.
"He proved to us and showed us you can be an older man and write a book, you can be an older man and make a recording album, you can be an older man and do 15 push-ups," he said.
"Voni was one of those individuals that just loved everybody," said Scott, noting he never heard Grimes gossip.
The Rev. Samuel Means, of Small Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, touted Grimes' evangelism.
"He was very much in the forefront of sharing with everyone who God is in his life, but also promoting his church," he said.
"We come from a large family," said Grimes' cousin, Myrtle Legotte. "He spoke into each one of our lives wisdom and knowledge.
"And I liked the fact that he tells the young children, 'It's better to have (an) education and not need it, than to need it and not have it,'" she continued.
The Rev. Cliff Moye, of Small Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church, met Grimes when Moye was in fifth or sixth grade and Grimes taught at the Princess Street Center in York City — a community center and after-school program to help young people better themselves — in the '60s and '70s.
Grimes was all about furthering education, Moye said, and taught kids values, how to be respectful to people and how to put themselves in a position that "people won't forget you."
"I've known him from my childhood," said York City Councilwoman Judy Ritter-Dickson. His mother lived next door to her grandmother, Princess Ritter.
She said he was always a good man, soft-spoken, and had a kind word for everybody.
"No matter what, people felt better when they met him," said Don Gogniat, who worked with Grimes when Gogniat was the campus executive officer at Penn State York. "You don't see people like that often."
Gogniat said Grimes was a voice of reason who helped calm the community after the '69 race riots.
Grimes and then-pastor Leslie G. Lawson worked together to help tame the riots in York City, Moye said. He said Grimes also marched in the Million Man March on Washington, D.C., in 1995.
He touched many throughout the York County community who showed up to pay their respects, including Jane Conover, of the York County Community Foundation, state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, York City Council members Sandie Walker and Henry Nixon, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich.
Music: Music was a strong theme running through the service — with homage to Grimes' joyful harmonica playing and the religious songs he loved to sing.
He would even try to play the harmonica when it wasn't the time or place, said Cierra Rossum, a cousin of Grimes', who sang a song with her sisters in honor of Grimes at the service.
"I got married two years ago, and he came up to me at my reception," she said.
"'Can I please play the harmonica?'" she said he asked.
When she said no, he said, "Well, I'm afraid I'm gonna have to leave."
"Y'all, he left my wedding," she joked. "I'm going to cherish that memory forever."
Brian Rambler, who recorded a CD with Grimes 10 years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, led a soulful chorus of "What do you know about Jesus? He's alright!" from one of Grimes' favorite songs.
He said Grimes considered him family and would always joke with him, saying, "Who that black man singing in a white body?"
"We just might before we get to those gates hear the sound of the harmonica — our Uncle Bus saying, 'Come on, this way!'" said Oscar Rossum.
Moving forward: In his eulogy, Scott stressed that because of his faith, Grimes' life had just begun.
"When you know where something is, it's not lost," he said.
He continued with a quote from Philippians 1:21, "To live is Christ, but to die is gain," and he said to gain is to take possession of something, to increase, to take advantage — and Grimes had definitely gained.
Scott said Grimes invited him years ago to his office at Penn State York and that what stood out was how much Grimes talked about helping young African-Americans reach their goals. He wanted to inspire some young person to come along and carry on the work he had started.