EDITORIAL: Voni Grimes left York a richer place
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
With the passing of Voni Grimes, York County lost not only a citizen but an institution.
The 95-year-old advocate, activist and “ambassador of peace,” whose life and legacy was celebrated over the weekend at the Small Memorial AME Zion Church, was the type of presence every community needs more of: positive, nurturing, wise, supportive. He touched lives throughout York County in ways great and small, and he did it with humor and humility.
His participation in times of local and national import cannot be overlooked. Mr. Grimes was credited with helping restore order in the wake of York’s devastating 1969 race riots. And his was among the voices raised in Washington, D.C., during the 1995 Million Man March.
"Were it not for persistent work by Mr. Grimes, I would not be standing here today," said former York Mayor Kim Bracey.
Her appreciation for Mr. Grimes’ input and influence and — both on a personal and civic level — was echoed by local leaders including York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, York City Council members and area clergy, not to mention private citizens by the score.
Mr. Grimes was many things: A product of the segregated South, born in South Carolina in 1922; a survivor of the Depression years, forged by the deprivations of the 1930s; a member of the Greatest Generation, having served in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
None of these experiences dimmed the always-present smile that disappeared only when Mr. Grimes brought his beloved harmonica to his lips — which he did with frequency.
Through his caring community service, patient instruction and good-natured example, Mr. Grimes elevated not only individuals, but the entire community.
Long known as “Bus” or “Uncle Bus” — his full name was Vonidoe Buster Grimes — Mr. Grimes demonstrated what one does not need to be a true leader.
One does not need to be an elected official. Mr. Grimes never held public office.
One does not need to be strident. Mr. Grimes was known for his gentle nature — a fact that did not detract from his success in steering younger charges toward church or school. One of his oft-repeated axioms: “It’s better to have an education and not need it than to need an education and not have it.”
One does not need to be young. Mr. Grimes remained vibrant, engaged and relevant throughout his many decades. He recognized that the years, when embraced, bring experience, wisdom and perspective, and he put them all to good use in his many roles: educator, administrator, community organizer, father figure, Sunday school teacher, founding member of county parks and rec organizations.
Of the many accolades that came Mr. Grimes’ way, the most visible is the College Avenue Gym in York City, which was renamed the Voni B. Grimes Gym (and where his likeness is included in a mural, "Community of Color,” created by artist Ophelia Chambliss, of Manchester Township).
"No matter what, people felt better when they met him," said Don Gogniat, who worked with Mr. Grimes at Penn State York, where Mr. Grimes was a former administrator. "You don't see people like that often."
You certainly don’t.
Yorkers were lucky that Mr. Grimes chose to make his home here; to share his smiles, his music, his optimism and his warmth with us. He left the community richer in spirit. And we are left to celebrate his legacy and — in some small way, if we are able — to emulate it.