‘He was larger than life’
May 23, 2007
At a service Wednesday honoring the life of Lester H. “Les” Groth at First Presbyterian Church, hundreds of family, friends and former co-workers paid tribute to a man who served his family, his community and his church.
Les Groth was described as a Christian and a firefighter, giving equal of his life to each.
“When I think of Les, two words come to mind – dedicated servant,” said the Rev. Bruce Kochsmeier. “He was always thinking of others.”
Groth suffered a stroke May 16 and died the next morning. He was 83.
“He had a great sense of humor, and he loved to laugh,” Kochsmeier said. “He was playful and a tease in the best way. He taught his children how to fly, how to soar. When I watched him and Margie dance on their 60th wedding anniversary, it was a slice of heaven.”
Groth married Margie Riise on Oct. 1, 1943, in Carson City and had three children; Denny, Merrilee and the late Lester Lee. He was a fourth-generation Nevadan.
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As a child, he overcame polio. He lost a lung to the smoke he inhaled while firefighting.
“But it never got him down,” Kochsmeier said.
He was Carson City’s first paid fire chief, elected to the position in 1959 after working his way through the ranks as a volunteer.
Family friend Mike Green spoke on behalf of the Groth family.
“By the number of fire trucks on the streets, it shows me he has touched many lives in the community,” Green said. “Margie was always by his side and supported him. And he mentored many generations of firefighters.”
On a table at the front of the church, several items were displayed. Among them were the firefighter’s poem, a picture of Groth and his brother George, Groth’s fireman’s helmet, and a certificate from the Nevada Department of Fish and Game for a trophy fish catch by Les – a 13-pound, 12-ounce cutthroat trout caught in 1969, with a picture of Groth holding the “big one that didn’t get away.”
On stage among the array of flower arrangements and plants were two portraits of Groth. One of him in uniform as fire chief; the other with his wife of 63 years, Margie.
Bill Farr, retired fire chief of the Sparks Fire Department was friends with Groth for 50 years. Farr remembered the day Groth called him about being elected fire chief.
“He called me up and said, ‘Old buddy, come over and have a cup of coffee. I’ve just been appointed Carson City fire chief,'” Farr said.
“And I told him, ‘Old pal, I sure will.’
“Old pal, I’m gonna miss ya.”
Bud Miller called Groth a perfectionist, and said Groth’s training program trained men as good as the (fire) academy did.
“When you were called in front of him, you knew you were in trouble when his lip started quivering,” Miller said. “I made that lip quiver a couple of times. I’m proud to have been there.”
Groth’s niece, Ann Groth Weeks, spoke about her uncle, recalling days of her childhood when she played with her cousin Merrilee.
“I’ll miss my Uncle Les,” she said. “He was a loving uncle and a wonderful person. And I made that lip curl more often than I can remember. But I could always crawl up into his lap and he would comfort me.”
Sheriff Kenny Furlong quoted Norman Swartzkoff saying, “‘What’s missing in America are the leaders of the past.’
“Les Groth was larger than life in this community. Les was a hero that Norman Swartzkoff spoke of.”
Wednesday was Groth’s final muster with the Carson City Fire Department. He was laid to rest at Lone Mountain Cemetery.
• Contact Rhonda Costa-Landers at email@example.com or 881-1223.