Pasadena Now, STAFF REPORT, Published : Wednesday, September 18, 2019 | 4:59 AM
Civil rights attorney Dale Gronemeier, as easily identifiable by his iconic cap, thick-rimmed black glasses and goatee as by his zeal for righting wrongs, is returning to Pasadena this weekend for a double-header of events focused specifically on the legacy he left behind upon moving to Texas.
Gronemeier’s indefatigable efforts to hold police and local government officials accountable for their conduct held sway over Pasadena and Altadena for decades before he retired last year.
Not only did Gronemeier cast a giant (and expensive) shadow over many local governmental agencies, but his legacy includes a cadre of local civil rights groups he helped forge and fund by lawyer’s fees sometimes earned from the very agencies the groups were dedicated to changing.
In May 2017 Gronemeier and his law partner held a press conference to hand out $30,000 from a settlement they’d won from Pasadena Unified.
The pair handed out checks to representatives of nearly a dozen progressive Pasadena causes, including POP!, Pasadenans Organizing for Progress.
“He’s a remarkable man,” said POP! spokesman Ed Washatka. “By his early twenties he’d found his moral anchor in civil liberties and civil rights and he never veered from that. Some people come to activism late in life, some earlier and then move onto other things. But his commitment is over 60 years long.”
Pasadenans Organizing for Progress (POP) has invited Gronemeier to address its next Progressive Discussion Group at DuPars Sept. 20, before honoring him with a lifetime achievement award at Neighborhood Church on Sept. 21.
An avatar of local civic rights, Gronemeier resided in Sierra Madre, practiced in Eagle Rock, and worked tirelessly on cases and causes which aroused his passion. Approaching 80, he retired in 2018 and moved to Texas.
With his departure, it stands to reason that such groups don’t have the same kind of money flowing into their coffers, nor Gronemeier as an effective mouthpiece. The heat on local agencies to remain publicly accountable has lowered as a result, and no voice or funding fountainhead has yet emerged to replace Gronemeier.
“I haven’t been following Pasadena real closely any longer,” he told Pasadena Now on Tuesday. “I really haven’t been active in Pasadena politics.”
Since moving, Gronemeier said he has become disconnected from the grassroots approach to politics that he passionately engaged in and engendered in others.
“If you’re not there, you’re no longer part of the community,” he said. “I remain interested in what happens, in helping build POP!, but if you’re not participating, it’s sort of pontificating to comment on the issues being dealt with.”
Gronemeier moved to Pasadena in 1975. He joined the American Civil Liberties Union legal team that challenged at-large elections, which led, eventually, to a successful overturning of the discriminatory practice at the ballot box.
In the late 1980s, he went after restrictive regulations at Plaza Pasadena and in the 1990s targeted racial discrimination at King’s Villages, on behalf of the City. The breadth of his activism widened further with his involvement in the Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police.
Livable wage, POP!, open government claims, and $500,000 to area progressive groups from fee awards and such, are Pasadena-related highlights, but Gronemeier’s pedigree reaches back to the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer when he registered black voters and resided with civil rights pioneer Fannie Lou Hamer in Ruleville, Mississippi.
“Dale has a very long history of community and social involvement that has benefited many people beyond Pasadena,” said Pasadena Chief of Police John Perez. “Dale has been a challenge at times, but his care and compassion for all people cannot be argued. I wish him well and I’ve appreciated the insight and guidance he has provided at times. He deserves time for travel and recreation.”
Some civic officials likely felt relief at his departure, and that raises the question of what civic life in Pasadena is like without Gronemeier raising hackles.
“Quieter,” laughed Jon Fuhrman, Executive Director of local advocacy group ACT, “Maybe a tad more boring. I think he has left a tradition and a structure so that much of the work that he was doing will be carried on by others.”
“Without him we are settling in, making adjustments,” said Washatka of the goings-on at POP!. “I think there’s a forward momentum that lasts when somebody leaves office.”
“The POP! board members and co-chairs, constantly say, ‘What would Dale do?’ or ‘We got to get on it,’ because he was always urging us to be timely, but to reflect on what we were about to say. I learned a hell of a lot from him.”
Rabbi Marv Gross, a member of POP!, said, “I think for the past nine months, those of us who have worked with Dale, and have been inspired by his example, have tried to move forward on progressive issues that were important to him and to us as well.
“His was a personal example of integrity and commitment that is quite unusual,” said Gross.
Dick Price, the editor of L.A. Progressive and a prime protagonist at the Pasadena-Foothills Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said there’s a void that can’t be filled.
“Don’t think we’ll see the likes of him again, he just really devoted his life to this kind of work, he was quite an admirable man.”
“I’ve been heavily involved in the ACLU Pasadena chapter and we frequently worked with Dale on police practices issues, criminal justice, civil rights, and he was a leading light in the progressive legal community,” said Price. “He was a big help to lots of people. A tireless worker and really a guiding light.”
On Friday, Gronemeier will address The Progressive Discussion Group during their meeting from 9 am. to 10 a.m. at Dupar’s, 214 South Lake Street. The meeting is open to anyone wanting to attend. DuPar’s issues separate checks to attendees, so you can have coffee, breakfast, or just thoughtfully listen to Gronemeier’s remarks.
On Saturday, Pasadenans Organizing for Progress will be hosting a Lifetime Achievement Award Celebration and Fundraiser honoring Gronemeier will be held from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church, 301 N. Orange Grove Boulevard, Pasadena. For tickets click here. Or, you can purchase tickets at the door.
POP! Pasadenans Organizing for Progress is a multi-issue community organization whose mission is to make Pasadena a more just, fair, and inclusive city.