Don Groninger Was Instrumental in Growing Plainfield Sports
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
For many boys and girls, teens, and young men and women, sports is life. They spend much of their youth on a field, court or track. Such was the case for Don Groninger. He was born in North Manchester, Indiana, in March of 1936, and his family moved to Plainfield five years later, where his father Henry started Groninger Excavating. Henry disliked his real name so, because he was 6’4” tall, a buddy started to jokingly call him Tiny, and the name stuck. The nickname was later passed on to his son Don, who grew to be 6’ tall.
From a young age, the elder Don fell in love with sports. He ultimately became a four-sport star at Plainfield High School (PHS) in football, basketball, baseball and shot put, serving as the team captain to his fellow teammates. After graduating from Plainfield in 1954, he enjoyed a short football career at Purdue University before returning home to Plainfield.
“He was eager to marry his high school sweetheart, Loretta Holzknecht, and begin working at the family business,” says his firstborn son Dan. Don and Loretta had another son, Jimmy, and daughters, Lisa and Amber.
Don became vice president, and later president, of Groninger Excavating. Through the years he participated in the development of a number of Plainfield subdivisions and streets, but sports fields were his true passion.
“In 1967 the town of Plainfield had Little League baseball only,” Dan says. “Dad and his buddies proposed both Little League football and Little League basketball to the Town of Plainfield with 100% agreement.” Hence two leagues were born for third- through sixth-graders. It began with four teams in each league.
“That was the year dad started the relationship with the Town of Plainfield,” Dan says. “It started with the football field stripping, gym prep for Little League basketball games, and quickly moved into dirt hauling for most of the baseball diamonds in the community.”
Groninger Excavating donated everything.
Groninger’s four children were all drawn to sports as well. Dan and Jimmy played the same four sports as their dad – basketball, baseball, football and track. Lisa and Amber were both Plainfield cheerleaders.
As time passed, Don’s commitment to the town only grew. Every spring Don and his family would roll most of the outfields and add dirt to the baseball diamonds. Groninger Excavating built the Anderson Park baseball field and Plainfield Boys School baseball field (both of which are now gone). In addition, in the early 1990s the Groningers donated countless hours of labor, equipment and manpower to the construction of Plainfield’s ball park, Lovell Field (which is now where the Meijer store sits). It consisted of five baseball fields, two football fields and two soccer fields.
“Dad built all of this at no charge to the Town of Plainfield,” says Dan, noting that he also put in the back nine holes of Oak Tree Golf Course (formerly the Elks Club) because he also enjoyed golf. “Dad truly was the biggest fan of all sports in Plainfield and loved the town itself.”
Don was eager to better Plainfield because he adored the town so much. It was a small town back then and Don knew most of the business owners. Not surprisingly, Groninger Excavating had a great reputation, as everyone knew Tiny.
Dan and Jimmy both lived in Plainfield all their lives. Dan and his wife Laura have two sons, six grandchildren, and another on the way. Unfortunately, Jimmy passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, leaving behind a son and two daughters. Lisa and her husband Bobby live in Martinsville and have one son. Amber lives in Plainfield with her husband Jason and they have a son and daughter.
In 2015 Don was inducted into the PHS Hall of Fame. His plaque calls attention to his 45-plus years as a coach, referee and board member.
Sadly, Don passed away on Thanksgiving in 2020 after a yearlong battle with dementia. His legacy, however, certainly lives on in the community.
“Everybody was thrilled to have Groninger Excavating donate the work for the football and baseball fields,” Dan says. “All our dad wanted was a thank-you, and he got a lot of them.”