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One in a Million: Greg Grogan

By Ginny Bailes Fretwell 

Uploaded: Thursday, August 22, 2019 10:52AM EST

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. The purpose of the law is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Greg Grogan of Anderson graduated from T.L. Hanna High School in 1974. Mr. Arnold Howell, American History teacher at Hanna, delivered Greg’s diploma to him at his home on Crayton Street. Greg was filled with excitement that day even though he wasn’t able to attend the commencement ceremony.

Mr. Howell became his teacher when Greg reached high school age. He came to the Grogan’s house twice a week for three years. In that time he taught him English, math, science, history and psychology.

Greg was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy around the age of 4. Muscular Dystrophy (MD) is a genetic disease that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass. The abnormal genes lead to muscle deterioration. Most forms of this disease begin in childhood. There is no cure.

At this time, there wasn’t a doctor in Anderson equipped to treat MD, so Mr. and Mrs. Grogan found a clinic in Greenville. They took Greg to the doctor each month for check ups and treatment. By the time Greg was in the first grade, he was in leg braces. The Crayton Street neighborhood was zoned for North Fant Elementary School. Multiple sets of stairs at the school would have made it impossible for Greg to navigate through the campus, so they arranged for him to attend Concord Elementary. This layout was basically one level with curbing as the main challenge. Greg’s younger brother Brad attended North Fant while Greg attended Concord.

By the time Greg was in the third grade, his condition had progressed. On Christmas night, at age 9, he told his mother, “I just can’t walk anymore.”

He was soon confined to a wheelchair, where he spent the rest of his life. Greg never attended another day in a public school. He would from this point on receive his education at home.

Greg was assigned tutors who would teach him at home a few hours a week, make assignments and grade his work. However, Greg was mostly self-taught. With many interests, he found ways to learn. His parents ordered many books he wanted based on his interests and desire to learn. He would devour them as soon as they arrived. One of Greg’s hobbies was building model cars, airplanes and spaceships. His parents kept him supplied with model kits. This hobby was a challenge because of his weakened muscles, but he persevered, loving the process and admiring the finished products. He later began designing and assembling circuit boards. Whenever someone had car engine problems, Greg was usually able to evaluate and offer advice on repairs.

The modified Ford Van used for Greg's transportation.

By the time Greg was in high school, he had become too heavy to lift from his chair into the car. His brother Brad did most of the lifting at this point. In an effort not to leave him behind, the Grogans began searching for a solution. They soon acquired a Ford van that had been modified. A lift was engineered in the back to raise him in his chair into the back of the van. Whenever his group of friends came over, they were able to drive the van so that Greg could go with them.

“Greg loved sports. He could tell you the players’ names on any football and baseball teams. He could recite any sports statistics you wanted to know — scores, plays,etc,” recalls Arnold Howell.

Greg attended every sporting event in which Brad participated; tennis, football,and track. Greg cheered Brad on at every one of his sporting events — advised him, challenged him and became his biggest fan. Determined to get the most out of life, he adapted an attitude of appreciation. His disability occupied his body, but not his spirit. Brad recalls,“I never once heard my brother complain, feel sorry for himself, express regret or envy about what I was able to do that he could not do. He was always my inspiration in life, there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not grateful for the family I was given. My parents gave their lives for Greg and myself. They made my life extraordinary.”

Mr. Howell recalls leaving Hanna after a long day, exhausted from teaching and arriving at Greg’s house. His grandmother, Janie Strickland, who lived with them, would greet him at the door. “He is down the hall in his room waiting for you.”

Mr. Howell recalls,“Greg was always eager to begin his work and had lots to talk about. He was cooperative and finished his assignments even when writing was difficult for his hands. He never complained. In the three years I taught him, not once did he ever mention his disability. Every time I left his house, I felt better than I did when I got there.”

Although Mr. Howell was there to help Greg, it turns out that the encouragement was reciprocal.

In the late 70’s, Greg was hired by e Vocational Rehabilitation Center to work at Sears Department Store. The center named him Employee of the Year in 1979 and he went on to be the first runner up in the state contest. He was a member of Trinity United Methodist Church and served on the mayor’s Committee on Employment for the Handicapped.

Greg was loved and admired by so many, he developed friendships everywhere he went. Besides his lifelong friends from childhood, he became acquainted with the governor of South Carolina, people at NASA, athletes and lawmakers. His disability didn’t keep him from speaking his peace, he wasn’t one to back down from a challenge. He was also able to take someone else’s problem and help them to talk through it without bringing awareness to his own. He was one in a million. Those who came to know him were inspired by his fortitude and given a gift in the form of a supernatural experience.

In January of 1979, Greg developed pneumonia, usually fatal for anyone with Muscular Dystrophy. He was critically ill for several weeks. Brad recalls being at work in Columbia when his father called to say Greg was back in the hospital. Leaving work, Brad says he thinks he drove over 100 mph to make it to Anderson to see him. Greg died that night at the age of 24, a decade longer than his doctors had anticipated for his life span.

He was chosen as the poster child for Muscular Dystrophy in 1966 and his face appeared on advertisements across the nation. From that time on, his life was a portrayal of courage and a beacon of hope.

As this new school year begins, the story of Greg Grogan, his determination, love of life and learning, serves as inspiration of perseverance, love and acceptance.


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