Married for nearly 70 years, Jane and Norry Gronert died of COVID-19 in the same bed
Wherever Norris Gronert went, you could be sure his wife and middle school sweetheart, Jane, would be right behind.
If Norris — better known as Norry — traveled to a Hawkeye football game, Jane came along to spend time with family.
When Norry went on a business trip to Japan, Jane stayed at home with their teenage girls. But as a two-week assignment stretched into a month-long posting, Jane boarded a jet — her first time on an airplane — and flew to the other side of the world.
They volunteered together, went to church together, hosted big family dinners together and even both maintained large collections — his of collectable lion figurines and hers of clowns.
Not even death could separate them.
On Nov. 11, the Cedar Rapids couple of almost 70 years laid down together in the same bed and died about two hours apart from COVID-19. He was 90 and she was 89.
It was a “super sad” end to a lifelong love story, said the Gronerts’ grandson, Adam Skibbe.
But, in a way, “it’s fitting,” he added.
Now, neither will have to know life without the other.
Norry was born on April 4, 1930, and grew up in Tipton. Jane and her twin sister, Joyce, came along just a year and a month later on May 4, 1931, and lived with her parents in Bennett. Tragedy struck Jane’s life early when Joyce died at 10 years old.
A few years later, a fire closed down the Bennett school and Jane, then in eighth grade, was bused to Tipton. There, she met Norry and their decades-long love story began.
Eventually making their home in tiny Midway, Iowa, the couple married in 1951, just as Norry was finishing up service in the U.S. Navy.
For nearly 40 years, Norry was employed at Collins Radio — which later became part of Rockwell Collins — where he worked on early GPS technology.
He “was a computer guy before computers were a thing,” Adam said.
In the early 90s, when Adam was about 10 years old, he and his grandfather would pass time playing on his computer; Norry dropping bits of knowledge that fueled Adam’s interest.
“Originally, he would teach me computer stuff,” Adam said. “Then at some point you take over and you're better than them and then they start asking you the questions.”
Now a data analyst at the University of Iowa, Adam has been tasked with making detailed maps, using, in part, the technology his grandfather worked on all those decades ago.
While Norry clocked in at the office, Jane mostly stayed home with their four girls, though she sometimes worked as a teacher’s aide in a local school district.
Jane was the family disciplinarian, said Adam’s mother, Joyce Skibbe, who was named for Jane’s sister.
But Jane was also fiercely protective of her children.
In the late 1970s, Jan Rosko, the Gronerts’ youngest daughter, applied and was accepted to the United States Air Force Academy. But when the institution found out Jan had eczema, they pulled her admission.
“Mom went on the rampage and wrote letters and stuff to whoever was in (office) at the time,” Joyce said.
Jane's agitation worked, Joyce said, and Jan entered the Academy with her class.
Jane later revealed that, personally, she didn’t even want her daughter to go into the Air Force.
“She did this to support me and my dream,” Jan wrote in a text message.
The Gronert clan grew to include six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, all of whom were welcomed at the ancestral home in Midway.
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Norry and Jane stayed active outside of work and home life, too, according to their obituary. Norry served on the board of the Toddville Free Methodist Church and Jane taught Sunday school.
Norry also lent a hand with the local American Legion and Lions Club, always willing to flip pancakes or fry up fish at fundraisers.
And Jane whipped up desserts for Norry’s various events, while additionally supporting and promoting blood donation, a cause close to her heart.
A few years ago, Jane was diagnosed with dementia and Norry threw himself into being her caretaker. But in March 2018, when her needs became too much for him to handle by himself, they moved to The Keystones of Cedar Rapids, a senior living complex.
When the pandemic hit Iowa, Keystones restricted visitors. The family tried to stay in contact through distanced visits — Norry and Jane standing on the deck of their second-floor apartment and family gathered below.
In April, when Norry turned 90, the family hosted a car parade, waving at their patriarch from afar.
The couple made it safely through the spring and summer, but, in November, Jane tested positive for COVID-19. She went to the hospital, but quickly returned to the couple’s small apartment.
Norry tested positive soon after, and the virus tore through their systems fast.
The night before their deaths, the couple laid down together, just as they had for nearly seven decades.
And in the early morning hours of Nov. 11, Norry took his last breath.
As his body was being removed from the couple’s shared room, Jane looked toward her husband and stretched out her hand, family said.
Then, as she had for their entire marriage, she went with him.
This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 600 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
Ken Crane, 77, Atlantic. A school bus driver for Atlantic Community Schools who referred to the students as "his kids."
Glenda Harms, 58, Fort Dodge. A fierce and passionate champion for her students in the Fort Dodge public school system.
Roger Henn, 73, Forest City. Retired in Arkansas to fulfill his dream of golfing year-round.
David Herndon, 61, Des Moines. A collector of toy helicopters and cars who always sported a fancy hat and belt.
Scott Holtan, 62, Thor. Volunteered at Davenport's All Saints Lutheran Church food pantry every Saturday.
Thomas Howes, 74, Dubuque. A longtime fast-pitch softball catcher who had scars on his legs to prove it.
David Kelley, 64, Stratford. Spent his free time playing and listening to bluegrass.
Jim Killam, 70, Des Moines. Passionate about teaching, whether through church or through soccer.
James Kleppe, 79, Coralville.
Herman Kurk III, 94, South Amana. Enjoyed wandering the Iowa countryside to visit his neighbors.
Chris Nelson, 58, Indianola. Active in the United Auto Workers, he fought for union members to receive a livable wage and be treated with dignity and respect
Heidi Ruhrer, 63, Moville. Loved the family's summer trips to Minnesota.
Larry Stalter, 73, Iowa City. Received his medical education at the University of Iowa before opening a medical museum in Cullom, Illinois, with his wife.
William Strothkamp, 77, Quad Cities. Started his own business because he "never could find a boss he liked."
Gary Thomas, 56, Des Moines. A natural horseman with a love for blazing his own trails.
Dennis White, 81, Mount Pleasant. Coached little league baseball and junior bowling.
Larry Wright, 78, Northwood. Loved to fly the wild blue yonder in his Cessna 182.