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Mary Alice Grothe, social worker with children, dies at 77

Children's social worker Mary Alice Grothe died of

Children's social worker Mary Alice Grothe died of cancer Oct. 15, 2014. She was 77. Newsday's obituary for Mary Alice Grothe
Photo Credit: Grothe family

She was a nun, then she was a wife. And a stepmother, a social worker, a singer.

Whatever Mary Alice Grothe did -- counseling inner-city children, launching a social-work career or learning to play bridge -- she did it with a quiet enthusiasm and bright-eyed curiosity that never faded, her family said.

Grothe, who grew up in Long Beach as the oldest of six siblings and returned in the early 1990s, died on Oct. 15 of cancer at a Bronx hospital.

She was 77.

She had an appetite for new pursuits that sometimes surprised those who knew her as private and unassuming -- a woman who spent eight years in a convent after graduating from Fordham University in 1958.

One shock came in the 1990s, after she returned to Long Beach. Her family knew she could sing but was surprised to see her in costume and makeup, throwing herself into theatrical performances of the Greater Nassau Chorus.

"There she is up there, making these facial gestures," said her brother, Thomas Evrard of Long Beach. "It was great to see her like that, sort of out of character."

Grothe performed across the country with the barbershop-style group for more than two decades.

As a recent college graduate, Grothe spurned more lucrative careers to become a nun with the Roman Catholic Religious Order of Helpers of the Holy Souls and counsel children in the slums of Chicago and St. Louis. She later left the order, earned a master's degree in social work from Tulane University and worked for both Nassau and Suffolk counties.

In 1971, she married Carl Grothe, a Suffolk police detective lieutenant, and moved east to Jamesport then south to Cape Coral, Florida, where she served as director of a branch of the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization.

After Carl Grothe's death in 1986 came another surprise, Evrard said. Instead of retiring, Mary Alice Grothe moved back to Long Beach and began commuting to Brooklyn for a social-work job with the Kingsley School For Child Development. She retired in 2006, but continued traveling and learning Spanish, her family said.

In all her pursuits, her talent for listening proved an asset, said her sister, Jeanne Browne of Long Beach.

"She learned because she listened," Browne said. "She listened to people so that they were the only ones in the world, right there."

Grothe is survived by her stepchildren, Wayne Grothe and Gail Fiser; two other sisters, Kathy Orza of Long Beach and Micki Rhodes of Durango, Colorado; another brother, Richard Evrard of Prairie Village, Kansas; and two step-granddaughters.

A wake was held at the Jordan Funeral Home in Island Park on Oct. 20 and 21. A funeral Mass was held at St. Ignatius Martyr Roman Catholic Church in Long Beach on Oct. 23.

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