Written by Connie Kingman

John Groppe was born in Brooklyn on April 23, 1933, and raised in the Bronx, completing all of

his education through his MA in New York City. While doing further graduate work at Notre 

Dame University in 1962, he was offered and accepted a position with St Joseph’s College in 

Rensselaer, Indiana, from which he is now retired, honored with the title Professor Emeritus. 

John and his wife, Rose Marie, had just been married when he they came to Rensselaer and have 

five grown children: Elizabeth, Jennifer, Maureen, John, David, and nine grandchildren.

 

A respected member of the area’s art community, John is both a photographer and a writer. His

first encounter with the camera came during high school when he began developing film in a 

makeshift darkroom in a bathroom and has remained interested in photography ever since. He 

grew up before the prominence of television when photo magazines such as Life were the 

primary visual medium other than film.

 

In 2003, upon retirement from his position as Professor of English at St. Joseph’s College, John 

took a dark room class at the college. It was at this time, before adapting to digital photography, 

he walked around the campus and biked the surrounding roads searching for images to capture. 

Returning home to get his camera while the images were still fresh in his mind, he returned to 

snap the photos. He got his first 35mm camera in the early 1980s and began exhibiting his photos 

in the Jasper County Art League’s annual exhibits.

 

Today, John prefers to capture still lifes with his camera. Although these images take time to set

up, both in staging and lighting, they require no travel time. “I cannot bike far these days,” he 

said. His most recent still life is created from inspiration drawn from Vincent van Gogh’s 

painting of his hiking boots. John’s still life is entitled Prime Movers, a color photograph of his 

work-worn boots against a blue background. It will be on display at the Wells Center in Lafayette 

during January as part of Jasper County Art League’s traveling exhibition “Primary Colors.”

 

John enjoys visiting art museums. There, he studies all forms of art to develop a sense of what 

makes a work of art great—study not in a formal way through instructor and classroom, but 

intuitively, on his own. This simple task of observation leads him to the elements and principles 

of design and teaches him techniques and basics such as composition, angles, and cropping. 

When a busy museum makes it difficult to linger for any length of time, John, when possible, 

takes photographs of work that interests him to further study at home.

 

For his photographic endeavors, John has received the following awards: honorable mention 

from a recent NICHES exhibition; a number of grand champion ribbons from the Jasper County 

Fair; and most recently from the Fair, both a grand champion and reserve champion ribbon for 

separate photographs.

 

John first thought of himself as a writer while taking a short story course in college. In returning 

an assignment, his professor approached John and quizzed him about it as he thought John had 

copied it from Seventeen, a popular teen magazine at that time. John was more flattered than 

insulted at this idea, and must have eased his professor’s suspicions, for his story received an A. 

Inspired by his professor’s suspicions, John sent his story to Seventeen, only to have it returned 

to him—his first professional rejection. He continued to write short stories and received 

recognition when his “A Shred of Decency” was designated an Outstanding Story of the Year in 

The Best Short Stories of 1969.

 

Today, inspiration to write comes to John from things he “reads, phrases and situations, and, at 

times, the inability to sleep, when things come to mind and ideas percolate.” His story “The Bird 

Died—A Parable in One Act,” which appeared in From the Edge of the Prairie 2012, came about 

one late, sleepless night as he worked out the dialogue in his mind, laughing to himself.

 

When asked how his writing has evolved, John answers, “Initially, my poetry was about my 

experiences as a father and my observations of nature outside my windows in the back yard. 

More recently, I have given myself to poetry that is much more self-consciously tied with 

religious themes. Some of these poems have grown out of the opportunity I had in 1990 during a 

six-week faculty development program in Israel. The historical studies in that program enabled 

me to have a concrete, vicarious sense of what Jerusalem might have looked like in Jesus’ day 

and how the people might have felt at that time.”

 

John enjoys reading books authored by writers “who are self-conscious about the use of language

—those who have things to say and stories to tell but whose work shows a concern for the way in 

which the story is told with careful word choices and arrangements.” He notes writers like 

novelist John Updike and poet Seamus Heaney.

 

Outside of the arts, John has accumulated a wealth of professional experiences, associations,

fellowships and honors, publications, and papers. Within the arts, he has given generously of his 

time to volunteering, having served the artist community by sitting on the boards of the Prairie 

Arts Council, Jasper County Art League, and Prairie Writers Guild. John’s name appears on the 

Literary Map of Indiana: 200 Years—200 Writers 1816-2016 under the poetry heading. This map 

was created as part of the celebration of Indiana’s Bicentennial. He has two chapbooks in the 

mail to publishers and is hoping that one of them will be published.

 

John’s deep respect for the area’s artists inspired these words, “What is a much overlooked 

resource in this area is our artistic community. When people think of artistic communities, they 

immediately name places like Brown County where people come from around the country to 

paint and show their work. Our community is home grown. It is a community of artists who 

support one another and produce quality art in a variety of art forms from painting to music to 3-

dimensional work to photography to writing. The more advanced artists appreciate the beginning 

artists and encourage them to continue to develop their art. I would not have become the 

photographer I am without the encouragement of the Jasper County Art League and PAC, and 

my writing has been encouraged by The Prairie Writers Guild.”

 

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