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
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.”