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'Golden boy' was everyday hero to pals

Between his childhood in South Tampa to a truly awful Gator football team, Bobby Gruetzmacher collected friends easily.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 15, 2002

SOUTH WESTSHORE -- In the 1930s, Bobby Gruetzmacher was part of the Palma Ceia 10, a group of young boys looking for adventure on the streets of South Tampa.

They jumped off moving phosphate trains into rain-filled ditches. They climbed stairs to the top of Tampa's highest building to walk the edge. They won the 1944 state football championship for Plant High School.

They went to college, fought in World War II, then went back to college.

Six attended the University of Florida and became friends for life. After one died as a young man, the others regrouped as the Palma Ceia Five.

The five -- Gruetzmacher, Buddy Carte, Walter "Buckie" Allen, Fletcher Groves and Peter Taylor -- shared family vacations at the beach, fishing and hunting trips and the ordinary days of their lives.

Now only Allen remains.

Mr. Gruetzmacher was 75 when he died Saturday of complications from a stroke.

At a Tuesday service in celebration of his life, Allen recalled his friend Gritzy.

"He was the golden boy," Allen told the many people at the noon service at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church. "You know Gritzy wasn't much of a dancer. He really wasn't. But he was a great, great athlete. He lettered in four sports: baseball, football, track and basketball.

"And he was so good-looking we sent him out first to scare up the girls."

Widow Jeanne Gruetzmacher smiled at that.

Her husband of 51 years was remembered as a loyal friend, devoted father and grandfather, a star athlete and a courageous soldier who survived numerous jumps from war planes.

Mr. Gruetzmacher's many accomplishments included his involvement as a founding member of the Hillsborough Association for Retarded Citizens and the MacDonald Training Center.

"My granddad is a hero to many people," said Mark Gruetzmacher Jr.

"And he's a hero to me too."

Among Mr. Gruetzmacher's other distinctions: He was a member of one of the worst football teams in Gator history.

For many years, the Gruetzmacher family attended annual reunions of the "Golden Era," the period between 1946 and 1949 when the team lost 13 consecutive games, nine in one season. Each year, the group of about 100 former football players and their families celebrate the good old days.

Members of that group, as well as their children and grandchildren, attended Mr. Gruetzmacher's memorial service.

Bobby Ennis said the close bond between the former players wasn't hard to explain. "Nobody on campus would speak to us. We had to stick together," he said.

When the group meets in July at the Plantation Inn in Crystal River, there'll be a moment of silence for the passing of yet another friend.

Mr. Gruetzmacher leaves his wife, two sons, Mark and Keith; a daughter, Lyn; a brother, Curt; and five grandchildren.

-- City Times chronicles the lives of the famous and not-so-famous. To suggest an obituary, e-mail or call 226-3382.

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