By Kimberly Walsh, Anna Pluff, and Gabby Tanksley
As students, we can all relate to that feeling of shock we get when we see our teachers in public and think: “I can’t believe they have a life out of school” or “I hope they don’t see me” as we hide ourselves behind a shelf and try to act normal. We form an image in which a teacher’s life revolves around their students and it is hard to imagine the kind of life a teacher may lead otherwise. Regardless of student perceptions, teachers do have lives outside of school.
Jamesville-DeWitt High School Chemistry teacher Theresa Groman is one of these teachers living an unkown life. She enjoys hiking, which has been a life long hobby. Mrs. Groman is accompanied on her hikes by her two sons and her husband. So far, she has climbed nine out of the 46 High Peaks in the Adirondacks. Unhappy with this fact, Mrs. Groman hopes to continue hiking and climbing the rest of the peaks with her family. Her family is also a big part of her life since everyday after school she goes home to be a “mom”. Often this means from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., when her kids settle in for bed, she puts chemistry aside to spend time with her two boys.
As a chemistry teacher, she has also developed interesting new talents. When she taught Materials Chemistry, she was able to refine her tie-dying skills so well that she can make a tie-dyed shirt with an alien head on the front, complete with a spaceship on the back. Even though she doesn’t teach Materials Chem this year, she still enjoys tie-dying.
One of Mrs. Groman’s many other pastimes is her love for photography. Mrs. Groman fell in love with photography after she recieved her first camera from her father. Her now-retired father still gives her tripods, cameras, and filters that she’s eager to try. Mrs. Groman has trail cameras set up on her camp property to capture the movement of wildlife. She enjoys uploading these pictures to her Instagram account, which features many wild foxes and various nature pictures.
The biggest part of Mrs. Groman’s life is her camp on Lake Ontario. Rather than grading chemistry papers all weekend, she prefers to spend her spare time and summers up at the lake. To her and her family, it is not just a place to spend the weekends, it is a place of value. It was those summers spent at the camp which sparked Mrs. Groman’s interest in science and the natural world. Mrs. Groman goes boating with her family often. Occasionally, she goes paddle boarding, which is standing on a surfboard and paddling with a paddle.
Mrs. Groman’s grandfather, Dr. Stanley A. Groman, bought the camp, along with 200 acres of land, in the 1940s. One hundred acres were used to develop rental sites and Rail City. Rail City Museum (aka RCM) was the first steam-operating railroad museum in the United States. It is located in the Town of Sandy Creek, NY, which is on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario.
Rail City offers an extensive collection of authentic railroad locomotives, rail cars, streetcars, interurbans, buildings, structures, and equipment that included 16 full-size steam locomotives to be viewed. The highlight of the museum is a 1.5 mile train ride with No. 11, a 2-6-0 Baldwin locomotive formerly from the Bath and Hammandsport Railroad, at the head of the train. The website states, “The history of Rail City is a fascinating account of how an eccentric visionary, Dr. Stanley A. Groman from Syracuse, NY, single-handedly saved a score of locomotives, railroad cars, trolleys, track, original buildings and structures from the scrap heap.” Mrs. Groman’s grandfather was even featured in the December, 1995 issue of TRAINS magazine. “Rail City opened on July 4, 1955 and hosted over 30,000 visitors in its first year of operation. And even after its grand opening, Dr. Groman continued his quest for authentic railroad equipment and structures. Rail City Museum located on "Scenic Route 3" was a major tourist attraction not only in New York State but the northeast United States and Canada as well.” RCM is still available during certain seasons by appointment.
Mrs. Groman’s grandfather never made the land private, so on summer days people would take their boats over to the beach to spend the day there. Only accessible by boat, it became known as Boat Beach. Unfortunately, years of people walking over the beaches and grasses destroyed the dunes, and with nothing to hold the sand in place, winds took a toll on the dunes. When Mrs. Groman was in college, she volunteered to work with the Nature Conservancy to make and post signs asking people to stay off the dune grass.
When her grandfather died in 1992, his beach was the largest undeveloped beach on the 17 mile barrier of sand dune beaches on the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. Mrs. Groman and her family realized that this land would need protection from development so they worked with the Nature Conservancy, who had bought the beach in 1988 and was able to save it from future development.
In order to prevent more people from walking on the dune grass and destroying the beach, the Nature Conservancy built a walkover from Sandy Pond to the lake. In the 16 years since, Mrs. Groman has been able to watch the grass grow back and the dunes be restored. “The change today is incredible. It is amazing to me to see how the land today has recovered from being leveled,” she said. It was also amazing for her to see how the land is now home to all sorts of wildlife and trees. The land that used to be flat enough for her grandfather to land his plane on, is now covered with beach grass and sand dunes. In the past, when Mrs. Groman and her family were in the process of trying to get the Nature Conservancy to buy the beach, she volunteered to help a woman performing a master’s degree research study on the vegetation of Eastern Lake Ontario sand dunes. The woman’s knowledge of all the animal species inspired Mrs. Groman to take the Field Biology class at Cornell.
During this class at Cornell University, Mrs. Groman’s interest in nature expanded as she learned all the bird songs and tree names in New York. She also learned all of the fish and mammal species in the state. Today, Mrs. Groman can still recognize 85-90 percent of the bird songs and name the various trees and grasses that grow in NY.
The protected woods at Lake Ontario are where Mrs. Groman likes to set up her trail cameras along the old growth trees. In addition to creating Rail City, her grandfather preserved 80 acres of forest. There she takes her famous fox pictures that you often find posted on her social media; it now makes sense to many that her Instagram username is “sanddunes19”.