Buyers Honored with Wool Excellence Awards
Charlie Chase and Grant Groenewold devoted much of their lives to buying, selling and promoting U.S. wool, and their efforts will be honored this month at the ASI Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., as they receive the American Wool Council’s Wool Excellence Award.
While neither of the recipients will make the trip to Arizona, the industry will applaud their achievements during the Wool Recognition Lunch on Thursday, Jan. 28.
Charlie started to work for Burlington Industries Wool Company in Clarksville, Va., on Sept. 1, 1972. Charlie had previously worked in the wool trade and came to BI Wool Company from Mariner & Company in Boston.
Charlie served in many capacities within BI Wool Company, including the role of vice president. His responsibilities included traveling west during the wool buying season each year to visit ranches, attend sales in the various states and visit wool warehouses. Charlie was responsible for preparing the blends for the Clarksville Combing plant.
He also traveled overseas to Australia, South Africa and South America, visiting suppliers and examining wool that was purchased for Burlington. Through the years at Burlington, Charlie purchased millions of pounds of greasy wool from the U.S. and all across the world. He examined all of this wool as it passed through the Clarksville Combing Plant.
Charlie created and cherished many friendships and relationships with growers and buyers during his 22 years with Burlington. Those friendships remain today. Charlie retired in December 1994.
He and his wife, Billie, live in Wilmington, N.C., enjoying the beach, exercising every day and continuing their compassion for people as they volunteer with multiple church and civilian organizations.
Grant was born July 4, 1931, in Freeport, Ill., to Gertrude and George Groenewold. His father was an immigrant from Germany. For a few years, Grant lived in German Valley, Ill. He also lived in and attended school in Forreston, Ill. Eventually, Grant worked for his father at Groenewold Fur and Wool Co. and later enlisted in the Army, where he 15 months in the Korean War from 1951 to 1953.
After his discharge from the military, Grant worked for M. C. Kraft, a hide and wool business in Springfield, Ill., for 18 months. He returned to Forreston once again in 1958 and purchased his father’s business. It was a small business consisting of one building and two trucks secured on credit.
At that time, Grant was both the fur buyer and the wool buyer. He would buy wool directly from the producers, and secured several shearers to also buy wool. He would deliver a load of wool to Caron Spinning Mill in Rochelle, Ill., and then continue on to pick up another load for the following day.
Grant began to export wool in the late 1960’s to BWK in Germany, near his grandfather’s home in the town of Emden. He exported wool to Poland, England, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, Egypt, India, China, Japan, Argentina and Holland.
Groenewold Fur and Wool Co. also began exporting fur in 1960. GFW is now the largest wild fur buyer in the United States.
Groenewold Fur and Wool Co. services customers all across the world. The company employs 15 full-time and 21 seasonal employees, many of whom have worked there for 20-plus years. They have approximately 125 wool buyers across the midwest and eastern United States.
Grant has custom-fabricated trucks, trailers and machinery designed specifically for the fur and wool industries, and believes in operating a business with low overhead costs. He tried to sort and package as close to 1,000 pounds of wool per man hour as possible.
Grant and his wife of 56 years, Beverly, still live in Forreston. They have four children and eight grandchildren. Groenewold Fur and Wool Co. is now owned and operated by Grant’s three sons, Greg, Guy and Gary.