John DeGroot named Citizen of the Year

John DeGroot is one of those rare individuals who doesn’t mind fundraising.

While others might dislike asking for donations for their favourite cause, DeGroot says he chooses projects that bring “good stuff” to the community and surrounds himself with people he considers strong.

That makes it possible for his ideas like the Awesome Foundation to be successful, he says.

“What’s the worst thing that can happen when you ask for a donation? They can say no,” he laughs.  “It doesn’t bother me. You just have to have the right frame of mind.”

Others in our community obviously respect DeGroot’s frame of mind.

His positive approach to just about everything was one of the reasons the Sarnia-Lambton Chamber of Commerce named him Citizen of the Year last month.

DeGroot earned it, says chamber president Rory Ring.

“He embodies the spirit and enthusiasm that make things happen in Sarnia.

Judges for the 2014 Outstanding Business Awards gala where DeGroot was named Citizen of the Year were looking for someone with leadership skills beyond the workplace.

DeGroot, 56, was born and raised in Sarnia and owns the garden centre his parents started in 1957.  He has a diploma in landscape and agriculture, but it’s the knowledge he gleaned over a lifetime that’s made Degroot’s Nurseries on London Line a success.

“How can you not enjoy plants?” he asks with characteristic breeziness. “Stuff moves, it grows, it never stays the same.  What’s not to like?”

Operating his own business – and trusting that others at the garden centre don’t need micromanaging – has enabled DeGroot to be deeply involved in his community.

He’s been a Rotarian for 20 years and started Sarnia’s Awesome Foundation last year.  He said he was astounded when 10 people stepped forward within a week to contribute $100 a month of their own money.

“The Awesome Foundation is somewhat goofy. That’s why I like it,” said DeGroot.  “We’re helping folks who cannot go to traditional sources for money.”

At various times, he served on the Sarnia General Hospital board and the Bluewater Health Foundation.  He’s also a big supporter of the Parkinson Society.

All this while raising two sons, ages 18 and 20, with his wife Cheryl.

“People are sometimes hard on Sarnia, but I don’t think it’s so bad,” he says. “We are at the end of the road geographically. But on the other hand, it’s neat here with the bridge and the lake. We have a nice-looking community.

“I think people could be more positive,” he adds. “We may be struggling a bit economically but life isn’t all about economics.”

– Cathy Dobson