Fix-it ministry

Roy Gritter ’51


Summer 2012

Through eight decades and from one end of the country to the other, Roy Gritter ’51 has been a fixer, a problem solver. It’s a habit of mind he’s made into a ministry.

He learned to do electrical work, plumbing and carpentry as a kid, then took a scientific turn, first as a chemistry professor at the University of Connecticut, then as a chemist at IBM Research. His job there often involved troubleshooting, fixing problems at company facilities around the country. Outside the lab, he chaired the committee that built a new sanctuary and parsonage for the San Jose Christian Reformed Church and chaired the board of the CRC’s Friendship House Association of American Indians in San Francisco. In both those roles he outfitted himself with a tool belt.

After retiring from IBM in 1990, he and wife Jean Ann moved to Honolulu for the health of her lungs. It just so happened that the CRC’s Pacific Community Church there needed both a secretary and maintenance volunteer, and Gritter happily stepped forward. When the church closed five years later, he looked for a place to put his fix-it skills to good service. 

He found it at his Friday morning snorkeling group. Soon after moving to Honolulu, he was invited to join the group, which meets at dawn every Friday morning to snorkel in Hanauma Bay, then have breakfast together on the beach. The protected bay’s large, rich coral reef teems with marine life and attracts up to 3,000 visitors a day. 

A nature preserve and marine conservation district, Hanauma Bay is maintained by both the city and the state. But, “All that traffic means there’s always upkeep,” Gritter said. So every Tuesday he begins a 10-hour day picking up trash and debris along the beach. Next he checks the washrooms, fixing locks, broken pipes, showerheads and other fixtures. Then he might paint the yellow edges of steps or white parking lines. Or do a little ad-hoc carpentry. Or trim the shrubs. When he finishes at the bay, he takes his tools to eight other parks nearby.  

“I want everyone who comes here to appreciate the beauty of the area without any eyesores,” he said.

Helping people appreciate beauty continues in a different way the next day. On Wednesday mornings, after a short snorkel to check on water conditions, Gritter serves as a docent at the bay’s education kiosk. With his extensive knowledge of tropical fish, he helps snorkelers identify which among 100 species they may have seen.

On Friday and Saturday mornings Gritter is back attacking eyesores—namely graffiti, especially in Honolulu’s Chinatown. His backpack stuffed with bags and scrapers, solvent and paint, he rides his bike to blighted light poles and signs.

“I’m a chemist,” he noted, “so I know the solvent that will take off Magic Marker. The same solvent dissolves the glue on mailing labels, which gangs write their names and symbols on. After spraying the solvent, I’ve got 10 seconds to scrape off the label. The graffiti that’s spray painted on, I paint over. There are a lot of freshly painted poles in Chinatown. 

“People help me out. One lady gave me $50. A number of others have given me $20. Lots of people, including the police, say ‘Thank you.’

“I have a lot of fun. Ephesians 2:10 says, ‘We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand.’ The way I see it, God had all this prepared for me.”