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Seniors lift voices to raise money

Lots of things fade with age, but 75 seniors from across southeastern Hillsborough County will set out to prove Sunday that their voices haven't lost their luster.

And they'll use those voices to raise money for music students in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Polk counties.

Leading the group of mostly retirees will be 80-year-old Sun City Center resident Kenneth Grom. He is celebrating 65 years as an organist and 60 years as a choir director.

"Oh, I'm excited about it," said Grom. "Of course, I was excited when I celebrated my 50th year. I thought that was really making history."

Sunday's one-hour concert, at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church is free, but donations are encouraged. The money collected _ as much as $4,000 in previous years _ will go to the scholarship fund Grom established in 1998 to help young music students pay for school, books and equipment.

The concert will feature singers from 11 local churches and one Jewish temple. The St. Andrew and Friends chorus members represent choirs from Ruskin, Sun City Center and Summerfield; they range in age from 50 to late 80s.

Grom started the concert eight years ago, as a way to celebrate music and faith and to cultivate friendships among area retirees. Last year's concert drew about 550 people and raised more than $1,000.

"A lot of people think of people in their 80s as over the hill," said event manager and chorus member Charleen Wilson of Sun City Center. "But you should hear these singers."

Grom hasn't let age slow him down, either.

"I keep thinking I'm going to retire, but it hasn't actually happened yet!" said Grom, who moved to Sun City Center nine years ago with his wife Lorrie.

He started playing piano at age 8 in Barrington, Ill. In his early teens, while helping his grandfather do chores at the local church, "I finally got up the nerve to ask him to play that big church organ," Grom recalled. "That's when I really became smitten."

He played at a local theater, and in World War II was a chaplain's assistant, playing for soldiers during services or hospital visits. He attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music, and enjoyed a long career as an organ and piano instructor.

"Then we moved here, and I thought for sure I'd retire," Grom chuckled.

Director of music at St. Andrew, every fall Grom focuses his attention on the concert. He and Wilson assemble the chorus through invitations to local churches, then begin eight weeks of rehearsals.

This year, Grom selected songs with a common theme of peace.

"I was inspired by a phrase," he said. God is the being that can make war cease.

Sun City Center resident Kenneth Grom, 80, will direct Sunday's one-hour concert at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. The show is free, but donations are encouraged for a scholarship fund.