Before he could describe the extermination of millions of people across Eastern Europe to his students back in Florida, Larry Grimes wanted to trod the same earth.
Emerging from a thick forest in Lithuania, Grimes and a group of educators came upon a hilly clearing where a small plaque marked one of the burial sites for Holocaust victims.
“Walking through the woods, it’s so quiet and peaceful,” Grimes told the Jewish Press of Tampa about the trip in 2017. “These people took the same walk. When you find them, these small mounds and markers, it’s very powerful. They were just left that way.”
Grimes, a Crawfordsville native, died May 26 in Tampa, Florida. He was 70.
His death was confirmed by his wife Mary Ann Jorgensen, who said the cause was ALS.
Grimes was a math and history teacher at a Christian school in Tampa when a tour of Auschwitz in the mid-2000s sparked a passion for teaching about genocide, though he had to develop his own curriculum due to a lack of materials on the subject.
“It’s something that isn’t taught a lot. We need to keep the stories of this important part of history alive,” he told the Journal Review in 2010.
Grimes led student trips to the concentration camps and befriended Holocaust survivor Eva Kor, founder of the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute. He accompanied Kor on a trip to Poland that was featured in a documentary.
He also met with genocide survivors in Cambodia and Rwanda, where he was joined by Christian missionary Carl Wilkens.
Wilkens, who had been running a humanitarian relief agency in Rwanda when the 1994 genocide unfolded, was the only American who remained in the country as armed militias killed as many as 800,000 people over a hundred days.
The Jewish Federation of the Righteous, an organization supporting non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, recognized Grimes as a teacher of the year and awarded him a fellowship.
Grimes was also named a teacher fellow by the United States Holocaust Museum. After retiring from teaching, Grimes joined the staff of the Florida Holocaust Museum.
Larry Ray Grimes was born June 22, 1950 in Crawfordsville. His father Robert, known as Burley, was a printer at R.R. Donnelley and a hall-of-fame basketball player from New Ross High School. His mother Madonna was the longtime secretary for the athletic department at Wabash College.
Along with Jorgensen, Grimes is survived by their daughter and three sons from a previous marriage.
Like his father, Grimes was a standout on the high school basketball court. Playing for Crawfordsville, he led the team in scoring both his junior and senior years.
“If the ball took a crazy bounce off the rim, he was there. He always had a real knack for being around the ball,” teammate Bob Hodges said.
Grimes racked up 590 points his senior year, the most points scored in the non-three-point area for the Athenians, according to Montgomery County basketball historian Jerry Whalen. Grimes scored a career total of 997 points and joined his father in the hall of fame.
As team captain during his senior year in 1968, Grimes led the Athenians to the sectional, where Crawfordsville bested New Market, Linden and Waveland by an average 38.6 points. Crawfordsville advanced to the regional, but lost to Greencastle by one point.
Grimes went on to a record-setting career at Michigan Technological University, where he led the league in scoring four consecutive seasons. He contributed a total of 2,360 points, a record that stood until last year.
He still holds the record for the most field goals, free throws and most 30-point games, according to Whalen. After graduation, Grimes tried out with the Detroit Pistons.
Grimes moved from Michigan to Florida, where he married his first wife. The marriage ended in 1992. Grimes was a school teacher in Orlando and later worked as a flight attendant. He and Jorgensen, a fellow flight attendant, met in Buenos Aires and they were married in 1995.
Jorgensen crocheted scarves for genocide survivors across eastern Europe, who would meet with Grimes during his trips.
“It helped him to develop more of a personal touch when he taught the Holocaust to his students,” Jorgensen said.
When Grimes could no longer read the more than 1,000 books he’d collected, he wanted to give them away to people interested in the Holocaust and present-day genocide. Teachers and other history buffs responded to Jorgensen’s appeal on the Next Door app.
Part of the collection allowed a new teacher to start a history section in their classroom.
The remaining books will be sent to a museum in New York, Jorgensen said.