James Ross DeGroot, “Digger” to those who knew him, “The Mayor of Fish Creek”, and also known (by a few) by his aliases, “Howard Suamico” and “Al Goma”, passed away Tuesday, February 4, 2020 after a long illness at the age of 72.
Digger was born June 12, 1947 in Green Bay to Walter Joseph DeGroot and Grace Evelyn (Pennock) DeGroot. In 1965, he attended school at Green Bay West High, and following his graduation in 1968, he went on to study at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and then the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Digger came to Door County in 1969 and was stationed at Plum Island Life Station with the United States Coast Guard. While in the Coast Guard, he was an acting apprentice at Peninsula Players Theatre in Fish Creek on his days off and later served on the Board of Directors for 35 years.
After the Players, Digger managed the Bayside Tavern for Ray and Millie Walters. In 1973, he jumped five cars on a ten-speed bicycle coming down the Fish Creek hill on the 4th of July.
Next came Jungle Larry’s African Safari in Naples, Florida. He was an animal keeper and performer. Digger did a show twice a day with six chimps: Sparky, Holly, Samantha, Patty, Mark, and Clark.
Digger went on to his next adventure in Alaska and worked for the Betchel Inc. as a recreation director for the Trans Alaskan Pipeline in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Digger came back to Door County in 1978 and started “Digger’s Grill & Pizza”, across from the Peninsula State Park entrance in Fish Creek. He ran that for 22 years.
In the ‘80s, Digger and Pat “St. Patrick” Fagan started Northern Door Charitable Roast, which still continues to this day.
Digger was proud to be a member of Gibraltar Township Smart Growth Planning Commission, Fish Creek Civic Association (where he was a member, board of director, president, and employee for 40 years), AAA, Colombia Records Club, and Sand Bay Moose Lodge.
For relaxation, you could find Digger out on his boat with his fishing pal, Greg Powell.
Digger will be missed by his best friend and wife, JoDee DeGroot; daughter, Kelly Smith (Bill Krohn); grandson, Nate Smith (Edith Garcia); siblings-in-law, Mary (Alex) Siefert and Sue (Paul) Kopf; nephew, Fred Kopf; niece, KaDee (Steve) Callahan; great-niece, Sara Kopf; and many dear friends.
Digger’s family will honor his life with a memorial service at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 9, 2020 at Alexander’s of Door County, 3667 State Highway 42, Fish Creek, WI 54212 with Chaplain John Hauser officiating. Relatives and friends may visit with Digger’s family at Alexander’s on Sunday from 2:00 p.m. until 2:20 p.m. and after the service until 4:00 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given for the “Digger DeGroot Memorial Fund” (at Nicolet Bank, 9405 State Highway 42, Fish Creek, WI 54212) to help support the Noble House Gazebo Fund.
“Thank you to Dr. Richard Hogan and the ICU nurses at Door County Medical Center for all the comfort you gave to Digger.”
Casperson Funeral Home & Cremation Services in Sister Bay is assisting the DeGroot family. Expressions of sympathy, memories, and photos of Digger may be shared with his family through his tribute page at www.caspersonfuneralhome.com.
“I almost had too much fun, hope you do, too!”-Digger
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Digger DeGroot Memorial Fund
Nicolet Bank, 9405 State Highway 42, Fish Creek WI 54212