Late last week, the City of York lost one of its greatest champions and the York Revolution lost one of its biggest fans in the passing of the iconic Voni Grimes.
Voni was an American hero who fought for his country in World War II. He was an unrelenting volunteer for and inspiration behind myriad initiatives that have benefitted countless members of his community. He was a friend to all of York who brightened the day of anyone he met. And he was the very model of a loving husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather.
We at the York Revolution were fortunate and grateful to have our own unique connection to Voni, whose harmonica performances of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch were a staple of Revs games for more than 10 years. He was an integral part of the PeoplesBank Park experience, and the staff, players, coaches, and fans of the Revolution were among Voni’s biggest fans.
It was only fitting that when we hosted the 2011 Atlantic League All-Star Game, we honored Voni during pre-game ceremonies, presenting the city and team’s number one fan with the No. 1 All-Star jersey, which he wore nearly every time he came back to the ballpark. We honored him again in 2016 with a Voni Grimes musical bobblehead. We could have honored him a dozen times more and not thanked him enough.
For that game seven years ago, Revolution General Manager John Gibson crafted the words used to express our gratitude in the pre-game ceremony. They tell a small part of Voni’s story and the large impact he had on so many in the city he loved. Now that he’s gone, there’s probably no perfect way to sum up Voni, but those sentiments from July 13, 2011, are a good way to start.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
We are gathered here today to honor and celebrate the players and coaches in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball, warriors on the basepaths and on the field of play. We would like at this time to honor one of York’s all stars as well.
Many fans have seen and participated in a tradition here at the ballpark, the performance of “Take me out to the Ballgame” by Voni Grimes.
Voni has been performing at the stadium since it was constructed in 2007, and for many people, that may be what they know Voni for best. As with most things in life, there is much more to the story, and much more to the Voni Grimes story.
Born in Bamberg, South Carolina in 1922 to Mittie and McKinley Grimes, Voni moved north with his family to York in 1926. At the time Voni entered school, York was still very much a segregated town, which included the school system. Voni was an extremely hard worker, walking to Miller’s Farm 5 miles west of downtown York several times a week to work on the farm, and bringing baskets to one of several farmers markets in York at the time.
Upon graduation from William Penn High School, Voni sought instruction and employment in the sheet metal industry, as the war efforts demanded increased production from our nation. Drafted in 1944, Voni served in the Pacific Theater in Guam until the end of the war in 1945, and was honorably discharged in 1946.
Returning to York, Voni and wife Irene started their new lives together, and planned out their lives. Voni and Irene planned on moving into their dream home when they turned 50, and planned on moving into the Yorktowne Hotel when they turned 75. The Yorktowne was a segregated hotel when Voni grew up, and Voni vowed that they would live at the landmark hotel in York. So the Grimes’ began accumulating real estate in hopes of achieving those goals, and once again ran into resistance from a segregated community. Realtors refused to show Voni certain properties in the more well-to-do neighborhoods, but that did not stop Voni and Irene from continuing to climb towards their goal.
In 1968, Irene Grimes passed away from cancer, before she and Voni could move into their dream home. Voni, a member of A.M.E. Zion Church for 77 years, prayed for God for strength and help in recovering from this tragic event. In 1969, Voni met Lorrayne and they have now been married for 41 years.
Voni then secured a position with Penn State-York, and is responsible for transforming the campus into what it looks like today. As business manager at the campus, his methods and organizational skills were emulated throughout the Penn State university system.
Voni and Lorrayne have been active in volunteering and community events in their private lives: Voni has taught Judo for 20 years, and is a black belt; is an active member of the A.M.E. Zion Church; founded the York County Legal Services, which provides legal assistance to all in need; co-founded the York County Parks and Recreation Department; was the District Governor for the Lions Club; founded the Voni B. Grimes gym near the Crispus Attucks Center; and has continuously counseled many young York residents on the value of education.
Voni did achieve his dream, and moved into the Yorktowne Hotel at the age of 75. For someone who has achieved so much in the face of adversity and bigotry, the move to this iconic hotel was a fitting conclusion of the progress that both Voni and the York community had made.
Fans, please join me in celebrating York’s brightest all-star and community leader as we present Voni his own All-Star jersey.
– John Gibson, General Manager / Vice President of Operations