By DON McINTOSH
Ralph Groener, a retired longtime union lobbyist for Oregon AFSCME, died in his Oregon City home June 1 after a battle with cancer. He was 80.
As a state legislator, he helped pass Oregon’s landmark land use law. Later, he spent 28 years at the Oregon State Capitol representing Oregon AFSCME, one of the state’s largest public sector unions.
He was born Theodore Ralph Groner on Dec. 25, 1941, in Oregon City. His late father was a mill worker and member of the Association of Western Pulp & Paper Workers (AWPPW). His mother was a restaurant worker and member of the restaurant workers union. Later in life along with several other family members he changed his name to Groener to more accurately reflect their German ancestry.
After graduating from West Linn High School in 1960, Groener spent four years in the U.S. Air Force. While serving near Denver, he was awarded the Airman’s Medal for heroism after he risked his life to rescue three people from drowning, swimming them to shore after a boat crash.
After the Air Force, Groener earned a bachelor’s degree in social science from University of Oregon in 1969 and ever after remained an avid lifelong Ducks fan.
Following in the footsteps of his uncle, Oregon State Sen. Richard Groener, he ran for the Oregon House of Representatives in 1972, won election, and served two two-year terms. In 1973, at a time when homosexual acts were still illegal in most of the country, he cosponsored a bill to ban employment discrimination against gays and lesbians. It didn’t pass, but that same year he helped pass SB 100, the landmark law that established urban growth boundaries and created Metro as an elected regional government.
He also served on the board of Clackamas Community College from 1971 to 1983. After his time in the legislature, he was elected Clackamas County commissioner and served two four-year terms. In 1978 he was one of seven candidates for Oregon Labor Commissioner in the Democratic primary (the office was later made nonpartisan), but lost to Mary Wendy Roberts.
In 1990, he went to work as a lobbyist for Oregon AFSCME, the statewide organization representing locals of American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. Representing AFSCME, Groener was a beloved figure in the Capitol and within the union, known for his warmth and talkativeness.
By strange chance, he was present at three crime scenes, and each time he acted decisively to stop them, earning Oregon State Sheriff’s Association Award of Valor three times. The first was for chasing down a bank robber. The second was for helping chase down the robber of a Dairy Queen in Oregon City. The third time, he saw a man attack a woman jogging along Portland Road in Salem, and leaped out of his car and held the attacker until police could arrive.
Groener retired from AFSCME in 2018 at age 76.
Groener is survived by Sharon, his wife of 55 years, and by a daughter, son, and granddaughter, as well as siblings and other family. His son Chris Groener emulated him both in serving on the Clackamas Community College board, and by working in the union movement, first as a union rep for SEIU Local 503 and then as a rep at United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 from 2010 until February 2022.
A memorial service will be held at Clackamas Community College on June 30 at 1 p.m. in the Gregory Forum building.
In lieu of flowers, remembrances may be made to the Ralph Groener Memorial Scholarship at Clackamas Community College, at give.clackamas.edu/groener or by check to Clackamas Community College Foundation, 19600 Molalla Ave., Oregon City, OR 97045, with “Ralph Groener Memorial” in the memo.