Jay Grooters stands with a Valentine’s Day card he and his late wife, Fran, exchanged for nearly 20 years. Beside him are his stained glass replicas. (Photos courtesy of Estes Park Village)

Jay Grooters has been making stained glass since he took a class in 1972 as a Coast Guard recruiter in Salt Lake City. Today, you can see his work in person at Estes Park Village, a Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society independent living and assisted living community, as well as at churches across Estes Park, CO.

Despite all the bright colors and images, Grooters’ vivid art conceals his grief. Making stained glass is a therapeutic practice for him, and he does so in honor of his late wife, Fran. Estes Park Village even has given him his own space to work.

“They put me down in the wood workshop and partially converted that to glass,” Grooters said. “She [Fran] helped a lot. She always had something to say about everything. And like I told her 90% of the time, she was right, too.”

Grooters was married to his wife for 51 years before her passing from ALS about a year after they moved into the senior living community in July 2020. When Fran fell ill, he gave up his glasswork to be her full-time caregiver. After her passing, he decided to take it up again. This time, he has found a new sense of purpose in his art, and the entire Estes Park Village community has benefited from it.

“He has all of his art displayed on the second floor. Anytime we’re on a tour, it gives them a time to stop and reflect and see his beautiful work. At any given time, he has anywhere from 10 to 15 pieces that are displayed outside,” Estes Park Administrator Julie Lee said. “All you have to do is knock on his door and he’ll come out and talk to you about the process of it, he’ll explain the meaning behind it. He’s such a vital part of our community now.”

Grooters’ newest piece is a tribute to Fran that stems from a Valentine’s Day tradition. They would exchange the same Valentine’s Day card for about 20 years. Grooters now is creating a stained glass replica as a tribute to his late wife.

“I always wanted to turn it into glass, but the particular lettering they had on it was pretty difficult. So I just kept putting it off until it was too late to do it while she was alive. I thought, ‘Well, I’m gonna try and do it.’ I got the smaller one done — went pretty good. And then the bigger one, I ended up having to order more glass and it was slightly different. But that was it; it still looks really good. It’s something she would have loved to have seen, and it would mean a lot to her.” 

Although Fran may not be beside him today, Grooters has adjusted to his new life well. By his own admission, he is not the social butterfly his wife was, but her memory continues to inspire him to step out of his comfort zone.

Estes Park Village, he said, is “a good place for me to be.”

“I wouldn’t want to go off and live by myself or be too much of a hermit, so it’s a good place to be, even if she’s gone,” Grooters said. “Now it gives me people to talk with, sit with. I try and sit with different people every meal. She had that personality that attracted everybody, and she could connect with everybody. Everybody that met her was changed in some way in their life.”

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