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DeGroot gets Hall of Fame nod

Farmer responsible for push to bring SSJID water to cities

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POSTED April 16, 2009 5:28 a.m.
You may never have met Nick DeGroot but he made it possible for clean, treated surface water to flow from Manteca and Lathrop taps.

DeGroot – one of 16 siblings in an immigrant family from Holland – was tenacious in pursuing his goal of harnessing South San Joaquin Irrigation District water to assure a secure urban water supply. Without him, the effort to build the $126 million surface water treatment plant bearing his name would never have gotten off the ground.

It is for that accomplishment – arguably his biggest legacy besides his family – and his career as a successful farmer as well as a 23-year member of the SSJID board that DeGroot is being inducted into the Manteca Hall of Fame on Saturday, May 23, as part of the Class of 2009. DeGroot is being inducted in the field of agriculture.

Also being inducted are Tom & Gayl Wilson, arts; Mike Morenzone, athletics; Roberto Sepulveda, at large; Mike Atherton, business; Steve DeBrum, community service; Jim Brown, education; and Joel Tokheim, health care.

Tickets are $40 apiece. They are available through the Manteca/Lathrop Boys & Girls Club by calling 239-KIDS.

DeGroot’s induction is taking place just days before SSJID – the agency he played a pivotal role in building into sound financial condition with protected water supplies – marks its 100th anniversary.

When the idea of providing the cities access to SSJID’s historic water rights on the Stanislaus River first surfaced, DeGroot’s colleagues on the SSJID board were adamant. It wouldn’t work. They argued there wasn’t enough water.

DeGroot, though, persevered. He would lay in bed at night after laboring in his almond orchards and think.

He’d think about the future of not just his family and fellow farmers but of people he’d never met. DeGroot would take a pencil to paper to do some calculations. He’d do it again and again.

‘When he was sure of himself, he pressed the issue. The SSJID needed to provide treated water for the cities in order to protect farming. It was a bit of out-of-the-box thinking but DeGroot knew he was right.

Two decades later, across from a dairy on Dodds Road 16 miles northeast of Manteca, DeGroot’s treatment plant vision is in place. Treated water is now flowing to homes and businesses in Manteca, Lathrop and Tracy through 40 miles of pipeline.

If the treatment plant hadn’t been built, the odds were great that the unused water rights on the Stanislaus River secured nearly a century ago by the foresight of Manteca area water pioneers such as Walter Woodward would have been lost. That would have had dire consequences for Lathrop and Tracy that already were experiencing serious salt water intrusion problems in underground aquifers that they were using exclusively up until 32 months ago when the treatment plant came on one.

For Manteca, it meant the city could slow down drafting from underground water sources to reduce the chance for salt water intrusion and to protect water sources for rural residents and farms that relied on pumping instead of irrigation canals. The plant has assured Manteca of a safe and secure water source. It has also allowed Manteca to reduce the cost of treating well water to meet tougher arsenic standards put in place in recent years by blending surface water with well water.

Part of DeGroot’s legacy also includes Del Webb’s Woodbridge at Manteca. The 1,045 homes are being built on land he sold to Pulte Homes that he once farmed growing almonds. DeGroot grew almonds for 25 years out of the 50 years he farmed.

All four sons - Bill, Nick, Rob and Rich - played football at East Union High. He spent 20 years working the chain gang at Lancers football games.

DeGroot came to America from Holland as a 20-year-old along with most of his 15 siblings and parents back in the 1950’s.

He joined the Army in 1953 because in six months’ time as a soldier he could get American citizenship conferred on him. Nick didn’t have to wait that long. Five months to the day he swore to protect his adopted homeland from all enemies, foreign and domestic, Nick became an American. That was on Nov. 13, 1953.

DeGroot, who found out he had cancer several months before the treatment plant was completed, said at the time of the dedication that he was going to make sure his home on Airport Way following the sale of the orchards to Pulte Homes would “be fixed up like a palace” as a fitting retirement home for himself and his beloved wife Trudy.

DeGroot was also active in the Manteca Morning Rotary Club as well as St., Anthony’s Young Men’s Institute.

He stayed fit much of his life playing soccer which he actively participated as a player until age 65.

He was born Jan. 16, 1932 in Noordwykeehout, Holland.
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