Edwin C. Grat
Edwin C. Grat, friend, husband, father, teacher, musician, and performer took his final bow and exited the stage gracefully just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2021 at the age of 90. He had suffered a stroke two days prior, but stayed on for an encore to enable family and friends to send him off surrounded by songs, stories, and lots of love.
Ed was born in the Village of Arcade, New York on December 1st, to Bertha and Casimer Grat. He was raised in Depew, New York as an only child, but well-loved and well-fed by an extended Polish family of aunts and uncles. He never lost his love for Polish food, and could always be lured to the table by the promise of kielbasa, pierogi or golumpke. Eddie grew up in a vibrant multi-ethnic community that instilled within him an appreciation for diverse cultures and viewpoints. For Eddie, the universal connector was love of music.
His father Casimer had served in the U.S. Army band during World War I. As a teen, Ed picked up and quickly mastered his father’s favorite instrument, the euphonium. This was soon followed by baritone, trombone, accordion, piano, five-string banjo, and the standup bass, which became his signature instrument throughout his adult life, rivaled only by his rich baritone singing voice. Ed loved to recall his time with the Depew High School Band and the occasion when they were invited to perform at the Buffalo Bills halftime show.
Ed was in college at Fredonia (now SUNY) during the Korean Conflict. Spurred by a mix of patriotism and fear of the Draft Board, Ed and three of his friends decided to enlist in the U.S. Air Force his junior year. Ed served five years as a 1st Lieutenant in active service and as a Captain in the reserves. Based at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas he served as a navigator on the B-36 bomber (“the Peacekeeper”). His job was to arm the nuclear bomb at the beginning of each run.
In the last year of his service, while on temporary duty on Guam, a completely different type of bomb dropped: Ed met Air Force nurse Jonee Harley. He saw her on the beach, and it was love at first sight. They were engaged in a week and he left for the U.S. mainland three days later. She joined him three months later, and they were married on June 16, 1956 in El Paso.
Ed and his bride went back to SUNY Geneseo, New York, where he completed his B.S. degree. Thanks to the GI Bill, he continued on to the University of Oregon, where he completed a Master’s program in Speech Pathology. (Ed continued to be a lifelong Ducks fan.)
In 1962, Ed and Jonee moved to the Santa Ynez Valley where he worked as a speech therapist and enjoyed traveling to a different school each day. In this valley, Ed and Jonee built their first house and then grew their family, adopting their daughter Amy in 1964 and twin boys Andrew and Matthew in 1966. In addition to serving as president of the Santa Ynez Valley Teachers Association, Ed was very active in the community. He and Jonee developed lifelong friendships through music, theatre, food and volunteering. Jazz and folk music were their passion. Together with three couples and Ed’s best friend Dick Nielsen, they formed a folk music group called The Tyros that performed around the valley and had the spotlight during Solvang’s Danish Days.
In 1968, the Grats moved down the hill to Goleta and then Santa Barbara, where they continued to build family, friendships, and professional success for the next 53 years. Ed joined the Goleta Union School District Office of Special Education and worked as a resource specialist at multiple schools serving students with learning disabilities. He loved teaching and helping students overcome obstacles through patience, storytelling, and every so often, a singalong with the banjo. He was much beloved as a colleague and served in leadership roles in the CTA and CRTA.
Throughout his life, Ed loved to bring joy to others through music and performance. Whether it was performing folk music standards at Harry’s Plaza Cafe with the Casmalia Trio or strumming the banjo to “The Friendly Beasts” at St. Marks Church for Christmas Mass or raising his voice with the Santa Barbara Boys Choir at St. Anthony’s Seminary, Ed’s music inspired and delighted all.
Theater was a touchstone of Ed’s life for many years, particularly musical theater. Of the many roles he played with local companies, among his favorites were Abner Dillon in “42nd Street,” a show that broke all attendance records at The Lobero Theatre with 56 performances, and Bellamy in “The Fantastiks.” However, the role most beloved by local children was that of Santa Claus, which Ed played convincingly with ample beard and belly, for many years in local schools, churches and retirement communities.
Although they loved to travel, Ed and Jonee also welcomed the world into their San Roque home. The winning combination of Ed’s friendly welcome and Jonee’s excellent cooking brought together neighbors from across the fence and friends from around the world. They formed a Gourmet Group with friends who shared elaborate feasts together for over many years. The Grats’ backyard aebleskiever breakfasts (a talent honed in the Solvang years) were legendary, with Jonee working her cast iron pans and Ed always at the ready to refill a mimosa.
When they moved into Vista del Monte retirement community in 2006, Ed, with his graciousness and cheerful personality, was quickly tapped as a volunteer host. He sang in the Vista Voices choir and was always ready to don a silly hat or costume to perform in a pageant or melodrama. Ed always had a kind word to offer everyone. Even as he grew forgetful of daily events, he remembered the names and life story of every staff member and caregiver who helped him.
In May 2021, to counter the isolation of the pandemic, Ed moved to Prineville, Oregon to live with his sons Matthew and Andrew. Within weeks, he had made friends at the library and local coffee shop, and was often seen riding shotgun in Matt’s golf cart around the neighborhood. Ed celebrated his 90th birthday on December 1st, surrounded by extended family and new friends. He was thrilled to receive cards and letters from all over the world. He reprised his role of Santa via Facetime for his adult grandchildren one last time on December 25th. His twinkling eyes and hearty laugh will forever be remembered by everyone who knew him.
Ed was preceded in death by his loving wife Jonee, who passed away in 2015 just shy of their 59th anniversary. He is survived by his three children Amy Grat (Peter Clark), Matthew Grat, Andrew Grat, and four grandchildren, Kyle, Madison, Sam and Alex.
A celebration of Ed’s life will be held April 2 in Santa Barbara. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to one of Ed’s favorite causes: Peace Action (https://www.peaceaction.org/), CALPIRG (https://calpirg.org/) or PATH Santa Barbara (https://epath.org/)