We live in the age of Covid-19. Years from now, people might well harken back to the Covid Era: “Where were you during the pandemic of 2020?” they may ask. Unless the disease has claimed a member of our family, in a decade or more most of us won’t have a distinct memory of any specific event. Not so for John Grondin, a genuine Quechee kid who has fought the pandemic on two fronts.
Grondin’s parents, Emile and Ruth, moved their large family (John is the 8th of 9 children) from a small town in Connecticut to Quechee where Emile worked in management for the QLLA complex. Of French-Canadian ancestry, John’s father was a man with many business interests, mostly in real estate. Ruth, of Lithuanian decent, earned a Master’s degree in English. As is the way with large families, everybody worked. “Nothing was handed to us,” says John, who had part time jobs at QLLA and other area businesses, and even at Woodstock’s Rockefeller mansion.
John recalls that there were many big families at Quechee Lakes in those days. The Recreation Center on property was a bustling place with lots of youngsters coming and going. “Quechee was our playground! I feel fortunate to have grown up here,” John observes somewhat wistfully, his eyes revealing the kind of trip down memory lane that we all have taken when we pause to ponder yesteryear. “We had to work. We all did.” And so, it was in Quechee that the seed of John’s work ethic was planted, one that would later sprout into a whirlwind of productive energy and ideas. Innovation was also part of his legacy, his grandfather having invented a “drop plow” for snow removal, or so the family story goes.
How did grade school in Vermont differ from the town back in Connecticut? For one thing, there were many more farms and farm kids. In those days, every small Vermont town still had dozens of small dairy farms. In that era, Vermonters still announced with pride that the state had more cows than people, and the aroma of a dairy barn and its cow manure was an everyday part of elementary school. The other big difference that John recalls was deer hunting season, which was a very big deal… so big, in fact, that every year, some kids skipped several days of school to be in the woods.
So how does a Quechee kid transition into a high-tech Covid warrior? (By the way, that’s my term, not his!) That tale unfolds over a couple of decades, but really began with Grondin showing kindness and respect to an elderly couple to whom he sold a car for a local dealership. Years later, he interviewed for an Upper Valley job in technology for which he had inadequate qualifications, but he impressed the company vice president who was doing the hiring. It so happened that it was that man’s parents for whom John had been so helpful, and though the elderly couple had since passed, the memory of Grondin’s kind act lived on in their son. The VP gave John his start in the information technology field, mentoring him, giving him the benefit of his business experience. That led to another opportunity in the Boston area, working for a company based in Dublin, Ireland where he helped to build and run a company that sold software to the federal government. That led to an interest in environmental products, including industrial-size composters of all things, and that led to his current enterprise, Smart Air Care, of which he is the president and CEO. Based in South Florida, his company manufactures everything right there, and buys components only from American companies.
Grondin’s business develops, manufactures, and markets products that literally scrub the air using “unique advanced oxidation plasma.” The process literally destroys the DNA of cells such as viruses and bacteria, rendering those cells inert. The company’s mission is “to offer state-of-the-art air purification technology to our customers, whether its in-duct or stand-alone units that deliver the highest quality of indoor air.” Smart Air Care works almost exclusively with facilities in healthcare, hospitality, and government.
While on business in Nevada early this year, John was stricken with the Covid virus. He contracted it while working in a long-term care facility, in spite of the fact that he wore a full array of personal protective equipment. At first, the fit 50-something Grondin found that he was having a hard time exercising, but that soon escalated into splitting headaches and such fatigue that it was hard to even get out of bed, where he stayed for two solid weeks. At the time, nobody knew how to treat the new virus, and the hospitals didn’t want him, so he was treated with house calls by a private physician. The doctor prescribed antibiotics, over-the-counter pain medication, and bed rest. It was over a month before he began to feel like himself. Today, the energetic Grondin feels “right as rain.”
Grondin continues to be actively engaged in the battle with Covid-19 on both the personal and professional fronts. Personally, he is part of a study at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, for which he donates his convalescent blood plasma on a regular basis. In most patients who have survived the virus, the level of antibodies in their blood shrinks rapidly within a month. In Grondin’s blood, the number of antibodies is “off the charts.”
Professionally, his company’s products are helping people and businesses near and far. Upper Valley clients include Golf and Ski Warehouse, Ottauquechee Physical Therapy, and even the Quechee Post Office. Ned Waters, CEO of Golf & Ski, says his stores are doing everything they can to help protect their customers while they shop, and the Smart Air Care technology is part of that effort. Waters’ employees tell him that they notice and appreciate the difference in the air quality while they work.
With QLLA board approval, Quechee Lakes has also installed the Smart Air Care equipment – 16 air handlers total – in the Main Club House, the Base Lodge, and the Pro Shop. Says general manager Brian Kelley, “The safety and health of our members, guests and staff continues to be our number-one priority. The team at Smart Air Care took great care of us before, during, and after the installation to make sure everything was working properly.” Members’ reactions? “I have received a high volume of communications from members thanking us for installing this technology which has given them more confidence to come to the club and dine indoors during the pandemic.” Taking it one step further, Kelley and Grondin are working on a proposal which would allow QLLA members to purchase and install this Covid-fighting equipment in their homes. And they have just agreed to expand the use of this technology throughout the ski-related facilities.
These days, Grondin spends more time in Quechee than he has in many years. His mother and his son both live here, and he has siblings in the area. “It feels good to be back in Quechee,” he says, then adds, and “to do something substantial” about Covid. Be it through his blood plasma or the plasma technology in the products that his company manufactures, John Grondin is fighting the Covid battle on both fronts and will likely be doing so for many years to come.