Alan Gratzer

Where once his passion was making music as a member of REO Speedwagon, Alan Gratzer now spends his time finding ways to give back to the community, to children in particular as a member of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Gratzer, founder and drummer of REO Speedwagon, a rock ‘n’ roll band popular in the 70s and 80s, lives just outside of Nevada City with his wife, a marriage and family therapist working with Milhous Children’s Services.

He founded the band, along with a roommate, in 1967 while in their sophomore year at the University of Illinois. He had been playing drums since high school and found that he loved performing.

Because he was an organizer by nature, Gratzer was the one that got everyone together for practice sessions. “We started out just to have fun, but it took over our lives,” he said. “We made 16 albums, sold 40 million copies and got to see the world.”

After 21 years with the band, he left in 1988 to spend more time at home with his family. His three children were in grade school at the time. “I was a dad to our children, but I needed to be their father,” Gratzer said.

Although leaving behind life on the road was his ultimate decision, he missed playing music, but not the seemingly endless hotels, airports and nights spent riding on a bus. The timing was right, “it just made perfect sense,” said Gratzer.

Gratzer and family moved to Santa Barbara. Spending the first two years being a stay-at-home dad, he then opened a restaurant, featuring California cuisine and a chef from New York. After a successful 8 year run, Gratzer decided to leave the seven-day work weeks behind and went in search of the next chapter.

He knew he wanted to settle in a small, but interesting town, so he and his wife began taking weekend trips. Following a suggestion from a friend, they sought out Nevada City one weekend. “Once we came here, I knew it was the perfect place,” said Gratzer.

After relocating in 2001, Gratzer realized he missed interacting with children and gave the local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters a call.

He is now on his second “Little,” who he spends time with once a week for three or four hours. Since the child’s mother doesn’t drive, Gratzer and he spends their time together going out and exploring.

In addition to being a Big Brother, Gratzer has served as a mentor, a board member and is in his third year as board president.

What does it take to be a Big Brother or Big Sister? Mainly it’s about being a good listener, filling a need and being someone for a child to look up to, says Gratzer. “Most kids are from single parent homes where the environment is not so great. It’s a great way to connect to the community and help kids.”

Like most nonprofits today, the organization is looking for all types of volunteers, but of the greatest need at the moment are financial donations and people who can serve as members of the board. Gratzer says that it does not involve a large time commitment. “We need people who are dedicated and passionate about helping children,” he adds.

Big Brothers Big Sisters is not his only project. He also picks up food from Raleys once a week and delivers it to Interfaith Food Ministry in Grass Valley. The organization provides food for 250 people three times a week. Gratzer also donates platelets on occasion.

As for music scene, his involvement now centers around listening to good music. He keeps a drum set at his home, but he’d rather be golfing than performing these days. Although he’s still a diehard rock ‘n’ roll guy, Gratzer says that his kids help keep his music tastes current; he lists Kings of Leon as one of his favorites.

Sourse: The Union