Meet Grace Grote

Andrew Svenson’s Assistant & Author of The Bobbsey Twins!

If we could turn back time . . . just think what it would have been like to work in the Stratemeyer Syndicate offices during their glory days of the 1960s and early 1970s, when the book packaging company was at its creative zenith, churning our numerous volumes of Nancy Drews, Hardy Boys, Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swifts, and many, many other series.

We found the next best thing to time travel in meeting Grace Grote! When we began reading through the letters and papers of Happy Hollisters author Andrew Svenson, a couple of his coworkers’ names popped up with some regularity. One of these was Grace Grote, who was hired as Andrew’s assistant at the Stratemeyer Syndicate in 1960 at the age of 40. Her name disappeared from our records about 1973, and we started to wonder what became of her.

In 2022, we did some internet sleuthing and were quite surprised to learn that Grace lives less than two hours away from our home base in Florida. We reached out to her and were delighted to find that she was equally excited to reconnect with Andrew Svenson’s grandson.

We’ve had the honor of visiting Grace several times since then, and she has regaled us with all sorts of stories about Andrew Svenson and what it was like to work at the Stratemeyer Syndicate. She is extremely sharp and animated and has amazing stories to tell!

Grace was born in Cincinnati in 1920. She remembers the darkness surrounding the Great Depression as well as the breathless anticipation of waiting for the next installment in the Nancy Drew series to arrive in the bookstores! She studied acting with the Cincinnati Actors Guild and then received her teaching degree from the University of Cincinnati. The allure of the stage outweighed her interest in teaching, and soon after graduation, she was “Broadway-bound.” She spent eight grueling but rewarding years on the road with traveling and summer theater groups. Grace met her husband Donald at Camp Tioga, a summer camp in Pennsylvania. He was the head counselor at the camp, and she was hired to direct plays with the campers.

In addition to his summer job at Camp Tioga, Donald Grote was an artist and a science teacher at Bloomfield High School, attended by Andrew Svenson’s children. When the Stratemeyer Syndicate had an opening for a “science teacher with imagination” to ensure that all of the inventions used by Tom Swift, Jr. and the Hardy Boys would be scientifically accurate, Donald Grote was hired as a technical advisor.

A couple of years after he started working with the Syndicate, Donald learned that Andrew Svenson was looking for a new assistant, and he suggested that Grace apply for the job. She was a perfect fit and got the job!

On her first day at work, Grace’s predecessor mentioned that Mr. Svenson (Andrew, as she would later call him) liked to start his day with sharpened pencils. Grace made sure that there were five perfectly pointed pencils on his desk before he arrived in the office each morning. Once she established a comfortable working relationship with Andrew, she occasionally left an empty pack of cigarettes and a plastic skeleton on his desk along with the pencils—as a hint that he should quit smoking. He did try to follow her advice sometimes and made an effort to be healthier; one morning when Grace arrived at the office, she found Andrew hanging from the doorframe of his office, doing calisthenics!

One night soon after she started working at the Syndicate, Grace and Donald were walking in their New Jersey neighborhood and heard a blood-curdling cry from deep in the woods. When Grace described the episode the next morning to her co-workers, they insisted that it must have been a fox. “Fox Schmox!” Grace told them. “That was an owl!” The seed was planted for the title of The Hardy Boys #41, The Clue of the Screeching Owl, her first creative contribution to the Syndicate.

One of Grace’s most amusing memories was of a Halloween party at the Syndicate offices. Harriet Adams, the senior partner in the company, stepped into her office to take a phone call from an editor at Grosset & Dunlap. When she didn’t return right away to the party, Grace went to check on her and found Mrs. Adams—dressed up head to toes in a Little Bo-Peep costume—giving the editor a severe dressing-down about an error that had been made.

Grace also described, in vivid detail as though it happened yesterday, how they all gathered in Andrew’s office listening to the radio reports of President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963. Mirroring more recent memories of 9-11, she said that she and her co-workers sat in his office in stunned silence for several hours as bits of news trickled in. Eventually they drifted back into their own offices, knowing that “you just have to keep working and stick to routines to get through such trauma.” Kennedy’s assassination, along with Grace’s husband’s sudden death in 1973, made her realize that the key to life is just to keep breathing in and out.

Grace was creative and resourceful, with a great sense of humor that meshed well with Andrew Svenson’s personality and work ethic. She became indispensable to him as he progressed from ghostwriter to head of the Boys’ Series Division to partnership in the Syndicate. She helped compile background information on locations and offered ideas to flesh out plots and character descriptions. She spent a day at the ASPCA Animalport at JFK Airport in New York to learn about animal handling for The Happy Hollisters and the Castle Rock Mystery, and she accompanied Andrew on a visit to a school for the deaf in preparation for The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery. By the mid-1960s, Grace had proved her writing chops were up to the Syndicate’s standards, and she was entrusted to write lengthy portions of The Happy Hollisters and the Mystery of the Golden Witch while Andrew was on an extended European tour.

Grace loved working at the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which kept her “busier than a switch engine.” She and Donald were often able to travel together on research expeditions all over the world, from Cairo to Quebec. Between 1967 and 1972, Grace wrote six Bobbsey Twins books, beginning with volume 60, the Mystery of the King’s Puppet. This book was based on a trip she and Donald had taken to Sicily.

After Donald died, Grace left the Stratemeyer Syndicate and returned to acting. One of her favorite performances was playing the title role in Driving Miss Daisy. She eventually moved to Venice, Florida, where she wrote “Old Lady at Large,” a weekly column for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. She loves to reminisce about her long and interesting life, and still makes presentations in her community church. Grace will celebrate her 104th birthday in December 2024, and she lives quite independently in an assisted-living facility. Whenever we visit, she pulls chilled crystal glassware out of her tiny freezer and we drink a toast to Andrew Svenson and the Stratemeyer Syndicate with a spot of Bailey’s Irish Cream, Grace’s favorite guilty pleasure. We are very grateful for our newfound friendship with Grace, and we look forward to more toasts.

Grace Grote with Andrew Svenson III, grandson of Happy Hollisters author Andrew Svenson; 2024

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