When Rebekah Grohl was born, everyone knew she was different.
“At birth she actually grabbed the scissors that cut her [placenta] cord,” said Peter Grohl, Grohl’s father. “The doctors play with that fact as if she was trying to cut her own cord. That was pretty much the first day that she was a doer, and a get it done girl.”
Grohl became a petite fiery ball of energy that could not be beat. With every step she took, every word she said; she left a mark on every person she met. At 22, she had numerous political campaigns under her belt. She dreamed of seeing the community that raised her make its long-deserved mark on the world’s map.
Grohl was a natural born leader with a legacy that will outlive her young life. Two Sundays ago, the City of Newburgh lost Grohl to flu-related complications.
At birth Grohl’s family lived in a log cabin in Cornwall. In a way her upbringing was similar to President Abraham Lincoln’s.
“My name is Rebekah Grohl, I was born in a log cabin in upstate New York,” joked Peter. “And I’m running for President.”
Every memory with Grohl was special. One of Peter’s favorite memories was when Grohl would play with frogs. At 22, she still loved to play with small creatures like frogs. She had an energy and love for the world that would resonate in even the simplest encounters.
Sitting at Washington Headquarters on a chilly Thursday morning, Steven Majano, Grohl’s boyfriend of two years, reminisced over memories with her. For the past four years, the two worked on various political campaigns together. This year it would have been five years. Grohl even served as Majano’s campaign manager during his run for city council.
Majano recalled meeting Grohl for the first time in their high school trigonometry class, but Grohl had already known Majano since elementary school.
“Math was her least favorite subject,” smiled Majano. “I would always ask how everybody was doing, she looked at me and [said] ‘not too good.’” Although Majano didn’t keep in contact with everyone from high school, Grohl was different.
“For some reason we stayed in contact,” said Majano. As time went on, the two became close friends. After high school, Majano went on to Drexel University in Philadelphia. After returning from Drexel, Grohl and Majano reconnected while working on a 2016 campaign for Chris Eachus.
“It was never a formal date or anything,” said Majano about the beginning of their relationship. “We always went out to eat together, so it just transitioned. We went from spending time together to just spending more time together.”
Grohl’s favorite place in the city was Washington Headquarters. Majano remembered spending the summer with Grohl at Washington Headquarters. The two loved going to see the summer films screened there.
“There’s so many good memories [with Grohl],” said Majano “I feel like any one time I could consider it a great memory.” The pair lived their lives with a love for each other and their community. One could catch them together at all sorts of community events.
Plans were made to eventually start a family together. “I feel like my better half is missing,” said Majano. “I loved her without a doubt. We always told each other that. She definitely told me more. She was more in tune with her emotions.”
On New Year’s Eve, Grohl helped a friend go wedding dress shopping. “She looked at one of the dresses and she started crying,” laughed Majano. “I was right next to her and I was like ‘what are you doing?”’
“I would tell her that I love her,” said Majano when asked what he would say to her one last time. “That you [Grohl] were loved by so many people and I’ve done my best to make sure that they were here for you.”
Photographer Brian Wolfe is one of many people who loved her. The first time Wolfe saw Grohl was at Newburgh Illuminated in 2017. He instantly knew he wanted to take photos of her, she was beautiful and unique.
“The way she did the hoops, she just had this interesting flow about her,” said Wolfe about the first time he saw her. That moment sparked the beginning of a three-year friendship. Wolfe recalled how involved she was politically. Grohl would ask Wolfe to attend events for causes she believed in.
“She was so involved, and so caring,” said Wolfe. “She showed up at all the events, I saw her at more events than the mayor. She was always involved, always trying to help.”
Wolfe recalled a summer photo shoot that he did with Grohl on the roof of the Karpeles Manuscript Library. “We went up on the roof because it was a really nice sunset,” said Wolfe.
“She was just looking over, and she had her camera too because she was taking pictures. I sent it to her and I wrote under ‘surveying the city she will one day be mayor of.’”
Tears welling up in his eyes, Brian Wolfe took a second to process his emotions. “I had to read it three times,” Wolfe said when he first received a text from Majano on Grohl being taken to the hospital. “I didn’t believe it. It just made no sense.”
The Friday before Grohl passed, “she was diagnosed with the flu at 4:35 by urgent care,” said Majano. After spending hours caring for Grohl, Majano and her family decided to call an ambulance. She was initially taken to Montefiore St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital. Then it was decided that she would be taken to the Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. Due to bad weather, they only made it to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern.
Grohl had suffered from a brain aneurysm and multiple heart attacks. On Sunday her condition became inoperable and she passed away.
Grohl didn’t get this year’s flu vaccine due to a phobia of needles. Wolfe recalled arguing with her two weeks before she passed over it.
“I would have liked to hold her down, stick the needle in her arm,” said Wolfe. “Such a waste, so much potential.”
“Along with things we’re trying to do to memorialize her,” said Kevindaryán Luján, Orange County Legislator and Grohl’s friend. “Twenty-two is a really young age to lose a person. I think that it’s important to tell the community, just be careful and be mindful of the flu epidemic.”
Luján and Grohl first met when she encouraged him to run for Orange County Legislator. In 2017, she became his campaign manager and one of his closest friends.
Luján encourages members of the community to be vaccinated and to mind their health. In addition, there will be flu clinics organized in Newburgh.
“We just want people to know that this is important,” said Luján. “We just hope people keep her family and her friends in their thoughts and prayers because this has to be very difficult for a family. No one should have to say goodbye to their child. We just hope they find peace.”
In honor of Grohl, her friends started a GoFundMe to help pay the costs for her funeral. Remaining funds will go towards the community in her name. In under a week, the GoFundMe beat its goal of $25,000; $26,184 was raised. The GoFundMe is a representation of the love Newburgh felt for Grohl.
“We saw her as our future leader,” said Luján.
In her passing, Grohl donated her organs. In a way this donation was one of her final acts of service. “She died the way she lived,” said Luján. “She donated her organs already saving a person, already living a fuller life.”
“Maybe she was so good in this life that she was called somewhere greater,” said Luján. “I just miss her a lot; I just hope she knows how proud we were and how much we loved her.”