In Memoriam: Celebrating the life of Curt Gridley ’80

Curtis Gridley

Curtis “Curt” D. Gridley ’80 was an all-round person with a bold, big-picture approach to life. A computer technology engineer who founded his own startup company, played jazz guitar and held degrees in philosophy and mathematics from Wichita State and Dartmouth College, respectively, he was executive director of Groover Labs, a nonprofit entrepreneurial space in downtown Wichita, at the time of his death.

Born in Meade, Kansas, and raised in Beloit, Kansas, Gridley recalled during a 2021 Shock Talk podcast that he had had “trouble deciding on a college major.” He studied jazz guitar and engineering before settling into his two liberal arts majors, philosophy and mathematics. “I had always been interested in big-picture thinking — rational thought and how one goes about thinking about problems and working them through.” He was an active member of the Student Government Association and his senior year at WSU was selected as a Senior Honor Man, one of five outstanding men in the graduating class of 1980.

He went on to earn a master’s degree in mathematics from Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire, after which he began his career as a software engineer for the Westford-based Massachusetts Computer Corp. (Masscomp), where he became interested in computer hardware. He taught himself computer hardware design and engineering and, in 1994, founded his own startup company, Amber Wave Systems. There, he developed a low cost ethernet switch and gained a patent for his work on network switching technology. The Boston-based, venture-backed tech company was acquired by US Robotics for $50 million in early 1996.

That year was an incredibly hectic one for Gridley and his wife, Tracy Hoover, a software engineer at Hewlett-Packard. “We sold the company, built a new house and had our first kid,” he recalled in 2021. After several more years living and working in Boston, the couple starting talking about moving to Wichita to raise their two young children and, with proceeds from the Amber Wave sale, they established the Gridley Family Foundation in 2000. Their first major gift was to the WSU Fairmount College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, for the Curtis D. Gridley Professorship in the History and Philosophy of Science, which stands as the first fully endowed professorship in the history of the college.

The Gridley family made the move to Wichita in 2005. After their kids left home for college, Gridley and Hoover, using foundation funds, founded Groover Labs — a combination of their names — in 2019. Located in Old Town, the 42,000 square foot coworking center and maker space primarily focuses on product prototyping. As executive director, Gridley spearheaded early-stage product development assistance for local and regional startups.

With interests many and varied — everything from jazz guitar and woodworking, to electronics, printmaking and aviation, to boat building and bread baking — Gridley was involved in just about every realm of activity, including community service. He was, for example, a member of the WSU Foundation Board of Directors and its investment committee for several years and was on the boards of MakeITC, one of Wichita’s first community makerspaces, and of the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo.

Curt Gridley died March 16, 2024 in Wichita.

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