About once a month, Elaine Hargrove drives down the road from her house in Chiefland, Florida, to Tri-County Nursing Home in Trenton, Florida. Along the 15 minute drive, she responds to honks from other vehicles and stares from strangers with a jolly wave and a beep from her hand-painted 1978 Volkswagen bus.
Hargrove, 63, and Groovy Gus the Hippie Bus arrive at the nursing home and perform a duet. While Hargrove sings to the residents indoors, the residents can look out the window and admire Hargrove’s craftsmanship outdoors.
Hargrove’s life since retirement is filled with trips around the world with her husband Kevin, dancing anywhere there’s live music and singing for charity. She said her job now is being an "ambassador of joy."
Her commitment to her hippie lifestyle comes from her dedication to honoring her late best friend, Kathryn Fiedler. Hargrove was introduced to the hippie lifestyle when she met Fiedler in college.
“When I first met her, I was not even anything close to a hippie,” Hargrove said.
She was raised by a conservative, religious Midwestern family, and she was never exposed to any alternative. Fiedler, on the other hand, had lived her entire life like a hippie. After college, she started a head shop in Iowa, selling hippie clothing, incense, pipes, metaphysical rocks and more.
Hargrove’s ex-husband threw away Fiedler and Hargrove’s letters, and the two drifted apart. By luck, Fiedler and Hargrove were reunited for a couple of years before Fiedler’s death in 2016.
“She said, ‘Elaine, are you going to be a real hippie or are you just going to be corporate again?’” Hargrove said. “I wonder if she knew that maybe I would rescue her store because it had no succession plan.”
She quit her job to take over Fiedler’s business. She helped Fiedler’s mother get on Medicare and helped her handle Fiedler’s estate.
Groovy Gus the Hippie Bus was Hargrove’s biggest contribution to the store. She made the bus its mascot and spent two years painting every inch of it by hand. The overall design is an homage to its history as a bus that went to Burning Man festival three times with its previous owner. The bus features an assortment of characters including references to the musical Hair, The Grateful Dead and its bears and roses, the song White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane and a Peter Max tribute. Inside the bus, Hargrove displays her Jerry Garcia doll and Beanie Babies.
Although the bus began as an addition to the business, it stayed with Hargrove after she sold the business and moved to Florida in 2018. Here, the bus has made Hargrove a local celebrity, making an appearance at the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and a TV commercial.
Crystal Ellison, a Tri-County Nursing Home activity coordinator, found Hargrove on Facebook after searching for her for months.
Hargrove had visited the nursing home right before COVID-19 shut out performers from the facility. Ever since, the residents have kept asking Ellison for the “singing lady with the hippie bus,” who performed for them before Ellison started working there.
“It’s very important to have activities that keeps [the residents’] minds, their body and their spirit uplifted,” Ellison said. “People that are in nursing homes really can’t get out. I believe that [performers] feel that it’s their duty to give back to the residents.”
Performing for charity is one of Hargrove’s favorite hobbies in her busy retirement.
“I used to get a little nervous,” Hargove said. “But once the music starts, I really can’t sit still. The music just becomes a part of my physical representation. The melodies, and the shimmying and the shaking to the rhythm was always natural.”
“Moss doesn’t grow on a rolling stone,” is Hargrove’s motto. She is always on the move, and she has spread her life across the country, moving from Iowa to Michigan to Texas and then to Florida.
In the past, her relationships have been complicated because of her need for freedom and adventure.
Hargrove’s son, Craig DeVries, 30, is an air traffic controller from Des Moines, Iowa.
DeVries and his mother lived apart from each other his whole life. For most of his childhood, he could only visit her for one week, twice a year, at her home in Michigan. Despite this limitation, DeVries said his mother has been his closest confidant.
“I don’t even know how it happened, but somehow she was probably the biggest influence and support for me emotionally.” DeVries said. “I think we both would agree that with big life advice, she would always be the first one I would seek out.”
Richard “Kevin” Hargrove, 64, is Hargrove’s third husband. The couple have been married for six years, but they have known each other for about 10 years.
“We’re totally opposite,” Kevin said. “We don't eat the same food. She buys her food; I buy my food. I do my laundry; she does her own laundry. I sleep in my room, and she sleeps in her room.”
Both of them are previously divorced, and a big reason why Kevin believes they are in their happiest relationship is because they let each other have the freedom to be independent.
“She’s one of the best people you’ll ever meet, and you’re a better person by knowing her,” Kevin said.
Contact Jiselle Lee at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @jiselle_lee.
Jiselle Lee is a journalism junior and The Alligator’s features and investigations editor. Previously, she was a reporter for NextShark and a news intern at The Bradenton Herald. In her free time, she enjoys thrifting and going to the beach.