Where Food, Drinks & Stories Are Shared

Tiofila Groce

March 4, 1953 - March 10, 2024
Kalamazoo, MI


Life Story Visitation

Sunday, March 17, 2024
3:00 PM to 5:00 PM EDT
Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes
Kalamazoo Location
6080 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009
(269) 375-2900

Where food, drinks, and stories will be shared.

Driving Directions


Monday, March 18, 2024
11:00 AM EDT
Live Stream
St. Augustine Cathedral
542 W. Michigan Ave.
Kalamazoo, MI 49007
(269) 345-5147


Monday, March 18, 2024
1:00 PM EDT
Fort Custer National Cemetery
15501 Dickman Rd
Augusta, MI 49012


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

American Cancer Society
P.O. Box 22478
Oklahoma City, OK 73123
(800) 227-2345
Web Site


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

1830 S. Westnedge
Kalamazoo, MI 49008
(269) 349-4961
Driving Directions
Web Site

Taylor's Florist and Gifts
215 E. Michigan Ave.
Paw Paw, MI 49079
(269) 657-6256
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Tiofila Groce, affectionately known as "Mama Tio,” was a beacon of strength, warmth, and cultural richness. Her journey, from the shores of Panama to the heart of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was marked by the love she showered on her family, her indomitable spirit, and her dedication to the communities she was part of. Tiofila's life was a testament to the beauty of blending cultures, the strength of speaking one's mind, and the joy found in life's simplest pleasures.

Tiofila was born on March 4, 1953 in the bustling and vibrant setting of Gamboa, Panama. She was born to Jose Albeo and Florencia Castro, amidst a family that was as large as it was full of life, being one of sixteen children. Her childhood was painted with the vivid hues of Panamanian culture, from the bilingual lessons at her local school to the endless hours spent swimming in the Panama Canal. These early years were not just about the joys of childhood; they were a foundation that instilled in Tiofila a deep love for her heritage and the importance of family — a theme that would resonate throughout her life.

It was while Marvin Groce was stationed in Panama during his time in the Army that he and Tiofila crossed paths. For Marvin, finding his soulmate became the focal point of his life, and he found it in Tiofila. After three years of dating, they were married in 1974, just a day before Marvin's departure for Fort Hood, Texas.

Following their marriage, Tiofila embarked on a new chapter as she immigrated to the United States. Her daughter, Doris, was only seven years old at the time, and together, they embraced their new home and eventually became U.S. citizens. Tiofila's love knew no bounds, and she showered her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren with affection. To everyone, she was affectionately known as "Mama Tio," a testament to her nurturing and caring nature.

Tiofila's straightforward approach to life, coupled with her fluency in both Spanish and English, made her a unique and cherished figure. Sometimes, her languages would mix, resulting in delightful Spanglish conversations. Her children, however, always understood and appreciated her unique way of communicating.

In her professional life, Tiofila worked as a nurse's aide at Heartland Hospice in Kalamazoo. She cultivated meaningful relationships with her clients, offering them not only medical care but also a warm and compassionate presence during challenging times.

Tiofila's commitment to fitness was evident in her dedication to a rigorous exercise routine. Whether it was running, weightlifting, or swimming, she could be found at the Bronson Athletic Club several times a week, even impressively performing pull-ups well into her late sixties.

Tiofila possessed a fiery and vivacious spirit. Her love for cooking was an expression of her vibrant personality, and she became renowned for her homemade hot sauce “aji chombo.” With a warning that a few dabs would suffice, she made sure to remind everyone not to test her sauce's limits. It was known to induce sweating and reddened faces, forcing her to open the kitchen windows and wear gloves while preparing it. Tiofila not only delighted in showcasing her heritage through her culinary skills but also ensured that traditional meals like tamales, arroz con pollo, and ox tails remained a staple in her household.

Proud of her heritage, along with her friends Tiofila created the Panamanian Society in the 1980s. She enthusiastically cooked and welcomed people to try her food during festivals held in Bronson Park, heightening the experience by donning native Panamanian dresses and performing traditional dances on the stage. Tiofila's love for Panama extended beyond the confines of the United States, as she frequently traveled back to her homeland. Her last visit in 2022, accompanied by her daughter and granddaughters, was spent enjoying the beaches and water of Colon. However, the trip was marred by an unfortunate incident where someone on the hotel staff stole all her Levi jeans, adding a humorous anecdote to the cherished memories.

Outside of her rich cultural heritage, Tiofila also immersed herself in the local community. She and Marvin joined a Sunday bowling league where they developed close friendships with the other participants. Together, they indulged in the diverse cuisines offered at various festivals in Kalamazoo, such as Rib Fest, Irish Fest, and Greek Fest. Tiofila's adventurous nature allowed her to explore different cultures through their food, creating lasting memories in the process.

Tiofila's inherently selfless nature illuminated the depths of her character. She was never one to simply standby; rather, she would take action when needed. Whether it was jumping in to help save someone from choking, or helping during any challenging circumstance, Tiofila possessed an unwavering instinct to lend a hand.

With her whacky and fun-loving side, Tiofila never failed to spread joy. She had an affinity for singing songs, often adding her own improvised verses to popular numbers by Michael Jackson, merengue, and Panamanian Salsa. Tiofila also had a special love for plants and had an uncanny ability to breathe life back into them, earning her the reputation of a plant whisperer. Furthermore, Tiofila was a fervent advocate for Mary Kay products; she not only wore and sold them but made every conversation an opportunity to extol the virtues of the brand.

To her children, Tiofila was more than just a mother - she was their role model and the backbone of their lives. They reflect fondly on their upbringing, acknowledging that they could not have chosen a better family to be born into. Tiofila's legacy will forever be one of love, strength, and selflessness.

As we pay tribute to Tiofila Groce's remarkable life, let us remember her fiery spirit and zest for adventure. Let her love for swimming in the Panama Canal prompt us to embrace life's natural wonders. May we never forget the savory taste of her homemade hot sauce “aji chombo,” which serves as a reminder that some things in life are best enjoyed in moderation. And as we encounter challenges, let us be inspired by Tiofila's unwavering courage and willingness to lend a helping hand. The memory of Mama Tio will forever be etched in our hearts, reminding us to approach life with love, laughter, and an unyielding spirit.

Tiofila Groce of Kalamazoo, age 71, died on March 10, 2024. She is preceded in death by her parents; her husband, Marvin; and siblings: Margarita Albeo Castro, Martin Albeo Castro, Encarnacion Albeo Castro, Vidal Albeo Castro, and Maria Albeo Castro.

Surviving are her children: Doris (Zenoba) Stuckey, Gregory (Lyric) Groce, and America (Joseph) Dyson; 10 grandchildren; 3 great-grandchildren; siblings: Delores Albeo Castro, Jorge Albeo Castro, Hermenegilda Albeo Castro, Beatriz Albeo Castro, Angel Albeo Castro, Benjamin Castro, Leonidas Albeo Castro, Jose Albeo Castro, Magdalena Albeo Castro, and Danilo Albeo Castro; and numerous nieces and nephews.

Please join us at a Life Story Celebration where food, drinks, and stories will be shared on Sunday, March 17, from 3-5 PM at Betzler Life Story Funeral Homes, 6080 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo (269) 375-2900. Mass will be celebrated Monday, March 18, at 11 AM at St. Augustine Cathedral. Burial at Fort Custer National Cemetery. Visit Tiofila’s webpage at BetzlerLifeStory.com to archive favorite memories, photos, and sign her guestbook. Memorial contributions may be made to American Cancer Society.