Retired Dist. 303 educator remembered for joy, humor
Scoring a meeting with Bob Graham in 1998 was a big deal for Peter Vander Bleek, a young St. Charles Unit District 303 student teacher who was eager to land a permanent job.
Then the assistant superintendent for personnel, Graham was welcoming, friendly and well-connected. He listened as Vander Bleek expressed interest in teaching fourth or fifth grades and regrettably told him there were no openings.
But Graham did make him a promise: "I will not forget this conversation."
About a month later, Graham got a call from his twin brother, the principal at Richmond Elementary School, saying a fourth-grade teacher had unexpectedly resigned. "Bob remembered my name," Vander Bleek said. "The rest is history."
That combination of professionalism and personal touch is what made Graham so successful in his 34-year career, as well as after his retirement in 2000, friends and loved ones say. And it's one of the many reasons his death on May 24 left a hole in the hearts of District 303 community members.
"His legacy is one of the joy of being an educator, a principal, a teacher," said Vander Bleek, who is now a learning resource center director at Bell-Graham Elementary. "He found joy and humor and always remembered that it's all about the children and the little people put in our care."
Graham, 75, had been battling colon cancer for about 15 months before he died at Delnor Hospital in Geneva on May 24, said Anne Graham, his wife of nearly 52 years. Since then, family members have found great comfort in the stories shared by former students and educators whose lives Graham touched and whose careers he influenced.
"He loved the kids. He loved his staff. They were like a second family to him," Anne Graham said. "He was just really good with people, and he always said his strength was in the people he hired."
An Itasca native, Graham attended Lake Park High School before graduating from Northern Illinois University with his bachelor's and master's degrees in education and administration. He started his career as a fifth-grade teacher at Munhall Elementary School in 1966, and three years later, he became principal at Wasco Elementary School.
In 1989, Graham was tapped to help open Ferson Creek Elementary School. The following year, he moved into his administrative human resources role.
The year of his retirement, District 303 named its new elementary school "Bell-Graham" in honor of Graham; his twin brother, Ken Graham; and their close friend, Charlie Bell. All were longtime educators in the district, attended the same church and frequently got together with their wives and families, Anne Graham said.
"They all felt very honored to have that privilege of having a school named after them," she said.
Because Bob Graham's career kept him so busy throughout the academic year, he cherished spending the summer with his family and always insisted they take a vacation together, his wife said. One of his favorite trips was the first time they took their son and daughter to Disney World.
Graham was active in the Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Charles for nearly 50 years, family members say, and he and his brother were instrumental in developing the St. Charles Boys Baseball Association.
He also enjoyed golfing, loved his dog, Winnie, and was an avid Cubs fan, Anne Graham said. "I can't even tell you what the (2016) World Series was like in this house."
In addition to his wife and brother, Graham is survived by two children, Jeff and Mindy Graham; a sister, Alice Meyer; and several nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.
A visitation will be held from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Congregational United Church of Christ, 40W451 Fox Mill Boulevard, St. Charles. A memorial service will follow. Interment will be private.