Donald Paul Graham, 85, of Decatur, went home to be with the Lord, Monday, Aug. 21, 2023, after suffering a lengthy battle with dementia. His passing was peaceful with family by his side.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Adams Funeral Home, Paw Paw, MI.
A private family interment will take place on a later date at Lakeside Cemetery, Decatur. Memorial contributions may be made to Centrica Care Navigators (formerly Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan).
Donald was born as Donald Ralph Graham, on March 2, 1938, in Pine Grove Township, Michigan, to his parents Paul T. Graham and Hazel G. (Tiffany) Graham. In his family, he was child number 14 of 16. Donald’s mother passed away when Donald was 1½ years- old. Soon after, with his father being unable to care for the family, Donald was then placed for adoption. After staying with a few families, Donald was then adopted at the age of 4. Ironically, his newly adopted family also shared the last name of Graham (no relation to Donald), so his last name always remained Graham. His newly adopted parents were J. Paul Graham and Lillia M. (Beach) Graham, of Hamilton Township, in rural Decatur. It was reported that little Don’s eyes were like ‘big, bright blue saucers’ as he first walked into the Graham home where there, he was introduced to his older brother Jackie and a new mom and dad. At that time, Don’s name was changed to Donald Paul Graham. There he met another four-year-old, his neighbor Warren C. Smith, where the two became inseparable. Later, the Graham family grew larger as a sister, Alice (Hogue) Graham was adopted after the deaths of her parents.
Donald quickly grew up, graduated from Decatur High School in 1956 and on Sept. 8, 1957, he married the love of his life, Mary C. (Abshagen) Graham, who preceded him in death, June 22, 2020.
Donald proudly served his country in the United States Navy. While working on several aircraft carriers, he went from being kitchen staff, cooking hundreds of pounds of potatoes, to becoming a maintenance/mechanic for the jets that would fly in and out.
After the Navy with their first child in tow, Mike, they settled down at their home on West St. Mary Street, Decatur. Soon thereafter, a daughter, Diana, was born, followed by another son, Mark. Don and Mary resided at this home for the remainder of their lives.
Growing up on the family farm, Donald recounted stories of milking cows, raising chickens, gathering eggs, and plowing the fields by hand with the assistance of horses, Prince and Pearl. There he learned the art of gardening, which was evident for years to come while growing his own gardens. On the farm there was a creek that ran through, both to play in and fish. There he kept a metal cup to drink water from the springs. He said it was the best water in the world, but cold so drink it slowly. Don attended a one-room schoolhouse, the Corwin School, on the corner of CR360 and 56th street. He was active in the area 4-H and the Corwin Crackerjacks. Later, Don attended and then graduated from Decatur Public Schools.
In his adult life, Don worked as a foreman for 21 years at Sundstrand Heat Transfer, Inc., (formerly Rudy’s) in Dowagiac. There, he made many lifelong friends and worked alongside many good co-workers; ‘good people’ he called them. With a slowdown in the economy in the 80s, Don was forced to look for other employment. After some hints and persuasion, he applied for the caretaker position with Decatur Township, and was then in charge of several cemeteries in Decatur. There he took pride in his work; from digging graves (each one by hand), keeping the grass perfectly manicured, gravestones finished with the weed eater, pouring foundations for gravestones, and the cleaning of stones.
The community was very grateful and almost daily, Don interacted with someone from town who was thankful for the job that he did. He enjoyed winters also, as his tasks then became custodian at the historic Decatur Township Hall. Don had a great work ethic; he was honest, dependable, self-motivated, trustworthy, continued working when no one was looking, and kept his own hours. These traits surely, he learned from his dad, J. Paul Graham and his uncle, Max L. Graham.
Don retired from Decatur Township proudly after 22 years of service, where it’s believed Don dug his last grave by hand, at the age of 72.
Not being a fan of large groups aside from family, Don enjoyed hunting, fishing, mushroom hunting and raising beagles. His woods, any woods, became his church. He was always out-and-about with one of his many El Caminos or his black Dodge Warlock truck. Day or night, on any backroad he could be found.
Don kept his lawn beautifully manicured at their home in Decatur, where Mary would always walk barefoot after kicking off her shoes. Don and Mary enjoyed touring the area restaurants and casinos. Don also enjoyed many late-night poker games with his many friends from the Hamilton Township area.
Don had a deep love for his wife Mary. Mary, who was always there, believed in Don and continually would win his heart over with her excellent cooking. As time went on and the years flew by, the two became even closer. Don loved country music, was always whistling, or singing, and always biting a toothpick or a wheat stalk that he would pull out of a field. Don was serious about dental care and aside from a recent chipped tooth, kept his entire set of teeth, smiling for his lifetime. Donald was always helpful to his fellow man and would always render aid, and volunteer to those in need.
In 1963, came an unexpected and life changing event for Don. After a 23-year separation from his original ‘Graham’ family, all were found, and the surviving siblings were re-united. With Don now being the youngest, this was the first of many joyous family reunions that occurred yearly. Don was able to meet and re-meet many of his brothers and sisters and then carried on good, solid relationships with all. He most admired and looked up to his oldest sister, Julia (Julie) Miller, 99-years-old, who resides in Paw Paw. Julie was Don’s rock and they remained very close over the next 60 years.
But most importantly of all, Don knew his Lord, had faith in Jesus and he believed the promise of everlasting life. He learned this at a very young age and would speak of this from time to time.
Don was a good man and will be greatly missed by his family and all that knew him.
Donald is survived by his children, Mike (Sue) Graham of Hartford, Diana (Bryan) Stump of Paw Paw, and Mark (Rhonda) Graham of Paw Paw; grandchildren, Nychole (Mark) Flowers, Michael (Kara) Graham, Marissa Schoetzow, Tyler Graham (Christian Evett), Brigitte (James) Vegter, and Brittany Stump; great-grandchildren, Nolyn, Rylin, Jaxon, Khloie, Alexa, Kyler, Hudson, Gavin, Aleah, and Micah; step-great grandchildren, Maryana, Addison, Clair and Isaac; sisters, Julia (Julie) Miller of Paw Paw and Jean Hicks of Allegan. Also, several nieces and nephews, including special nieces, Deb (John) Kurtz of AK, and Sandy (Larry) Garver of FL; brothers-in-law, Ed (Lynn) Abshagen, Glenn (Diane) Abshagen, and James W. Abshagen. Don is also survived by his treasured lifelong friend, Warren C. Smith of Decatur.
Donald was preceded in death by both his birth parents, and adopted parents, Paul T. Graham, Hazel G. (Tiffany) Graham, J. Paul Graham, Lillia M. (Beach) Graham, and Mary E. (Daisy Ericksen) Graham. His wife, Mary C. Graham; sisters, Alice (William) Alm, June, Donna, Joyce, Jane, Betty, Mary Louise, and twin sisters at stillbirth; brothers, Jackie Graham, Harold, Robert, Kenneth, Zane, and Jerry. And lastly, his beloved beagles, Spot, Shiloh and Tion.
The family wishes to thank Don’s daily nursing staff for their compassion, concern, dedication, and hard work, and gave Don the best at home care that could be achieved. He was very well cared for and yes, even spoiled at times. Thank you. Later, Centrica Care Navigators joined and continued as Don’s care became more extensive. Their staff and quality of care was unsurpassed, and the family will always be grateful for the great comfort and care they provided for Don and his family. Thank you.
When Jesus called, Don’s life became anew; a new sunrise, a new sunset, a new woods somewhere to explore, and a new untraveled gravel road to drive. With his arm out the window and a beagle’s tail out the other, off he goes once again.
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