By Wayne Cooke
Don Keehoty was a quiet man, a dreamer who liked to fix squeaky doors. When he and his wife moved to Graham in 1995, he found no local newspaper. He fixed that by putting out a neighborhood newsletter, for three years, delivering it to 300 homes monthly. A few thanked him. Most just wondered why he did it.
Later, he felt that Graham needed an elected volunteer leader, like a mayor of sorts, able to argue in its behalf. Ridiculous, people said. Graham has a representative. Don’t be silly! Don sheepishly went home.
But still he wondered, doesn’t Graham have at least some community activities? Nobody seemed to know. They lived in homes, went to work or school, and bought stuff at the stores. Don started dreaming again. He set up a special phone number, advertised it on big signs, and mailed to all who called that number a packet of information and activities in Graham. He gave it one year. Over 80 packets were mailed out. They must have been useful, but they didn’t seem to result in anyone interested community spirit.
Then Don met Lyn and learned that the soul of a community is in its history. They started the Graham Historical Society. During that time Don got interested in the story of a restaurant- the Ranchouse – that was once the hub of Graham where people met friends and felt at home. Then it disappeared. It was a story of elation, genius, and tragedy; a story starting in Vietnam and ending in grief after a family life of closeness, determination, and All-American community spirit. He sought out the widow and wrote the story for the Historical Society. He felt some of the soul of Graham.
Don then heard about Effie, a nurse long-ago who was Graham’s well-known “go-to doc” for years. Effie McGee and her husband built McGee’s Guest Home. Don learned that she also had played a part in getting Frontier Park for Graham. He wrote the story for the Graham Historical Society. It was exciting to learn the stories of people who cared about Graham. This, he felt, was the soul of Graham, and he was finally finding it..
But now Don’s failing vision was making the letters on his computer screen seem to change shape or even disappear. He was forgetful, disorganized, and going blind. Even the hard-won Historical Society seemed in limbo. But Don was still eager to hear more life stories of former Graham leaders. He arranged with Amici’s Restaurant to invite “Graham Old-timers” to eat lunch there with him every third Tuesday of each month at noon. He looked forward to not only getting to know more people who were part of Graham’s past, but also directing some to the Historical Society meetings.
From Kim, at Amici’s, Don learned about an elderly gentleman who ate lunch with them every Thursday. He visited Neal Purdy and found his remarkable life not only worthy of a story, but of a book. Don found himself writing again. It was necessarily a short writing, but in it Don learned that Neal knew the others he had written about and much more. The soul of Graham seemed to be in a network of now elderly people who knew each other but had drifted apart over the years.
Don laboriously made flyers for the Third-Tuesday-Noon lunches. They looked messy and unprofessional to him, but got passed out anyway.
Don had looked forward to the March “third Tuesday” lunch. But he ate alone. No one else came. “What did I do wrong?,” he asked himself. He had committed himself to these lunches, even if he ate alone. But he knew he had missed the mark…again. Don sighed.
Could anyone else pick up the torch? Would anyone else care? Maybe someone at the March 29th meeting of the Graham Historical Society might have an idea. It will be at the Graham Library, 12:30 to 1:30.
Editor’s Note: Wayne Cooke, the former editor of Graham’s 86th Ave Newsletter, has also been a frequent contributor to the Mountain News-WA. I trust that in the near future, he will post the historical stories he mentions in this essay.