Longtime donor, former state 4-H director honored Thursday night

Thursday, September 16, 2010 | 11:20 p.m. CDT; updated 11:46 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 16, 2010
Frank Graham, right, puts his arm around his wife, Olive Graham, while giving a speech during an event honoring his life and service on Thursday at the Boone County Extension Office. Graham, a lifelong supporter of 4-H and MU Extension, donated the land where the office was built in 1984.

COLUMBIA — A longtime MU Extension employee wants to help maintain a building whose construction he made possible more than 25 years ago.

The Frank Graham Building Endowment Fund is meant to provide money for any maintenance and other expenses related to the Boone County Extension Center office.

Graham, who spent 33 years working with the extension program, gave his name to the fund during a ceremony Thursday night. He originally donated two acres for the center in 1984 after retiring from the program.

MU Extension is a nonprofit partnership among University of Missouri System campuses, Lincoln University, county Extension councils and the federal government. It provides several outreach programs and works with Missouri 4-H.

Morgan Kerr-Totten, a 16-year-old Rock Bridge High School student, raises dairy goats with the help of 4-H. She didn't know much about the origins of the Extension Center's building but has many fond memories there.

"To find out that he was the one who donated the land and who got this going — you wake up and say, 'Well dang, that's the greatest man around,'" Kerr-Totten said.

Kerr-Totten's feelings were shared by speakers at "An Evening with Frank Graham." Most described Graham as friendly and a gentleman, with many remembering how he'd impacted their lives.

Graham, 90, began his career with the extension program after he graduated from MU in 1942. He was a star pitcher for the Tigers' baseball team but passed on a chance to play for the St. Louis Cardinals while he waited for the Army to draft him.

He never saw combat in World War II. Instead, he helped train paratroopers in Georgia. After the war, he moved back to Columbia and was the director of the Missouri 4-H program.

The pitcher in Graham showed through, said Charlie Alexander, 68.

"He used to try to teach the 4-H kids how to throw a curve-ball," he said. "Of course none of us ever caught on, but I remember him teaching us how to hold the ball."

After donating the land for the center, Graham served as Boone County's presiding commissioner from 1987 to 1990. Don Stamper remembered working on Graham's campaign. He said Graham taught him to take interest in what others value.

"During that campaign we inspected more soybeans and cornfields than I've ever been around in my life," Stamper said with a chuckle.

Boone County Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson and Columbia's State Rep. Chris Kelly presented Graham with separate proclamations thanking him for his service.

The night's honoree was humble when asked about the evening.

"You wonder if you deserve it," he said. "You wish you could've done better."

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