Columbia teacher Rua Jean Graebner loved nature

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 | 8:18 p.m. CDT; updated 9:40 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2014

COLUMBIA — After her husband of  50 years died in 1999, Rua Jean Graebner decided it was time for Scotch pines to give way to wild animals and plants.

She turned the 30-acre farm — where she and her husband, Larry Graebner, had run a choose-and-cut Christmas tree operation — into her personal wildlife refuge.

Then, in the company of a friend from college, Graebner spent 12 years following her love of natural history to places as varied as Mexico, Iceland, Trinidad and Costa Rica. She also visited various corners of the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii and Wyoming.

Rua Jean Graebner of Rocheport died Monday, June 30, 2014, after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 88.

She was born April 28, 1926, in Granite City, Ill., to Ralph ad Ruby (Sloan) Wilson.

After graduating from Granite City High School, she came to Columbia to attend the Missouri School of Journalism. On Jan. 28, 1949, she married Larry Graebner, who was also a journalist and photographer.

Upon graduation from MU, Jean and Larry Graebner landed jobs at the Columbia Daily Tribune, where Mrs. Graebner worked until 1953, when the couple's first daughter was born. Larry Graebner worked there until 1980, when he retired.

Mrs. Graebner returned to MU for a master's degree in English after her daughters began school. After receiving her degree, she became a teacher at West Junior High School, where she taught English and social studies for 26 years. She also sponsored the Sword and Shield, the school's newspaper.

Mrs. Graebner was active in several organizations, including the Prairie Foundation, the Conservation Federation of Missouri, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Federation, the Missouri State Park Association, the Friends of Rock Bridge, the Hawthorn Native Plant Society and the Columbia Audubon Society.

She served as the secretary for the Native Plant Society and the Audubon Society. She was recognized with the 2009 Blazing Star Award from the Hawthorn Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society, among other awards.

Mrs. Graebner is survived by two daughters, Cathy Jose and her husband, Philip, of Hartsburg and Anita Kelch and her husband, Marty, of Highland, Ill.; six grandchildren, Jennifer Chrane and her husband, Michael, of Lathrop, Jeanna Jose of Ashland, John Jose of Rocheport, Scott Jose of Hartsburg, Nicholas McSpadden and his wife, Tiffany, of Granite City, Ill., and Laura McSpadden of Troy, Ill.; and five great-grandchildren, Onni of Ashland, Grace and Levi of Lathrop, and Brendan and Mason of Troy, Ill.

Her husband, Larry Graebner, died earlier.

Private services will be held.

Memorial contributions can be made to the Central Missouri Humane Society, 616 Big Bear Blvd., Columbia, MO 65202.

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