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Life Story / Obituary
Honorable, hardworking, and devoted, Edward Arnold Graf will long be remembered as a man of strong family values. A Patriot, who cherished American Values and the singing of the national anthem, Ed never shied away from serving others. He lived a full and successful life of service to his family, his community, his church, and his country. Ed led by example, embodying the principles he believed in and consciously building his life on the firm foundation of faith, family, and service. Husband, father, grandfather, and friend, Ed inspired all who were blessed to know him. Cherished by many, he will long be remembered and so very missed.
The 1920s were an age of dramatic social and political change. Post-war peace, a booming economy, rising wages for most Americans, and falling consumer prices resulted in a higher standard of living for most. Tremendous confidence, prosperity, and previously unknown comforts marked this roaring decade when a person's success was largely determined by their ability to identify their desires and then work to make them a reality. For Fred and Marie (Pagel) Graf, this vibrant decade grew even brighter on January 7, 1922, when they welcomed their son Edward into their hearts and Chicago home.
With his older brother Fred "Bud," Ed spent much time going to Lake Michigan and fishing with their father, whom he deeply loved and respected. Best of friends, he and Fred also spent their young years during the prosperous 1920s doing what young boys did in that era. When the stock market crashed in November of 1929, the Grafs, like most families, experienced significant changes to their lifestyle. They moved several times, which meant Ed had to change schools often. Despite the changes, Ed was always a good student. He participated in ROTC and served as a class officer. He and Bud enjoyed adventuring at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago, and Ed proudly graduated from Sullivan High School with the class of 1940.
Three years older than Ed, Fred had already enlisted in the military and was a crew member serving in the U.S. Army Air Force. While in downtown Chicago, Ed read the news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, on the ticker tape at Macy's department store, realizing that many people didn't even know where Pearl Harbor was. The national mood prompted Ed to enlist in the Army; however, he was rejected. Sadly, the Graf family learned that Fred was missing in action after his plane was shot down during missions in North Africa and the Mediterranean. Fred's death deeply impacted Ed for the rest of his life. He often recalled fond memories of their time together and never forgot their bond or Fred's sacrifice for his country.
After living in Bloomingdale, Illinois, for a few years, the Graf family moved to Jackson, Michigan, where Ed joined his father, who was managing a local laundry. The move was significant as it was where he met Margaret "Peg" Phillip while attending the County Fair. Ed was at the fair with his date who was also Peg's cousin. When Ed wanted to ride the Ferris wheel, and Lucy did not, Peg agreed to ride with him. As fate would have it, this was the beginning of a wonderful relationship, which would span over six decades and include many happy memories.
When Ed tried to enlist again, he successfully joined the U.S. Army. After basic training, he was elected to Officer Candidate School, graduated as a 2nd lieutenant, and was sent to England in preparation for the eventual invasion. During his time away, he and Peg kept up their romance by writing often. About a week after D-Day, Ed landed on Utah Beach in Normandy, France, and was soon involved in reconnaissance and eventually fighting through the hedgerows of French farms. Within weeks, he was wounded and captured by the Germans on July 6. After some initial medical treatment, he and fellow POWs were eventually located in various camps throughout Europe, finally arriving in Oflag 64 in Schubin, Poland, on September 15, 1944. While held in the camp, Ed always felt he could escape and silently prepared to do so. He made a warm hood and a small American flag, and acquired a compass while waiting for the best possible opportunity. Finally, in January of 1945, as the Germans were evacuating Poland and transporting prisoners to Germany, he was able to escape. After initially hiding, he carefully moved throughout Poland and Russia, keeping away from the Germans until he met up with Russian troops in March. Afterward, he met up with American troops, and on March 30, 1945, boarded an American Ship and headed back to the United States.
Following his safe return home, he and Peg joyfully married on June 16, 1945. As a result of the wounds Ed sustained in war, the newlyweds honeymooned in Miami, Florida, to be close to a military hospital for his continuing care. While there, they experienced a hurricane. Ed's military responsibilities took the couple to various military posts throughout the U.S. until they eventually ended up in Miles Standish, New Jersey.
After his honorable discharge from the Army a couple of years later, Ed and Peg returned to Jackson, moved into a home they purchased, and Ed began his career as a salesman for Nabisco Baking Company. Another big change was that the family grew with the births of their first two children, daughters Priscilla and Suzette. In 1953, Ed was transferred to Grand Rapids, and the family was also completed there with the birth of daughter Judy. The family first lived on Almont Street S.E. before eventually moving to their longtime home on Lotus Street.
While Peg devoted herself to the care of the children and home, Ed was dedicated to providing for his family. His work took him away from home most weeks, and he was rather regimented, with firm ideas on how things should be done properly. He often returned home from work with extra boxes of cookies and crackers to share with neighbors and family. The family explored and celebrated their faith as members of the South Congregational Church. In addition to regular attendance, Ed was an active member, serving as a Sunday School teacher and deacon. Ed also enjoyed lending his beautiful tenor voice to the collective singing of inspiring hymns.
Understanding the value of restorative time together, Ed and Peg made sure their family enjoyed many summer weekends at various beaches and parks, most notably Holland State Park and Dutton Park. The weekends were filled with quality time together, with Ed cooking breakfast on the Coleman stove and full days fishing, being on the beach, and lying in the sun. Ed particularly enjoyed trout fishing, teaching daughters the fine art of fishing, and enjoying the outdoors. He really liked fishing on the Pere Marquette River. The family enjoyed vacationing in various parts of Michigan, renting cottages and later camping with their travel trailer. They also traveled as far as the New York World Fair and then a long trip to the western U.S.
Ed's successful sales career ended when he retired at age 58. He and Peg were world travelers and visited almost every continent in the world, including Europe, North Africa, and Australia. They even took a month-long trip to China, which was truly an unforgettable experience for them. Their travels also took them to every state in the United States, sightseeing and marveling at the many natural beauties of our country. Ed volunteered with the Grand Rapids Police Department, entering data, and also became a member of the Golden Kiwanis Club, participating in its social and service activities.
Ed and Peg eagerly welcomed grandchildren and were always happy to see them. They spent a lot of time caring for grandchildren and entertaining the family. His grandchildren will long treasure Ed's ready smile and active play. After missing holidays with his family while a POW, Ed never lost sight of the blessings of being able to celebrate the holidays with family.
In his quiet time, Ed loved to sit in his recliner in the knotty pine living room each day, reading and working crossword puzzles. In January of 2000, he and Peg made a big change when they moved to Cook Valley Retirement Community. They quickly made friends and participated in many activities. After Peg passed away in 2005, Ed struggled in a cloud of grief but determinedly continued on. He attended several Oflag 64 reunions and, at one time, traveled with a group accompanied by his granddaughter Katie to Germany to visit the prison camp site and neighboring communities. He also enjoyed spending time with family in the Grand Rapids area and traveled to visit his daughter, who had settled in the Chicago area. On one of those trips, he and his son-in-law were able to travel around the city, visiting places of significance and reliving some of his childhood memories.
At age 95, Ed's eyesight deteriorated with macular degeneration, and he realized he needed to give up driving as he didn't want to be responsible for an accident. Despite the challenges, he made the best of the situation, using Cook Valley transportation services to go grocery shopping and attend church services. Ed thoughtfully never wanted to be a burden, but his family was always willing to ensure his needs were well met. Always willing to go with family members for meals, holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions, Ed continued to enjoy every moment spent with loved ones. His great-grandchildren were especially important to him, and he always had a good time participating in family gatherings and watching them grow. He lit up when they were around, loved to hear about them, and played with them with the same enthusiasm he had when his grandchildren were younger.
When Ed's health required additional care, he moved to Porter Hills in 2020 during the pandemic. The social constraints imposed by the pandemic proved daunting as he became quite reclusive. While he could talk to his family on the phone, he could not leave, nor could family visit him except for talking to him from below his balcony. While he found solace in watching the news and old movies, and also in some reading, after months of isolation and loneliness, when visits were finally allowed, he was delighted to be with family for short visits.
Ed celebrated his 100th birthday, receiving many birthday cards, congratulations, and best wishes. A few short weeks after celebrating his 101st birthday, he passed away on February 17, 2023. Though life feels less certain in the absence of Ed's steadfast companionship, may we find much comfort in knowing he is reunited with his beloved and in the privilege of carrying his honorable legacy forward in our own lives.
Edward Arnold Graf passed away on Friday, February 17, 2023, at the age of 101. He is survived by his daughters and sons-in-law Priscilla & Ronald Karelse, Suzette & David Meyer, Judy & Timothy Knight; grandchildren Lisa (Joel) DeVries, Lee (Kelli) Karelse, Becky (Brian) Tubergen, Beth (Dan) Triezenberg, Courtney (Ben) VandeWege, Ashley (Doug) Slot, Jennifer (Matt) Pautlitz, Katie (Shaun) Rezaiefard, Ryan (Chelsea) Tooker; and 22 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret "Peg" Graf, in 2005, as well as his brother, Fred Graf.
A service to celebrate Edward's life will be held on March 8, 2023, at 4 PM at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home - Van Strien Creston Chapel, 1833 Plainfield Avenue NE. Friends are invited to visit with Ed's family beginning at 2 PM. For those who wish, memorial contributions are suggested to either Faith Hospice or the American Diabetes Association. To read more about Ed, to share a memory or photo, or to sign his guestbook, visit www.heritagelifestory.com