On January 23, 1919 Paul Graff (1882-1967) and his wife Theresa Sailer Graff (1892-1978) gave birth to their first child, Al Graff.
Today we celebrate his 100th birthday.
Several years ago I got a copy of his parents’ marriage license from Mandan, North Dakota. They married on September 10, 1917. Their marriage license was incredibly involved. A physician (whose name I can’t read) attested that they weren’t related and neither was “an idiot, epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded person, common drunkard, insane person or person who has heretofore been afflicted with hereditary insanity, or afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages, or afflicted with any contagious venereal disease.” Another part of the application attests that neither of them “has one-eighth or more negro blood.” I’ve often thought it would be good to have a document that attests that I’m not an idiot, imbecile, or feeble minded person.
By any measure Al has lived an incredible life. He came of age during the Great Depression. He and his cousin Paul Graner attended Loyola High School because the pastor of their parish, Our Mother of Sorrows paid their tuition in return for them spending each Saturday cleaning the church.
After high school Al worked for a year at the Cudahy Packing Factory to save money for college. He was then able to attend the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1942 with a degree in engineering.
Seven months before he graduated the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and his classmates were told to stay in school and hone their skills. After graduation General Electric hired him and moved him to Schenectady, New York. He was deferred from service during World War II because he worked on a team that developed the first jet engines.
After the war he married his sweetheart Marion Goetz (1922-2000). In 1958 they moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California and joined St James and St. Leo’s Catholic Church.
As his career in engineering wound down he began studies to become a permanent deacon. In 1983 he was ordained and began his second career.
As a deacon he preached, taught, counseled, and served the people of God. And even into his 90’s his generosity wasn’t done. He donated seed money to St. James Academy, ensuring that future generations could be given the opportunity he was given as a member of the class of 1936 at Loyola High School. He paid it forward.
Full disclosure: I’m his son-in-law, married to his youngest daughter Nancy. Twenty one years ago he welcomed me into his family with enthusiasm and joy. Eighteen years ago, after Marion died, he agreed that we should purchase a house together and we live in a wonderful neighborhood.
For the last two decades I’ve been blessed to stand in his shadow and benefit from his generosity. He has perfected the ability to give without remembering and accept without forgetting. His belief that God’s love for us surpasses our ability to create chaos and hurt each other has taught me the seismic ability of God’s forgiveness.
I stand in awe.