Tag Archives: Ohio

RIP Chuck Graham – “A Wizard, A True Star”

Charles (Chuck) William Graham was a man with a multitude of talents. He was the kind of man who could start a computer company from scratch and make it into a successful international corporation. He could plan a family holiday trip to Hawaii and make sure no one missed out on a single adventure, whether it was hiking through a volcano, snorkeling in the ocean or going on a kayak excursion. He could juggle a houseful of guests and make an omelet they would never forget. He could pack up a carful of camping gear and take his wife Julie and daughters Kelli and Leah to explore some of North Carolina’s most beautiful outdoor vistas.

Chuck could do all these things because of a unique combination of brilliance, ingenuity and generosity of spirit. Together with his ability to connect so instantly and effectively with others, it brought him success and admiration in the business world and in his personal life.

Chuck moved to North Carolina in 1990 and was a co-founder of the Salem Automation computer company, based in Winston-Salem. On Monday (Nov. 8, 2010), at the young age of 49, Chuck succumbed to cancer after a hard-fought five-year battle with the disease. His death cut short a life filled with a multitude of accomplishments and plans for future endeavors.

Charles William Graham was born in Dayton, Ohio, and raised in Centerville, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton. Early on, he exhibited an innate talent for science and computers. He invented a variety of contraptions, including a hurricane machine for the science fair and contraptions to keep his nosy sisters Kim and Janet out of his room.

Throughout his life, Chuck enjoyed being outdoors. He was an avid fisherman who delighted in hiking and camping. In the winter, he was always planning his next ski trip – a sport he enjoyed sharing with his daughters. Summers were filled with vacations to the beach, where Chuck enjoyed golfing, body surfing and time with family and friends. made complete by enjoying vacations.

At Archbishop Alter High School, he excelled in the classroom and on the wrestling team. He went on to college at Ohio State University, where he earned two degrees, one in Business Administration and the other in Computer Engineering. While at OSU, he joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity and was an active member. He also met his future wife of 25 years, Julie Thompson, in a marketing class at Ohio State. She was a fellow Business student with many similar interests. Soon they were dating and Chuck and Julie were married in 1985.

Chuck’s time as an OSU student indoctrinated him as a die-hard Buckeyes fan who celebrated their victories, especially the national championship season in 2002. Each season, he and his daughters made the trip to Ohio to attend one game at Ohio Stadium.

Upon graduation, Chuck was hired by Pittsburgh Plate Glass. He later moved on to a small process control company, CRISP Automation, held by Square D Corporation. Transitioning into sales, Chuck moved his family to Charlotte, where he was the Southeast sales representative. After the company was bought by a French corporation, he took a buyout and invested in a small computer company with four other partners. That small company, Salem Automation, grew into an international success story with business interests nationwide and in Puerto Rico and other parts of the world.

While Chuck was succeeding in business, he and his wife, Julie, were tending to their growing family. Their first child, a daughter Kelli, was born in Columbus, Ohio, in 1989. Soon after, the family moved to Charlotte, and in 1992, a second daughter, Leah, was born. Chuck was very active in his daughters’ lives. He encouraged them to be successful in school and made every effort to attend all their extracurricular activities such as music, dance and chorus recitals, Girl Scouts, as well as countless hours shuttling them to and from swim practice and a multitude of swim meets. He was very proud of Kelli and Leah and loved them dearly.

Shortly after moving to Charlotte, he joined St. Gabriel’s parish, where he and his family enjoyed being members.
In his spare time, Chuck enjoyed traveling and planning trips with his family. Whether it was camping with family and friends or planning an elaborate trip to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, exploring a number of the national parks, as well as visits to New York City, Washington, D.C., and Boston to learn more of the country’s history. Chuck had many other trips he had planned for his family in the future.

Chuck had a particular love of the ocean and the beach, enjoying the Outer Banks, Kiawah Island, Charleston, Wild Dunes, and especially his beloved Hawaii, where he honeymooned and then returned several times with his family.

He was first diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in 2005. He immediately began treatment, which continued intermittently over the next five years. While battling his disease, he continued to run his company and had even begun work to launch several other businesses. He also maintained a busy home life and continued to pursue his many passions of golf, travel and spending time with family and friends.

Despite debilitating side effects from his treatment, Chuck always sustained his sense of humor and positive outlook. In his 49 years, he accomplished much and touched many. His spirit and legacy will never be forgotten.

He is survived by his wife of 25 years, Julie Thompson Graham, daughters Kelli and Leah, parents Charles and Evelyn Graham, sisters Kim Graham and Janet Graham.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Carolinas HealthCare Foundation at http://www.givechf.org. Specifically, please indicate the contribution is for The Rare and Complex Cancer Funds or Blumenthal Cancer Center Endowment in memory of Chuck Graham.

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Riding Shotgun Down The Avalanche

Tuesday morning, 9/7/10, Detroit – An early morning alarm and then it was out into the bright Detroit light as my fiancee Janet and I began the 12 hundred plus mile journey to North Carolina to visit Janet’s brother Chuck, who is battling brain cancer with great heroism. Just a very light breakfast as we tried to get on the road as early as possible. Though we’d been looking forward to seeing Chuck and spending time with him at his home in Charlotte, we both understood that this wasn’t going to be easy. Visiting a sick relative or friend never is. But sometimes you just have to do it. And so we did.

Hands firmly on the wheel and eyes sharply on the road, we set off for the southland. We tried not to think about what awaited us. We just drove.

Here are the plain and simple facts. 48 year old Chuck Graham is a brilliant engineer who owns a multi-million dollar engineering firm in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is married and has two daughters, one in high school and one in college. Diagnosed with cancer several years ago, Chuck has been battling it ever since. He’s been through it all, many times over. Chemotherapy. Radiation. Surgery on tumors on his face and neck. More chemo. More radiation. Months of disabling side effects. Blinding, pounding headaches. Awful pain. On and on.

Beginning a few months ago, Chuck began having difficulty swallowing, making it very painful and impossible to eat. Because of this, Chuck’s lost a huge amount of weight, more than 70 pounds. He’s also recovering from a serious bout with pneumonia that landed him in the hospital. He’s now getting nutrition via a feeding tube. He’s in near constant pain, but gets some relief from morphine which his wife, Julie, administers as needed. Julie has taken a sabbatical to care for Chuck. He is home, but still must visit the hospital each day for more radiation, as the doctors continue to try to shrink his remaining tumors. Those are the hard cold facts.

Then there are also many questions, some which can be answered and some which cannot. And sometimes it’s hard to get through all the information and get answers to some of those questions. As we pressed on further south, Janet and I wondered what we might find when we reached our destination. I hoped and prayed for strength, primarily for Janet but also for myself. Janet is very strong, stronger perhaps than she thinks, but has never been through a family situation like this. As Janet drove her mighty mule of a car, we tried not to think or talk too much about what we mostly already knew.

We were listening much of the way to Pandora Radio. The music was soothing to both of us and as the day progressed and we continued on, some of the earlier anxiety seemed to ease. We were bound for the hills of West Virginia, a place I’d never seen before. Still in Ohio, the sun was shining brightly. Great traveling weather. And it was quite serendipitous when John Denver’s classic song, “Country Road” came on Pandora Radio, quite some distance from the West Virginia line:

“Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River….
Country roads, take me home,
To the place I belong….”

The landscape began to change from mainly flat countryside to low hills. It’s a pretty country, I said to Janet and she agreed. Being on the road gives you a chance to open your mind as you see how huge and wide this country really is. There are just long stretches where you see nothing at all other than nature. The clutter begins to clear in your head and we began to relax a little. Sometimes it’s good just to be traveling on. We concentrated on making sure we were taking all the right exits and following all the correct routes and roads.

Although Janet has traveled through much of this country in her days as a sports reporter, my travel has been more limited. But I enjoy seeing new places. We entered West Virginia and crossed a few rivers. Quickly those hills become mountains and the roads curved around the mountains like ribbons. The roads began to get very steep and treacherous and Janet had to really concentrate. We had a quick lunch in the car and kept going. I looked at my watch and noticed we’ve been on the road for nine hours. Where did all that time go? The scenery, at times, was breathtaking.

Dusk carried us further along and soon we entered North Carolina. We would not be seeing Chuck that night. We’d made arrangements to spend the night at a friend’s house. When we arrived at our destination we realized we’d been driving for 13 hours, and once we got settled it wasn’t hard, despite our anxiety regarding the next day, to fall asleep. Our heads hit the pillows and it was time to visit the Land of Nod.

Wednesday morning, 9/8/10, Charlotte, N.C. – Chuck asked us to wait until late morning to visit, so that allowed us to sleep in an extra hour or two. We got ready and headed over to Chuck’s house about five miles away. And as we pulled into his driveway we saw several people standing in the front yard discussing something or other. (Turns out they were workers looking to do some tree-trimming.) Standing right in the middle of the group was Chuck, looking much as I expected. As we got out of our car and walked toward him, it was easy to see the toll this battle has taken. He appeared haggard and very thin, and greeted us with a look of supreme sadness. Just a shadow of the man we saw at Christmas, I thought of how remarkable it was that he was standing outside his house taking care of business. What incredible courage! What a true fighter he is!

After we all embraced, we went inside to Chuck’s sunny day room, a large room he added on to his house several years ago. It’s a beautiful and well-appointed room and it’s many windows allow the sun to brighten up the house. Chuck has two dogs, a young, muscular and slightly aggressive hound named Hayden and an older, more mellow golden retriever named Rigby and they seem to bring a nice energy into the house. I believe animals are essential for people who are sick and trying to get better. I believe they have an intuitive knowledge of what’s happening and provide necessary love and companionship to the sick. I’m glad Chuck has Hayden and Rigby by his side, whenever he needs them.

Janet and I had plenty of questions to ask about how Chuck was feeling. We also tried to keep things light, offering up stories and anecdotes about our own lives and some of the funny people we’ve encountered. Chuck was happy not to have to answer too many question, and equally curious to hear our stories. Soon it was time for Janet’s brother to make his own trip to the hospital for more radiation. We left and came back in the late afternoon and sat and chatted with him some more. That night we watched an emotionally uplifting, good natured film, “The Blind Side.”

It was a good film with a happy ending and it seemed to put Chuck in a positive frame of mind. Needless to say he gets sleepy fairly early every night, so we left after the movie, telling Chuck and his wife we’d be back again the next day.

Thursday, 9/9/10, Charlotte, N.C. – Thursday ended up being pretty much a carbon copy of the day before with our arrival at Chuck’s in the late morning and the break for radiation. However, instead of leaving, we stayed at Chuck’s house and read while he was at the hospital. I also observed that there seemed to be a considerable improvement in Chuck’s mood. His face just looked less sad and he laughed and talked more often. Thinking that laughter is often the best remedy, I borrowed a copy of the classic knee slapper, “My Cousin Vinny” from Chuck’s friend Jim. Around 5:00 p.m. we sat down and watched that movie and all laughed quite a bit at good old Joe Pesci and friends.

As I said Chuck’s spirit’s seemed to have lifted since the day before. In fact, he was feeling so good on Thursday that all day he kept talking about taking a trip in the evening to a candy store called Kilwin’s. In fact, Chuck pretty much insisted that we all pile into a car and go for a ride across town to a trendy area with a group of shops where Kilwin’s was located.

Inside the smell of fudge, chocolate and ice cream filled our senses and soon filled our stomachs as well. And despite the fact that Chuck couldn’t eat or drink anything, it didn’t matter. He truly seemed to delight in the sight of seeing us having fun, selecting our favorite flavor of ice cream or enjoying a slice of freshly made chocolate fudge. He just looked on and smiled now and then.

We walked back to our car, stopping to look in shop windows on this gorgeous southern September night. It was great to see Chuck and Julie walking hand in hand. And as I noticed Chuck watching us enjoy ourselves, I realized that this was why everyone loves Chuck so much. It’s because Chuck simply cares so much about making sure his friends and family are having a great time.

I remembered how on past visits he would always be pointing out places of interest along the road in North Carolina, making sure I was comfortable and part of the conversation. Last Christmas, as a gift to his family, Chuck rented out a very luxurious and expensive beach house in Charleston, South Carolina. Once again, another example of Chuck’s generosity. Chuck is one of a kind, an incredibly loving and generous man who loves to give of himself. And how can you not love that.

And I guess that’s the true tragedy of his illness. The world needs more guys like Chuck and it’s just plain wrong to see such wonderful people suffer. Chuck embodies so much the opposite of what I see in most of the other people I encounter in the world. During an age of endless greed, narcissism, and selfishness, Chuck is exceedingly generous, loving and kind. It’s just a crying shame that he’s had to endure this ordeal. It’s just wrong.

We got home and since we were going to leave early Friday, we said our goodbyes then and there, with a promise to visit again sometime soon. Chuck was careful to make sure we knew the best way to Dayton, where we were going to stop overnight on the way home to cut the trip in half. It was an emotional experience and I could tell you that there were no tears shed, but I’d be lying.

Friday, 9/10/10, Charlotte, N.C. – We were up and on the road by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., thanking Chuck’s friend Jim for his hospitality before we drove off. We had another long journey ahead of us, but this time instead of going straight back to Detroit, we decided to take a different route and visit with Janet’s parents in Dayton to spend time with them and tell them what we had seen and learned about Chuck. We were saddened to leave, but feeling positive about the time we spent with Chuck and Julie and cautiously optimistic about Chuck’s future. It seemed to take longer to go a shorter distance (the road home always feels longer, doesn’t it?), but Chuck’s parents were delighted to see us Friday night and we all went out to dinner at our favorite restaurant in little olde Centerville, Ohio.

Chuck’s daughter Kelli, who attends the University of Dayton, joined us for dinner and was happy to hear that her Dad was doing okay. Chuck’s mother and father had lots of questions and we did our best to answer them. They, like Chuck, are deeply religious, and Janet and I are always happy and heartened to see how their faith in God is helping them through this most trying time. Finally, exhausted from the road, we retired for the night, everyone feeling a little more relieved and hopeful that Chuck can still beat this despicable scourge of a disease.

Saturday, 9/11/2010, Dayton, OH – We had already traveled more than one thousand miles, but we still had another couple hundred ahead of us as we made our way back to the Motor City on Saturday. It’s a good thing that Janet is a better traveler than me, because I was starting to feel the strain of the road, and she was still going strong. As we drove into our condo complex we felt such a mixture and combination of emotions.

It had been one heck of an journey with plenty of highs and lows and ups and downs. For Janet, I knew it was a trip she had to make, to see the brother that she loves with all her heart and to just be with him for awhile during this struggle. For me, it was also something I needed to do, because although I like to think that I’m providing strength for Janet, I’m also trying to come to grips and deal with Chuck and the battle he’s fighting.

One of the lessons that my own father taught me was that we can never give up in this life. No matter how difficult the fight is, or how bad the odds might be, you have to stay in the ring and keep on swinging. And you can never, ever give up. I told Chuck this and I know he’s probably heard it before. And the good news is that I don’t think he ever will give up. He will keep on fighting the good fight. I also have come to experience things in my own life that allow me to believe in miracles and I am praying as hard and fervently as I can that Chuck can fully recover and get to live to a fine old age.

Nobody deserves it more than Chuck.

Postscript: I’d like to, on behalf of Janet and her entire family, appeal to you for your prayers and good thoughts for Chuck Graham of Charlotte, North Carolina. I thank you very much and I’ll keep you up to date.

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Prayers Needed For Chuck Graham

I’d like to dedicate today’s blog entry to one of the greatest guys I’ve ever been fortunate enough to meet in my 50 years on the planet. His name is Chuck Graham and, as I type this tonight, he’s battling for his life in a hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Chuck is my beautiful fiancee Janet’s brother and he’s battling from brain cancer. He was admitted to the hospital last week because of pneumonia. He’s a very sick man, but miracles do happen. It’s a crying, awful shame that he’s suffering so much in his long and valiant fight with cancer, but all we can you – all anyone can do, is to pray.

Chuck is an engineer and owns his own multi-million dollar company in North Carolina. He’s hands down the smartest guy I’ve ever met, not just when it comes to engineering which is mostly over my head, but simply when it comes to life. He is smart and sharp about everyday things and could figure out in minutes things that would take you and I much longer to decipher. For example, last Christmas he assembled a magnificent model railroad village in his living room, while entertaining his guests, cooking, attending to the needs of his family which included a wife and two beautiful girls, on in high school and the other in college. I watched him multi-task and marveled at the genius of a great mind that he possesses.

Chuck was born and raised in the sleepy, Dayton area community of Centerville, Ohio. It was a wonderful place to grow up with it’s myriad of similar aged children, always friends to find and things to do. And Chuck, with his charisma and charm, always had plenty of friends. Even the neighbors thought he was the greatest.

I was amazed by this the very first time I met Chuck. It was on Christmas Day of 2008 and Janet had invited me to Chuck’s home outside Charlotte, North Carolina to celebrate Christmas. That night he had what was billed as a “small gathering.” In no time, his house was filled with nearly a hundred friends and neighbors, along with the warm glow that always comes when you are surrounded by the ones you love and who love you. Everybody always wanted to talk to Chuck and Chuck tried his best to oblige, mingling with the Christmas visitors.

Chuck is like a magnet who attracts attention and light. He always has an interesting story and a great sense of humor to go with it. He’s just plain fun to be around. Even then Chuck is not feeling well from his treatments you’d never know it. I never once heard him complain. Complaining and belly-aching is not in Chuck’s nature. Living is.

When it came time for college, Chuck chose the school that dominates his home state, Ohio State. And once, Chuck became an Ohio State Buckeye through and through. As recently as last season he was excited about attending Ohio State football games and typically he’d bring along his wife and parents, Charlie and Evelyn. When he couldn’t be there in person, Chuck will also watch the games at home, hanging on every point scored. His brilliant mind knows all the players on both sides of the field and all their statistics. Just another example of his genius.

I can’t remember the first time that Janet told me that Chuck is battling cancer, but it’s been several years. It first metastasized in his throat, and facial glands. This always made for great discomfort for Chuck. But this wonderful, loving man continues to fight like a prize-fighter. Through countless rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, leaving Chuck with vicious, blinding, head-pounding headaches and other side effects, his wit and friendliness remains. Chuck has taken everything he’s been given with great bravery and courage.

A short time ago, Chuck lost his hair, a common side effect and continued having a difficult time eating. I would send Chuck emails trying to try to cheer him up. But in recent months, I noticed that his responses were growing briefer. I’m certain it was all he could do to go through his email.

Here’s a picture of Chuck and his family last Christmas.

Last week, Janet and I got word that Chuck was in the hospital with pneumonia. His lovely daughter Kelly posted a one word message on her Facebook account. It said: “Pray.”

And that’s what I’m asking all of you to do. Janet and her family are being incredibly strong in the face of all of this. I am doing my best to be strong and to help Janet through this incredibly hard time. All we can do is pray for Chuck. Pray for a miracle. Pray that he’s not suffering too much. Pray that God will show some mercy and help Chuck.

As my father used to say, when he was dying, it ain’t over till they throw roses on you. So let’s pray for a miracle, for they do happen and I’ve seen living proof.

Please pray that Chuck isn’t suffering and that the doctors are keeping him comfortable. Pray that the doctors can make him better again. Just please pray…pray…pray.

On behalf of Janet, her family and Chuck’s family, I thank you.

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My Friend Don Meineke – NBA Legend

One weekend last summer, I had occasion to visit my fiancee Janet’s hometown of Centerville, a sleepy and sultry suburb of nearby Dayton, Ohio – the town where the Wright Brothers grew up and first dreamed of flying. On that warm late summer weekend, I had the thrilling experience of meeting, among a group of Janet’s parents friends, a very tall, unassuming gentleman named Don Meineke, who is not only one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, but as it turns out, was also was the first man ever to be named NBA Rookie of the Year.

As it happened, Janet and I were in Centerville that weekend last summer, visiting her parents and my future in-laws, and we were invited to an old-fashioned neighborhood shindig. It seemed her neighbors, the Walshes, were having an outdoor patio party, the kind of thing that was popular back in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s in close-knit neighborhoods. Back in those days it was commonplace for families who lived within spittin’ distance of each other to get together for no particular reason and have a dandy of a time, just talkin’, drinkin’ beer and wine; in other words celebrating life. I suppose this kind of thing stopped happening quite a while ago in most towns when people began locking their doors at night and stopped getting to know their neighbors.

But in Centerville it still goes on. (Although I’m pretty sure they lock their doors at night.)

I went along, looking forward to meeting some of my future in-laws’ good friends and enjoying a nice summer night, as well as meeting my in-laws’ best friends and neighbors never expecting to meet and talk half the night away with Don Meineke. When we arrived, Don was sitting completely contentedly next to his equally hospitable and kind wife, Mary Jane. After the introductions, and after being told that Don had not only been a college basketball standout for the University of Dayton Flyers, where he is still held in great reverence, but also a star for the former Fort Wayne Pistons (now the Detroit Pistons), I moved to the closest chair near Don so I could listen and learn more. He looked like a guy with a few stories to tell and that night, Don didn’t disappoint.

Having personally been a tall teenager and an aspiring basketball player myself, and someone who still has a keen interest in the game, I was anxious to hear about what it was like to play “old school” basketball in the 1950s. Don regaled me with countless stories of his days playing, first college and then NBA basketball. He told stories of the low pay and big men he played against, including one of my heroes, Bill Russell and all the miles he traveled to get to the next city and next game – Syracuse, New York, Boston, etc.

But perhaps most fascinatingly, Don told me of his association with fellow Fort Wayne Piston star Jack Molinas, a man whose life has been chronicle’s in a book titled, “The Wizard Of Odds: How Jack Molinas Almost Destroyed The Game Of Basketball.”

According to author Charley Rosen, and confirmed by Don Meineke as I sat next to him in complete awe, Molinas was a guy with a tremendous amount of talent who threw it all away by fixing a bunch of basketball games. Don told me he was questioned by the team owner and the commissioner of the NBA, but they had nothing on him. For Molinas though, his criminal activities connected to basketball landed him in jail, then after he was suspended from the game, in the company of mobsters which led to, according to Rosen, “a gruesome and mysterious murder.”

Wow! Suddenly Don Meineke was telling me his story and the sad, but inevitable fall of Jack Molinas and I was more than a little intrigued. Don had other stories as well, about other records he set, and his years after he retired from the NBA and I sat and listened with rapt attention until it was late and Don and his wife had to call it a night. I spoke to Don again last December I went to a University of Dayton basketball game where Don and a number of other former stars were honored. (The team is quite competitive, winning the NIT championship last season by defeating North Carolina in the final game.)

I spent some more time at yet another party speaking to Don Meinike on my most recent trip to Centerville, I went to a Fourth of July gathering and Don and I posed for pictures together and talked some more. It’s not every day, after all, that you get to hang out with an NBA legend.

I hope that Don Meineke will always be my good friend.

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