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Life Story / Obituary
A woman of grace, courage, and unwavering strength, Mary Donna “Obie” Graham was truly an inspiration to everyone she met. She worked hard, but it was her selfless spirit that was the driving force behind her hard work as she lived to serve those around her in ways both great and small. A devoted mother if ever there was one, Obie was filled with unspeakable joy to witness her family tree blossom to include generations of loved ones who made her so very proud. She was a woman of many talents, but even her gifts and talents were put to good use blessing countless people within her community. Life was not without times of trial for Obie, but she took whatever came her way in stride and always made the best of things, too. Deeply loved, she will be forever missed.
It was great to be an American during the decade that we recall as the Roaring Twenties. Innovation was transforming our everyday lives, and the times were primarily prosperous. It was also during this exciting time that Edmund J. and Minnie M. (Hobbs) O’Brien announced the birth of the baby girl they named Mary Donna on November 16, 1925, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. As the oldest of 13 children, she learned the meaning of hard work as she helped out around the home, with her younger siblings, and on the family farm in Lincoln Township where she was raised. The 1930s were defined by the Great Depression, and although there were no luxuries there was always enough food to go around. Joined in her family by her younger siblings including Jean, Martin, Mike, Lois, Jim, Theresa, Bill, Barbara, Pat, Jerry, John, and Susan. Mary appreciated always having someone to play with.
Obie always spoke very fondly of her childhood. She loved going to the one-room schoolhouse and enjoyed reading, but her favorite times were spent with her Grandma Hobbs who lived down the road. It has been said that Obie wore her shoes right out walking to her house as she was there nearly every spare moment. In the summer she often spent the night with her grandma and was picked up by her father on his way home from delivering milk to the dairy. As a teen Obie was hired out as a nanny and lived in other people’s homes during the week, and during her last two summers in high school she worked as a cook’s helper at a children’s summer camp
After graduating from Sacred Heart Academy in Mount Pleasant, Obie went on to graduate as an RN from St. Mary’s Nursing School in Saginaw in 1946. During WWII she served as a member of the United States Cadet Nurse Corps. Although nursing school was very demanding under the direction of the Sisters of Charity, Obie was so grateful for her outstanding education and for the lifelong friendships she made there including her best friend, Lois.
When Obie returned, she began working at Mt. Pleasant Hospital and soon found her specialty in surgery, which she loved. She later worked as a private duty nurse in Mt. Pleasant and Ithaca and also in a doctor’s office and a nursing home in Wayland. Obie spent several summers as the nurse for a migrant workers’ program in Allegan County, and she spent the final ten years of her career working in the men’s ward at the Kalamazoo Regional Psychiatric Hospital.
It was while working at Mt. Pleasant Hospital that Obie met the man who would change the course of her life forever. He was a state trooper named John Graham, and they met when he accompanied a wounded suspect into the emergency room late one night. Deeply in love, they were married in 1949, and together they were blessed with three children, Kay, Jack, and Jim. Obie made it seem easy to work outside of the home and also care for her family as she cooked every night, took care of the cleaning and household needs, and sewed most of her children’s clothes. She made everything memorable as she created elaborate cakes for birthdays, went over and above on every holiday, and made even the ordinary days extraordinary. Being married to a trooper meant that the family moved a few times including to Ithaca in 1958 and to Wayland in 1960. Obie always did everything she could to make these moves as smooth as possible for her children. Although her marriage later ended in divorce in 1984, Obie was forever grateful for the children they shared.
Throughout her life Obie was a woman of many interests. No one could tell a story quite like Obie, and most of her stories were about what life was like during her younger years. Creative and crafty, Obie spent many hours every year knitting, crocheting, and sewing items for her church circle bazaars. Her specialty was doll clothes, and they were always some of the best sellers. Obie also enjoyed knitting countless stocking hats and mittens, which she donated to children’s charities every winter, and after retiring she discovered quilting, which quickly became her favorite pastime. She spent numerous hours at her sewing machine during her lifetime, and she also took various sewing classes as well. Obie also kept busy playing bridge, cake decorating, reading, antique collecting, and heading to garage sales and flea markets. Dogs always had a special place in Obie’s heart, and they played an important role in her life. Over the years she had many memorable canine companions including her recent cocker spaniels, Garth and Dooley. Dooley moved with Obie to Friendship Village in 2010, and the two became a popular pair among the other residents. Obie made many good friends at “the Village” and she was grateful to have found the perfect home for her sunset years.
All who knew Mary Donna “Obie” Graham would agree that she was truly beautiful on the inside and out. She was known for her intelligence, her lively personality, and her quick wit, and her generosity was truly unmatched. Everyone loved Obie’s stories, and she was the sort of person who never met a stranger. She will never be forgotten.
Mary Donna “Obie” Graham died June 7, 2016, at Friendship Village in Kalamazoo. Obie’s family includes her three children, Kay Graham of San Diego, CA, Jack Graham of San Diego, CA, and Jim (Shirley) Graham of Caro, MI; grandchildren, Thomas Graham, Hailey Hageness, Scott Graham, and Austin Graham; sisters, Theresa Gross, Barbara Ley, and Susan Soto; brothers Pat O’Brien and John O’Brien; two great grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews. Obie was preceded in death by her former husband, John Graham; her parents; brothers, Martin, Mike, Jim, Bill, and Jerry O’Brien; and sisters, Jean Voisin and Lois Goulet. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Obie’s honor may be made to Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan, 222 N. Kalamazoo Mall, Suite 100, Kalamazoo, MI 49007. A funeral mass will be celebrated at St. Augustine Cathedral, Kalamazoo, on Monday, June 13, at 10:30a.m. A luncheon will follow the mass in the Life Story Center (located in the Betzler Life Story Funeral Home).