October 28, 2021 Local Stories in and Around St. Joseph, Illinois

An end of an era at St. Joseph Middle School

For the first time since 1994, Chris Graham won’t be greeting St. Joseph students on the first day of school on Tuesday.

Graham retired as middle school principal on July 1.

Graham joined the St. Joseph team in 1994 after seven years in the army. He became principal of and athletic director in 2000 and in 2005 became principal of the middle school as it moved to a new building.

“Anything that was asked of him he would try to do it,” said seventh-grade teacher Grant Risley. “He taught and coached a variety of activities.  He was the principal of a K-8 building, and then took on the role of molding a new school.  He also led a school through a pandemic.  He saw a lot in his time in education.  I think he will be remembered as a servant leader who loved his staff and students.”

Eighth grade teacher Zach Steele said Graham was a good mentor to all the teachers he led.

“Whenever I approached him in his office with a problem, he always made time for me and gave me the best advice he could,” he said. “He also has always had a lot of patience in a profession where your patience can be very thin at times. I’ve always been impressed that no matter what the situation, Chris never made a knee-jerk reaction. He was always very calm when receiving news and always patiently made a decision that was for the best.”

Risley agreed.

“When it came to mentoring, Mr. Graham was really good at showing me how to handle tough situations,” he said. “He wouldn’t let things that would rattle most people throw off his whole day and he was still compassionate to students who may be upset or misbehaving.  He always seemed to realize that no matter where a student was that day, they could do better the next.”

Fifth grade teacher Tammie Mabry said Graham always believed in his teachers. Graham hired Mabry in 2000. She had just had a baby and the job offer led to her family moving back to St. Joseph.

“For 21 years he has shown that he trusts his teachers, but that very first year his second daughter, Rachel, was in my class,” she said. “I was blown away that he would have his daughter in a new teacher’s classroom, but he did. He had faith in us and what we do as educators and there’s something about that allows freedom for his teachers to do what we know is best for our students.”

All of the teachers commented on Graham’s sense of humor and how they would miss it.

Eighth grade teacher Timbra Hinton said she doesn’t think many students realize how funny Graham is.

“The students believe he is poised and serious,” she said. But there have been times he is just as sneaky and witty as they are.”

Graham paired up with a student, Nick Poe, to play an April fools joke on Hinton.

“I had just gotten a new truck and Nick asked Mr Graham to announce over the loud speaker that my truck was backed into in the parking lot at the end of the school day,” she said. “Mr. Graham didn’t hesitate to participate in Nick’s grand plan to prank me. There are many more stories like this. Mr Graham means business but he’s a prankster at heart.”

Mabry also remembered a prank Graham pulled on her.

“One time he emailed the staff on a Friday afternoon that I would be taking over as cheerleading coach the next year. I was not going to be doing that and he was clearly trying to get me to react. I spent all weekend thinking of a comeback. Monday morning I did a reply all and said that was not true as I would be coaching the first-ever middle school wrestling team, a sport we do not offer,” she said. “Within 60 seconds he did the reply all that he would be posting the signup sheets for the students to join the new wrestling team by the end of the day. That’s what I mean I spent a weekend coming up with something and within a minute he took me down. He’s funny and thoughtful and trusting. He really is just an all-around good guy.”

Other teachers admired his work as athletic director.

“ Being an athletic director on top of being a principal takes a lot of work and it’s long hours,” Steele said. “He always made sure sporting events at St Joseph were ran very professionally. He also always gave me great advice whenever there was a situation regarding coaching and had trust in me running the program.”

Risley said he admired how Graham acknowledged and celebrated the achievements of students.

“We had a few state championship teams come through the school while he was the principal, but most fell a bit short of their goal,” he said.  “He knew how to give great speeches that encompassed their great achievements and made them feel so special even though they didn’t end their season the way they wanted.”
Sixth grade teacher Jill Lubinski remembered being hired by Graham and said she was struck by his demeanor. She was interviewed in 2005 and Graham’s cool and calm personality made it difficult for Lubinski to tell how she did during the interview.
“During our 16 years of working together, we have moved into a new school building, seen hundreds of students pass through the halls, and have spent countless hours working to help our students succeed,” she said. “Whether it’s student discipline, staff meetings, end-of-the-year craziness or even a global pandemic, there was one thing we could always count on – a calm, cool and collected Chris Graham.”

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