OBITUARY: Duane Graham

Duane Graham passed away on Jan. 16, 2024, at the age of 92. He was born in El Dorado to Ira and Louise Graham on Aug. 1, 1931.

Duane grew up in El Dorado, the older brother of three sisters. In his autobiography, he told many fun stories of growing up in a small town.  To say he had an ornery streak would not be much of an exaggeration. He graduated from El Dorado High School in 1949, attended a year of college at Butler County Community College and pursued what would be his lifelong passion for the arts by attending the Kansas City Art Institute.

While attending school, he met and fell in love with Nettie Belle Parsons. They were married in 1955 and were together for 62 years, raising four daughters, traveling the world and becoming pillars of their community. They were inseparable until her death in 2017, and he deeply missed her every day since.

After getting married, Duane worked for Boeing in Wichita as a draftsman. It was there that he worked with Boeing and NASA on the Saturn 5 rocket booster for the Apollo Missions. In 1967, Duane took a job at Excel Industries in Hesston as a draftsman and later became director of engineering. Among his many accomplishments, he was instrumental in ushering in computer-aided design and manufacturing to the growing company.

While engineering and technology put food on the table, Duane exercised his artistic talents with his many interests and hobbies. He illustrated several books, including one on Hesston’s history. He corroborated with a poet friend to create three books where Duane supplied his photographs to go along with the poetry. He painted with watercolor, oil and acrylics. His artwork not only adorns the homes of friends and family but in 2019, some of his work was sold publicly in an exhibition/fundraiser for CASA. Duane also loved photography and music of all kinds. For years, he combined his photographs with music and presented the shows for different audiences. He redefined the term slide show into a true work of art, entertaining everyone who saw them.

Duane and Nettie were very active in the Hesston community, always volunteering to help when needed. In 1977, they organized the Hesston Fall Festival. In 1975, the community sponsored and helped Vietnam refugees get established in America. Duane and Nettie personally sponsored three of those families. They also were very active as leaders and board members at Hesston’s United Methodist Church, as well as First Presbyterian Church of Newton. Duane was a board member and spent years volunteering with the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains. Outside of Hesston, he volunteered with Sedgwick County Zoo for years. And in retirement, Duane spent 19 years volunteering with CASA of Harvey County as a court-appointed special advocate, providing a voice for abused and neglected children.

Duane loved to travel in the U.S. and various places around the world. He enjoyed backpacking and organized many trips with his friends as well as youth Sunday school classes he taught. He and Nettie visited many national parks across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska. His most cherished trip was when he ventured to Africa in 2007 on a photography safari with his daughter, Emily. The trip had a profound effect on him and left him with many stories to tell and photos to show.

Duane was an avid storyteller. He captivated those around him with his many experiences and with his knowledge of everything from Civil War history to art to technology. He was interesting and informative. But more often, he entertained and made people laugh. He was a true Renaissance man. He will be greatly missed.

Survived in death: daughters, Rebecca Troyer (Dean), Emily Sims (Mark), Katie Gaeddert, Sarah Bauer (Kris); sisters, Janice Shaffer (Malcolm), Joyce Stuttherheim (Robert) and Judy McCluskey (Keith); brother-in-law, Hugh Long; grandchildren, Madeline, Sophia, Tess, Graham, Hunter, Luke, Keely, Mitch, Jefferson, Kent, Rachel and Beau; and great-grandchildren, Cavin, Benjamin and one arriving soon.

Preceded in death: parents, Ira and Louise Graham; wife, Nettie; daughter, Natalie; in-laws, Malcolm Shaffer, Guy and Cleta Parsons, Ruth and Cecil Wright, Marjorie and Don Gfeller, Mary Long.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. Monday, Feb. 5, at First Presbyterian Church in Newton, with The Reverend Scott McGinnis presiding. Visitation with family will be from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, at Petersen Funeral Home in Newton. Burial will be in the Pleasant Center Cemetery, rural Burns.

A memorial has been established with CASA, P.O. Box 687, Newton, KS, 67114.

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