Citizens For A Better Norwood

Sunday, September 12, 2010

RIP, Bill Graff. What a legacy.

It is with great sadness that we share with our readers that beloved friend and community member Bill Graff passed away at approximately 5:15 p.m. yesterday following a heart attack. Vivian, his wife of 45 years, was at his side. Late last night, her sister arrived from northern Ohio, as well as their daughter from Tennessee and their other daughter from Michigan. Their son will arrive tomorrow from Utah. We extend our heartfelt condolences to Vivian and to her and Bill’s entire family and countless friends. We will publish the funeral arrangements as soon as they are available.

Bill and Vivian moved from Tennessee to Norwood 9 years ago after he retired from the auto industry. They purchased a home on Delaware Avenue and immediately set about returning it to its former Victorian glory. Bill, of course, did most of the work, much of it quite detailed. As his new Norwood friends would find out, there really wasn’t anything Bill couldn’t do… and wouldn’t do when he saw it would add value to our community. The notion that he and Vivian were actually living a life of ease in their retirement was quickly put to rest by everyone who got to know them.

It wasn’t long before both Vivian and Bill began to immerse themselves in many aspects of Norwood community life and in worthwhile projects that benefited both people and organizations. After they joined the Norwood Historical Society, Bill began quietly building an exquisite Victorian doll house that closely resembled his Delaware Ave. home. When it was completed, he donated his masterpiece to the society, and it appeared in the Norwood Day Parade that year as the Norwood Society’s float entry. As a fundraiser, it was raffled off at the society’s annual Holiday Open House a few months later.

Another of Bill and Vivian’s early stops was the West Norwood Neighborhood Association. In 2005 when WNNA partnered with Xavier University’s Building Institute via a grant that provided leadership training for community leaders, Bill enrolled in the first class offered. The benefit of Bill’s training to our community simply cannot be calculated. Soon he participated in helping promote and execute the Neighborhood of Choice Program on which WNNA and the Building Institute also partnered. The program was designed to help restore West Norwood.

When Norwood’s financial difficulties forced the closing of the Norwood Police Substation at the corner of Mills and Carter Avenues, WNNA was determined not to allow that part of Norwood to go without a substation. Bill spearheaded the successful effort of WNNA members to relocate the substation on the 2nd floor of the Community Center at 1810 Courtland Avenue. But first, he would donate many hours along with other WNNAers completely renovating the designated room for the station. And while he was at it, he volunteered even more time painting walls and doing other needed general maintenance at the Community Center. That was our Bill.

Many of us know that Bill also worked tirelessly to acquire 800 MHz radios after he became aware that the City could not afford to purchase them. They were necessary for our police and fire departments to communicate internally as well as with other area fire and police departments. Former WNNA President Marilyn Hanrahan recalls how instrumental Bill was in their team effort to draw public attention to the crisis. They were able to get the Enquirer to do a story about the issue. After Norwood native and financier Carl Lindner saw the piece, he donated the needed $300,000 to purchase the radios. Another problem solved with Bill’s help.

With his intense interest in community policing, Bill played a crucial part in helping WNNA establish the Citizens on Patrol Program, which the group had long wanted to implement. Today COP has 16 trained volunteers who not only regularly do walking patrols of our neighborhoods, but also helped the NPD yesterday for the 4th year in a row with traffic control for the Urology Group’s Prostate Cancer Run/Walk, provided traffic control assistance for the 2009 and the 2010 Forget-Me-Knot-Walk, assisted in the recent National Police Night Out at the Community Center, and the group also hands out free child finger-printing kits for kids on a regular basis at Kroger at Surrey Square.

It was just a little over 2 weeks ago, that Bill submitted this 2nd quarter 2010 COP report for us to publish. Bill was dedicated to tracking down and removing every graffiti tag in Norwood. The report states that over 925 tags were removed by COP volunteers, with Bill leading the charge, of course.

This morning, we asked former Health Commissioner Donna Laake to contribute a brief account of Bill’s and Vivian’s involvement in disaster preparedness, another of their keen interests. Following is what Donna emailed us:

“Anyone who knew Bill knew that when he saw a need, he tried to fulfill that need. So when local health departments in greater Cincinnati were organizing a response to potential outbreaks, the TriState Medical Reserve Corps was born. And one of the very first people to sign up were Bill and Vivian Graff. Both attended classes to learn how to run a "Point of Dispensing" or "POD" and how to effectively assist in response to emergencies. They practiced their skills throughout the area, volunteering at exercises and flu clinics, cheerfully and efficiently organizing and helping out wherever needed. Bill and Vivian were invaluable last year at the Norwood Health Department when H1N1 flu clinics were held. The TriState Medical Reserve Corps will truly miss Bill's enthusiasm and passion for helping those in need.”

Casey Brown tells us she and Bill and Vivian joined the Norwood Service League’s executive board at the same time when NSL was located in a Norwood School District building on Smith Road. Casey became the board’s chair and Bill the vice chair. NSL needed to move, and Bill was very involved in helping locate their new home on Lawrence Avenue, which needed major repairs and renovation. He chaired NSL’s facility committee which was charged with planning the renovation. He essentially served as the general contractor, overseeing other contractors’ work. In many instances, local contractors donated time/and or materials. Once again, Bill, of course, also performed as much of the actual work on the building as was possible.

When the building renovation was complete, NSL’s Executive Director Lupe Gonzales-Hoyt asked the executive board to name the building the Graff Building to memorialize both Bill’s and Vivian’s major contributions to the successful project, and a dedication ceremony was held in the spring of 2008. Casey told us that this past July, Bill succeeded her as chair of the executive board.

We were aware that Bill recently joined the local Masonic Lodge, so we asked member Tom Brown to tell us about his joining the organization:

“Bill Graff joined the Norwood – Carthage – Winton Masonic Lodge #576 with me and Jim Stith just this past year. Bill threw himself into his studies and rose to the rank of a Master Mason earlier this year. Bill came to represent what I would consider the ideal Masonic brother and a true friend. H was always willing to help out others both in and outside the Masonic community.

Recently, after his recent surgery and discovered heart condition, Bill was unable to leave his house. However, just this past Friday, Bill attended the most recent Norwood Masonic Lodge meeting and was in good spirits and was talking about continuing his Masonic studies.

After the meeting, he insisted that he come over to my house the next day to help me in repairing a refrigerator. He said he would enjoy getting out of the house and beside “I have all the equipment anyway”.

So this past Saturday, Bill came over and helped me do the repairs. He was in great spirits and talked about how he hasn’t felt this good in weeks. We talked about his upcoming surgery, his excitement about attending Masonic Lodge events and planning to visit his son out West after he recovers.

While we were talking out on our front porch, we saw the Stealth B-2 bomber fly over Norwood. After seeing the plane fly away, Bill exclaimed that seeing the B-2 was “another thing to check off the Bucket List”.

We talked about next week’s Masonic events and all the other things he could not wait to start doing again (Citizens on Patrol, Norwood Service League, etc…).

Bill represented the best of what it was to be a Mason and a friend.”

We readily acknowledge that our blog touches on only the most public contributions Bill and Vivian have made to our community. There have also been countless private acts of help and assistance they made to many community members. In fact, one of us was on the receiving end of their acts of kindness during a critical time, and in several instances they helped avert full-blown crises. We invite our readers to share their own experiences with Bill and Vivian in the comment box and add anything else we have overlooked.

In closing, we want to share a poignant comment Donna Laake sent us:

“Just one final thought as I was sitting here: My grandmother always told me that if we all left this world a little better place than when we found it, our lives would be full and our legacy great. The world is just so much better than when Bill found it! What a legacy.”