John William Graf, 88, died Wednesday, July 8, 2020, at his home in Cameron, Wis.
He was born July 13, 1931, in La Crosse, Wis., to Joseph and Mary (Horihen) Graf. He grew up in Caledonia, Minn., where his father owned the local feed mill. Before John’s senior year, the Grafs moved to Amboy, Minn., which he considered his hometown. He joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and served during the Korean War as a B-29 and B-47 mechanic in the Strategic Air Command.
After four years of service, he returned home to work in the canning factory before entering vocational school in La Crosse to learn cabinetry. His instructors informed him he was in the wrong place: he should not be taking classes, he should be teaching them. At the tender age of 27, John enrolled at Stout State College in industrial arts education. While at Stout, he met his life partner, Judith Popko, at the Newman Center. John and Judy married Oct. 26, 1963. While teaching in Muskego, Wis., John learned of an opportunity at a small, developing vocational school in Rice Lake, Wis. Starting as a drafting instructor, he eventually became their trades and industry supervisor and ultimately retired from what is now Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College.
John and Judy made their home in Cameron, where they raised six children. He ensured those kids would have “cultural experiences” and provided a wide range of opportunities. At different parenting stages, he camped, fished, played cards and gardened. At every stage, he golfed—and longed to be on the links in his final days. John used his cabinetmaking skills throughout, building furniture and other useful items. His children cherish these pieces, but even more, they treasure the letters and birthday card messages he wrote. John valued his Air Force service and spoke often of his experience.
An American Legion member, he served in the Pieper-Marsh Honor Guard. Through the encouragement of his grandson, John applied for and was accepted to a Stars and Stripes Honor Flight with his son, a fellow USAF veteran, at his side. The experience so moved him that he was rarely seen without his Korea hat and Honor Flight jacket.
John is survived by his children, Cathy Graf, of Maple Grove, Minn., Mary Beth (Kirk) Howatt, of Argusville, N.D., David Graf, of Cameron, Carol (Jason) Hoopman, of Anoka, Minn., Barbara (Nathan) Hartzell, of Vail, Ariz., and Jennifer (Kenny) Mitchell of Port Washington, Wis.; grandchildren Alexandra, Zachary and Kylie Howatt, Isabelle Hoopman, Lauren and Claire Hartzell, and Max, Brooke and Samantha Mitchell; sister Rose Ellen Jacobus, of East Wenatchee, Wash.; and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by Judy; his parents; sister Marita; and brothers Martin, Robert and Donald.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 14, at St. Peter Catholic Church in Cameron, with Fr. Balaraju Policetty officiating. Interment will be at 2:30 p.m. at Northern Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spooner, Wis. Visitation is at 4–7 p.m. on Monday, July 13, at Rausch & Steel Funeral Home in Barron and one hour prior to mass at the church on Tuesday. A prayer service will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday at the funeral home.
In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate memorials to Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Inc. or Hospice of Marshfield Clinic.
Arrangements are being handled by Rausch & Steel Funeral Home in Barron. Online condolences can be made at www.rauschandsteelfuneralhome.com.