Gary Ronald Graham, formerly of St. Elmo, IL passed away at the Effingham Rehabilitation and Health Care Center on Saturday, February 12, 2022, with family by his side. He was 81. Gary was born in Vandalia, IL on September 3, 1940, to Wilbur and Flossie (Waddell) Graham. He attended St. Elmo schools before heading to Southern Illinois University-Carbondale where he earned his Bachelor’s degree in English. Early in his youth, Gary knew he wanted to become a minister, so during his university years, he juggled his schoolwork with his role as pastor for small Methodist churches, often three at a time. He was active in the campus Wesley Foundation, where he frequently took a prominent role as retreat leader or facilitator.
During the summer of 1965, Graham served as Youth Director at the United Methodist Church of Godfrey, Illinois, and that fall, he became a candidate for the Bachelor of Divinity at Garrett Theological Seminary, Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois. While at Garrett, he served as Youth Director and then Interim Pastor for the Grant Works Presbyterian Church in Cicero, Illinois. He loved being a student and savored all his courses, but slowly chose to pursue the Clinical Pastoral Educational curriculum. In the summer of 1967, he worked as a chaplain intern at the Dorchester Mental Hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts and in 1968-69 at the Anna Mental State Hospital in Anna, Illinois. He graduated from Garrett in 1969, having earned both the Bachelor’s and Master’s of Divinity degrees, and was ordained a Deacon in the United Methodist Church (Chatham, Massachusetts, 1967) and as an Elder (East St. Louis, Illinois, 1969). He then worked at the Bowen Children’s Center in Harrisburg and soon thereafter was on the staff at the Asklepeion Foundation in Carbondale. Perhaps his most notable role was as Executive Director of Hill House (now Gateway Foundation), a residential substance abuse treatment facility. His final position was working as a psychologist at the Sioux Valley Hospital in New Ulm, Minnesota.
Gary was a master-preacher and designer of integrated worship services. He was an avid reader of philosophy, theology, psychotherapy, the Bible, and Civil War history. A formative work was the Bhagavad Gita, of which he often spoke. He loved to garden, hunt for deer, swim, and have in-depth conversations with friends and family members. He loved his family and was sometimes looked to for assistance in weddings and graveside services. He is survived by his four daughters, Rachel Graham Schnitzler of Sparta, WI; Sarah Graham of Mankato, MN; Annie Graham Griggs of Campbellsport, WI; and Katherine Graham of Brooklyn, NY. He also leaves his brother and lifelong best friend, Jon Graham of Indian Lake Estates, Florida, special niece Joni Graham Warren of Vandalia, five grandchildren, and many cousins and friends.
Gary was a gentle man, a humorous man, and a man of limitless generosity. Many of his dearest friends and associates have preceded him in death, as have his parents, but those who survive will feel their loss for a long time.
Memorials in Gary’s honor may be made to the Dementia Society of America or Gateway Foundation in Carbondale, IL.
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