If W. W. Graves had chosen to be a journalist, a historian, a writer, a printer and publisher, a national law enforcement official, or a businessman he would have probably done well with any of these careers. But he chose to do it all and wrapped it up with the skills of an accomplished entrepreneur and businessman.
William Whites Graves was, in fact, a model of the early post-frontier entrepreneur. He was smart and ambitious. He received a business education at the St. Francis Institution here in Osage Mission. Perhaps, more than anything he had learned to recognize, and sort out opportunities and grab those that would benefit him or even others.
One of his early opportunities occurred in 1895, when B.B Fitzsimmons and his father, staked him in acquiring the Neosho County Journal (Later, the St. Paul Journal). In 1902, Fitzsimmons and some other Neosho County men sponsored Graves in a competition to publish the Anti Horse-Thief Association Weekly, which was a national newspaper. He submitted a successful bid, and the resulting contract provided the capital Graves needed to build a dynamic, fast-growing publishing business. In just a few years he moved into a larger building, acquired one of the first Linotype type-setting machines in the region, installed his own gasoline-powered electrical generation plant, and hired and trained people to run this printing business while he pursued other opportunities. Not only did Graves publish the A.H.T.A. Weekly newspaper, but he also took an active role in the organization’s reformation and growth. During the 1920’s he served as the organization’s national vice president and president. 
Graves’ experience with the Fitzsimmons' and other supporters might have ingrained a sense of gratitude that he passed on. When German-born harness maker, Jo Sork, arrived at St. Paul in 1908, Graves invested in Sork’s acquisition of the Null harness shop, even though Graves had no background in harness making. Nevertheless, the Sork-Graves partnership in the Sork Harness Shop prospered until Sork’s retirement in 1935.
In 1915 W.W. Graves teamed with Ed George in selling the Maxwell Touring Car, also touted as “The Wonder Car!” At the time, the Maxwell was known for having innovative suspension and drive-train features that enabled it to hold the road better than any competitor; and given the condition of roads in those days that was a pretty big deal.
Graves was no stranger to innovation. His previously-mentioned gasoline electrical generator was later replaced with a safer steam generation system. Private electrical generating systems allowed him, and his brother-in-law A.J. Hopkins, to open and operate three movie theaters — one outdoor and two indoor — several years before the electrical power grid arrived in St. Paul.
While W.W. kept several business interests going, his mainstay was insurance. As early as 1900, he purchased the local insurance company of J.J. Thompson, representing the American Central, Hanover, Phoenix, and Springfield Insurance Company. In 1932 he partnered with Frank A. Munding in purchasing the insurance business of M.J. Kelley. In this business, they represented sixteen of the largest insurance companies in America. In 1946, he teamed with nephew Fielding S. “Hoppy” Hopkins in the Graves-Hopkins Insurance Agency with continued past Graves’ death and until Hoppy’s death in 1969.
Graves and his wife Emma were devoted Catholics who supported their church. In 1932 they donated an entire public address system to St. Francis Catholic Church. Many of the church pamphlets, recitation books, and other materials were printed and donated. Graves was a charter member of Knights of Columbus Council 760 and was undoubtedly instrumental in their role of having Father Paul Mary Ponziglione's portrait painted and donated to the Kansas State Historical Society in 1906. 
But one force drove Graves harder than his varied business interests. He was a passionate historian who loved to write. He also understood the role the Osages, the French fur traders, and the Catholic Church played in the settlement of Kansas. Moreover, the writer and historian owned his own publishing company. During the period of about 1916 and 1951, he published more than 15 books and publications, most of them dealing with the early history of southern Kansas.
In his later days, Graves made building a public library in St. Paul one of his last priorities. Knowing his days were numbered, he turned his personal collection of books over to the local Women’s Home Demonstration Units and challenged them to make it happen. He knew he had chosen a formidable project management team and they did not fail.
On the evening of May 31, 1952, a group of distinguished guests gathered in the gymnasium of St. Francis School. The banquet was sponsored by the 3rd District Kansas Press Association. About 240 people attended. It is hard to imagine that a banquet, in St. Paul Kansas, could be attended by the diversity of interest groups that were there. The group included a bishop, an Indian chief, farmers, businessmen, state officials, college presidents, Press Association executives, the president of the Kansas State Historical Society, pressmen from across southeast Kansas, and Graves’ friends from St. Paul. W. W.’s wife, Susie Gibbons Graves sat at his right side and was beaming with pride in most of the press photos that were taken that evening.
Among the accolades bestowed on William Whites Graves that evening, two stood out. Bishop Mark Carroll, of the Diocese of Wichita, presented a Vatican Knighthood of St. Gregory on behalf of Pope Pius XII. He was also made an honorary member of the Osage Tribe, which made it possible for the Osages to declare him an honorary chief of their tribe — a very rare honor.
Weeks later, on July 22, 1952, W.W. Graves collapsed and died of a heart attack in his home at St. Paul. It was less than two months since the banquet. It was then that the Eastern Kansas community realized they had almost missed a chance to recognize a life lived well.
Some Reference Information:
1. For more information about W.W. Graves, and the Southeast Kansas, Neosho County, community involvement in the A.H.T.A., follow THIS link. The link should open in a separate window or tab.
2. For more information about Father Paul Ponziglione and the KofC portrait, follow THIS link.
In the early spring of 2013 the Board of Directors of the Graves Memorial Public Library, in St. Paul, took on an interesting project. Board president, Lon Smith knew that the memory of library founder, William Whites Graves had faded. He also knew that Graves was a pretty remarkable guy. Lon came up with the idea of celebrating Graves’ 142nd Birthday on October 26th of that year. But beyond ice cream and cake, Lon wanted to leave something more permanent in the library.
After a little brainstorming, we came up with the idea of an interpretive display about the life and times of W.W. Graves. There was a good-sized section of wall, in the front part of the building that would work. I agreed to take on the research and display panel work. Lon and board member Jane Ann Beachner would provide checking, proofreading, and financial backing.
This is a good time to mention that this was my first shot at creating a full-up interpretive display. In my previous life, I had done a lot of maintenance and litigation research. I also supervised a group of artists and publishing specialists who were a lot smarter than I was. Some of their expertise had rubbed off, but it turned into a bit of a challenge.
Over the next few months, I dug through nearly 300 articles, photos, letters, and other items that described Graves’ life from childhood through his death in 1952. The more I dug, the more fascinating this man’s life became. My early impression of W. W. Graves was that of a very intelligent, competitive, and religious young man with a solid work ethic. He had a strong and defining sense of morality, justice, ethics, and politics, both personal and public. He connected himself with the right people early on, and then let his personal attributes carry him through an exceptional life. One thing was very clear. His early exposure to the Jesuit missionaries who founded the Catholic Mission, and the town of Osage Mission was a driving force during his adulthood.
As I pulled information together, I decided that individual display panels would cover five aspects of Mr. Graves’ life:
Then I turned to the task of laying out the display panels, which turned out to be fairly easy. By the time I collected the research material, I also had uncovered many, many photos, maps, illustrations, and other material that just had to be assembled into graphical format. I might add that a very large part of Graves's information came from a cousin who had donated two boxes of material to the local museum about a year before I started the project . Also, with Graves having been the editor of several newspapers and a magazine, I decided to use the front pages of those papers as backgrounds for four of the panels. 
As I laid out panels, my wife, Rosie worked with me and offered suggestions and corrections. Then, library board member, Jane Ann Beachner, received semi-finished panel artwork and was my final editor. These two ladies caught a lot of my errors and made the display product much better. In the end, I learned (re-learned) a lot of proper punctuation from Jane Ann.
In Mid-August I turned the panel art over to the Pitt State Graphics Department and our friend Larry Jump converted computer files into a set of five panels and some metallic introduction plates. Rosie and I built a set of simple mounting frames and in a matter of a few hours, one early September afternoon, the display became reality.
With the project finished, we only had one more thing to do before the October birthday party. Rosie and I loaded our camper and made a 600-mile trip east. After spending six months getting very acquainted with St. Paul’s ‘Most Esteemed and Honored Citizen,’  we wanted to visit the Holy Land of west-central Kentucky where his life began. We met Leo and Marie Schettler at a campground near Bardstown and spent several days roaming the area around Manton, Bardstown, Loretto, and Nerinx. We strongly recommend that trip for anyone whose family originated here in Osage Mission – St. Paul in the late 19th century. Those old central Kentucky Catholic church cemeteries contain a lot of very familiar names. Even if your family doesn't have Kentucky roots, you will likely find it interesting.
Oh — by the way! You also will be in the heart of Kentucky Bourbon Country. The Maker's Mark Distillery is at Loretto, Kentucky.
If you would like to get more familiar with W.W. Graves, and his eastern Kentucky roots, click on the cover page illustration here to open a copy of our research document. It is a 6MB PDF file and might take a moment to download.
As noted above, the document was laid out to develop the storylines for the five display panels. Chapter 1 is an overview of Mr. Graves' life. The four remaining chapters expand on the important aspects of his life. You should expect some repetition among chapters.
Some Reference and Background Information:
1. In 2012 St. Paul native Karen Hopkins Steinbacher donated two boxes of Graves-Hopkins material to the local museum. The boxes proved to be a treasure chest of family and local information. W.W. Graves was Karen’s uncle. In early 2014 I sorted through the boxes and cataloged the contents into the Graves-Hopkins Collection that is in the museum research room.
2. Graves was the publisher of the Neosho County Journal and St. Paul Journal (same newspaper, different names). He also published the Anti-Horse Thief Association weekly and the Kansas Knights of Columbus Magazine (Kansas Knight).
3. The phrase “Most Esteemed and Honored Citizen” was the headline of the July 24, 1952, issue of the St. Paul Journal that contained Mr. Graves’ front-page obituary. Click the upper page, below to open the entire page in a separate window or tab.
These are photos of " .. this community's most esteemed and honored citizen" in front of his home in St. Paul. Those words are from the opening paragraph of his obituary on the front page of the July 24, 1952 issue of the St. Paul Journal. We believe the words are still appropriate.
The original photos were not marked. But, judging from his age, they were probably taken around 1940. The house is still there, is very well-kept and is now the home of a young, well-know family.
"Most esteemed and honored citizen" are big words when you place him among the thousands of people who have lived in St. Paul, Kansas. But when you consider his humble beginnings, what he accomplished in life and the extraordinary recognition he received, it fits.
He and his parents arrived here, then Osage Mission, in February of 1881. He attended local pubic schools and then jumped at an opportunity to further his education at St. Francis Institution. He graduated with honors. Later, he cut his journalism teeth working for colorful newspaper editor Abe Steinberger at Pittsburg, and later Girard. Then, bad luck, followed by some good luck, put him in charge of his hometown newspaper, The Journal.
From there he credited "opportunity" for several more changes in his life. He became a leader of a prominent volunteer law enforcement group. He grew his Journal Publishing Company by taking on some state and national magazine and newspaper contracts and published several books. He dabbled in other businesses and helped some local entrepreneurs get started; and he "seeded" a public library. During all of this he was always one of St. Paul's biggest civic boosters. However, with success he also experienced personal tragedy and serious health problems.
He tried to stay away from notoriety. After all, he was only doing what he enjoyed — but others benefited from his effort. Finally in 1952 notoriety caught up with him. During a local banquet he was showered with awards and accolades. Of all of the honors he received that evening, there were two he certainly cherished during his brief, remaining days. Those came from his beloved Osage friends and the Vatican.
For more about this man and his remarkable life, FOLLOW THIS LINK.
Some Reference Information:
1. The photos above are from the Graves Hopkins Collection of the Osage Mission - Neosho County Historical Society.
2. For more information about St. Francis Institution follow THIS link.
Thoughts 'n Things
Some 'Thoughts' and short articles about past and present-day St. Paul and the Southern Kansas - 4 State Region.