Donald Graham’s personal story of business success began humbly in 1960, when he founded Graham Engineering in the basement of his rented farmhouse in rural Pennsylvania. After years of hard work, dedication, and wise business decisions, Graham is today chairman of The Graham Group, a York-based alliance of independently owned and operated industrial and investment management businesses that share in the common legacy of entrepreneur Graham’s industrial success.
Alongside his remarkable professional career, Graham has served as a longtime benefactor for numerous philanthropic efforts. York College has for decades been one of the organizations fortunate to receive support from Graham and from the Graham Foundation, which he created in 1986. The Foundation’s largest and most recent gift to the College is being recognized through the naming of the Business program as The Graham School of Business.
Donald Graham was born in 1933, the son of a forestry professor at the University of Michigan. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a master’s degree in industrial engineering and business management at Michigan. In 1957, he relocated from his home state to York to work for the Read Standard Division of Capital Products, and later served as chief engineer of the parent company in Mechanicsburg, PA, in 1959 and 1960.
Graham then ventured out on his own, founding Graham Engineering in 1960 to perform engineering design and consulting services. The company’s work focused on designing special machinery and architectural aluminum products for fabricators of curtain walls, doors and windows. Three years later, Graham Engineering was incorporated; a manufacturing property in York was acquired in 1968.
Throughout the 1970s, Graham Engineering continued to grow and offer additional services and products. Beyond its machinery and architectural products divisions’ business, the company also created a division focused on the sale of plastic containers manufactured on its Graham Engineering blow molding equipment. By 1977, Graham Architectural Products Corporation and Graham Container Corporation were incorporated as wholly owned subsidiaries of Graham Engineering and began formally operating as separate companies and management teams.
Today, these three companies, which all grew out of the farmhouse basement business founded by Graham in 1960 – Graham Packaging (Graham Container was renamed in 1991), Graham Engineering, and Graham Architectural – operate in more than 90 locations worldwide, with combined sales approximating $3.5 billion.
The Graham Foundation has been an active benefactor in community, cultural, educational and environmental projects. The Foundation has funded several faculty chairs and scholarship programs and made major gifts at the University of Michigan, Babson College, Burke Mountain Academy, Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania. Don Graham’s interest in supporting entrepreneurship has led to the creation of the Graham Certificate Program in Entrepreneurial Studies at Penn State York and the Technical Entrepreneurial Studies Program at the University of Michigan.
The Foundation has played an active role in the York community, supporting projects such as the construction of the Graham Aquatic Center at the York YMCA and making contributions to organizations including, but not limited to, the Strand-Capitol, Crispus Attucks, York Heritage Trust, Martin Library, the United Way of York County, and the Brynes Health Education Center. “The Graham organization has a long history of social responsibility across numerous communities,” said Graham. “It has been behind hundreds of small organizations in York, where my family has lived, as well as in the communities where our businesses are located.”
The Foundation’s support of environmental and sustainability efforts have benefitted organizations in the United States and abroad. At the University of Michigan, it has helped create the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute and the Sam Graham Trees and Trails, named in honor of Don Graham’s father. The Foundation has also been a leading supporter of the Mpala Wildlife Foundation in Kenya, which manages a Scientific Research Centre, Ranch and Wildlife Conservancy, as well as a health clinic and a school for children. The Mpala Foundation was originally launched by York businessman George Small, whose family purchased 50,000-plus acres in Kenya. Graham serves as Chairman of the Board of Mpala, and he also serves on the board of the African Wildlife Foundation, whose mission is to conserve wildlife, protect land and empower people throughout Africa.
Don Graham served as a member of York College’s Board of Trustees from 1983 to 1995. Throughout his tenure, he and the Graham Foundation contributed to the growth and success of the College in numerous ways.
In 1989, the Foundation gave a generous grant to establish the York College Opportunity Program, which provided scholarships and mentors to York inner-city youth seeking a college education. The program offered full-tuition scholarships to graduates of York City Schools.
“The idea for the program, quite simply, grew out of a desire to provide opportunities – like a college education – to high school students who might never otherwise have had the opportunity,” Graham said.
College leaders have taken the Graham Foundation’s original gift and concept and enhanced and improved the program to create a model scholarship and enrichment program. Today, the program is known as the York College Community Opportunity Scholarship Program (YCCOSP). Students selected to participate receive additional tutelage and guidance during their high school years to help them graduate from William Penn High School with the academic skills required to be accepted at and attend York College. While recipients still are provided four years of tuition-free education, many also receive room and board in return for a part-time campus job. In addition, YCCOSP students participate in activities on campus that promote leadership and civic responsibility and that link them to potential employers in York.
“Building upon the foundation provided by gifts from the Graham Foundation and others, York College has expanded the YCCOSP program into one that not only provides an educational opportunity to York City students but also helps build a more diverse leadership corps for the York community,” said President George Waldner.
Ruth Tyler-Rawlings ’09, a YCCOSP graduate, is currently an underwriting assistant at Glatfelter Insurance Group. “Some people may not realize how much a program like YCCOSP can help York City and its youth, but I do,” she said. “YCCOSP gives hope to so many students who desire to better their lives but don’t have money to do it on their own. YCCOSP is letting York City students know it doesn’t matter what color they are or how much money their parents make, they too can go to college and become a professional.”
Since its inception, YCOSSP has enrolled 177 students. Thirty-seven have graduated from York College, and 52 are currently enrolled in the program. York College currently accepts approximately 15 students annually.
In later years, the Graham Foundation also supported the expansion of York College’s West Campus with a significant gift to the “A Time to Act” campaign, which resulted in the new soccer field and track complex being named Graham Field. “Through his and his children’s own experiences, Don came to appreciate the role athletics played in developing a well-rounded student,” said Bill Kerlin, president of The Graham Group. “He supported the College’s efforts to improve athletic facilities because he realized that many of life’s lessons are taught on the field.”
Graham Field has hosted an NCAA Tournament Soccer game in all five seasons since its completion in 2006. The Spartans won the Capital Athletic Conference Championship (CAC) in the first year with use of the facility, then hosted an NCAA second round game against Hobart and an NCAA sectional, where the team came within penalty kicks of advancing to the national Final Four.
“We are very proud of our facility and the impact it has made on our program,” said men’s soccer coach Mark Ludwig. “Having the ability to host NCAA events has given our program a distinct edge in recruiting.”
“Our facility is one of the best in the region, and student-athletes are excited to get the opportunity to be a part of our program,” said women’s soccer coach Vicki Sterner.
In addition, the track facility at Graham Field has hosted two CAC championship meets (2008 and 2011). The Spartan men’s team won the 2011 CAC Championship for the first time in 19 years.
“Having a first-class facility has enabled our track and field programs to take the next step,” said head coach Erick Camodeca. “Our facility enables our track and field athletes to train in a first-class atmosphere.”
Graham, his wife, Ingrid, and the Graham Foundation have also provided funding to the Nursing program, York Country Day School (a component of the College) and the Women’s Auxiliary (Ingrid is an honorary member). In 2002, Donald Graham was awarded an honorary doctorate from York College.
The Graham Foundation’s latest gift to York College – which resulted in the naming of the Graham School of Business – was prompted by the College’s continued growth and reach, as well as the value it provides to students and their families, according to Graham.
“My impression is that the College has grown in every way – from its facilities to its academic credentials,” said Graham.
“In addition, I believe York has done a much better than average job on cost containment,” he said. “It is a model of efficiency in the academic world that provides a real value to students.”
“The Graham Foundation’s grant is not just a generous gift, but an endorsement of our efforts at York College,” said President Waldner. “When you strive, as we have, to improve quality and also maintain affordability, it is a real validation to have supporters who recognize that effort and put resources behind it.”
Graham was also interested in supporting an educational experience that will prepare “a stronger, business-oriented sector of young people who will assume their role in creating a sustainable and ethical business environment in this country.”
“I’m concerned with the anti-business rhetoric that’s prevalent in the United States,” he said. “I believe we need to educate the next generation to understand the value and necessity of a free-market system, and also ensure they know how to conduct business in a socially responsible manner.”
“I hope this can be accomplished through stronger business education programs, like the one that is being developed at York College. With a better facility like the Willman Business Center, the program will attract even better faculty, and a well-financed program will give both faculty and students more and better opportunities.”
“York College is proud to have our Graham School of Business carry the name of such a successful, innovative, and generous business leader,” said Dean of Academic Affairs Dominic DelliCarpini. “Having the Graham name on the College’s largest undergraduate program, and having Mr. Graham’s vision for the importance of a strong business education as a guide, can help us to attain true distinction. Indeed, the generosity of the Graham Foundation is itself a reminder of how the business community continues to undergird the work of educating future generations.”
“Donald Graham, the Graham companies and the Graham family have added enormous economic, educational, and cultural vitality to the York area,” said President Waldner. “We deeply appreciate their support for one of our signature programs – the Graham School of Business.”