Cover photo for Paul N. Graham's Obituary
Paul N. Graham Profile Photo

Paul N. Graham

Yellow Springs

Paul N. Graham


Paul Graham, a beloved, respected, active member of the community, who provided many decades of dynamic leadership to the village of Yellow Springs, died July 24. He was 94.

Paul seemed to be everywhere in town. His name frequently graced the top of Current Cuisine’s fish list. Early mornings, he could be found working out at the Wellness Center. He also liked taking classes at the Senior Center. His final big venture was working on the Wheeling Gaunt Sculpture Project.

Born and raised in Dayton, on Randolph Street, Paul graduated top of his class in 1946 from Dunbar High School. He was one of a half dozen African American students who were recruited by Jessie Treichler to attend Antioch College in an effort to diversify the student body. Coretta Scott (King) was also a member of this cohort.

While at Antioch, he studied chemistry. In 1935, Sergius Vernet invented the wax expansion element that revolutionized the automotive thermostat — an element that is still used in every car on the road today. Vernay Laboratories was born. Paul worked his first four Antioch co-op jobs at Vernay, which was located in the basement of the science building. He would have liked to work in a variety of jobs, but in the late 1940s it was hard to impossible for Black students to get placed into scientific professional positions. In 1952, he graduated with a degree in chemistry. During the next stage of his life, he pursued a Ph.D. in the same field at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.

It was in this period that Paul met Precious Jewel Freeman on a blind date. They eventually got married in 1953, even though he lived in Indiana, and she was living in Detroit. In 1956, with their first son, Robert, on the way, they decided Paul should abandon the Ph.D., ending his formal education with a master’s degree in chemistry, and moved to Yellow Springs. Jewel grew up in nearby Springfield, so she was close to her large extended family. Vernay offered Paul a job as a rubber chemist, and he took it. He would spend his entire career at the local startup, eventually becoming the vice president of research.

The last business in Yellow Springs that would not serve Black customers was Gegner’s Barbershop, owned by Lewis Gegner. Black residents of the village formed a group called “The Miami Township Fair Practices Committee.” They decided the best way to end this discrimination was through legal means. On Nov. 9, 1961, Paul walked into the barbershop at 255 Xenia Ave. with white resident Hardy Trolander, president of Yellow Springs Instruments, sat down in the barber chair and asked for a haircut. “I can’t cut your hair,” the barbershop owner replied. “I don’t know how. That’s all there is to it.”

That day, Paul filed a complaint against Gegner’s discriminatory practices with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission in a case that reached the Ohio Supreme Court. The historic moment was part of a 20-year effort to desegregate Yellow Springs, which escalated to the dramatic 1964 confrontation between police and protesters picketing Gegner’s shop — an event that landed 100 people in jail and thrust the village into the national spotlight during the height of the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement. Paul had a strong moral compass. Even though his family was threatened during the lawsuit he did not back down.

In the late 1950s, Paul was a founder and board member of the YS Unitarian Fellowship and served as president. He also served the YS Community Federal Credit Union as a member of its board of directors and as president. During the 1960s, he served on the YS Community Council, chaired the Community Chest and was a board member of the YS Nursery School. Paul volunteered with the YS Youth Soccer Program in the 1970s and was on the YS School Board, where he served two terms as the president. He also served his alma mater on the Alumni Association Board of Directors. In the 1980s, Paul served on boards for the YS Center Stage Theater, the Senior Citizens Center and the Chamber Music of YS organization. In the 1990s, he was president of the board of the Glen Helen Association for two terms. He was also a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the YS Endowment for Education.

On May 23, 1997, the Antioch College Alumni Association presented Paul with the Arthur Morgan Award in honor of the decades of leadership and devoted work he provided the people of Yellow Springs. In the 21st century, Paul turned his energy toward the renovation of the Wellness Center, and after that, the completion of the Wheeling Gaunt Sculpture Project.

Paul was a thoughtful, kind, soft-spoken man who was much loved by his family and many in the community. This love of family and community was mutual for Paul.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Precious Jewel Freeman Graham, and brothers, Donald, Ralph and Morris Graham. He is survived by his sons, Robert Grahamjones (Frances), of Berkeley, California, and Nathan Graham (Edwina), of Lahaina, Hawaii; grandchildren, Lucia Nolan (John), Lindley Graham, Freeman Grahamjones and Mal Graham; and great-grandchild, Robyn Nolan.

The family would like to invite the public to a celebration of Paul’s life on Saturday, Nov. 4, at 2 p.m., at the Vernet Ecological Center, 405 Corry St.

Paul’s was a life well lived.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Paul N. Graham, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, November 4, 2023

2:00 - 3:00 pm (Eastern time)

Glen Helens Vernet Ecological Center, Yellow Springs, OH

405 Corry St, Yellow Springs, OH 45387

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