James McGraw, formerly of Dekalb Junction, NY
James Michael McGraw, Sarasota, Florida passed away on November 19, 2021 after a brief time at the Tidewell Hospice House.
Born July 2, 1932 in the home of his Fleury grandparents in Westville, NY, Jim was the eldest of seven to James and Agatha Fleury McGraw. He graduated from St. Lawrence Central School in 1950, the first graduating class in the centralized district. Jim joined the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict in 1951 and served as an army medic in Germany in support of the Marshall Plan; he then served in the U.S. Army Reserves until his honorable discharge in 1957.
Upon leaving the army, Jim returned to his hometown of North Lawrence, NY and was hired to clear the land that would become the newly centralized school grounds in Brasher Falls. Following this, he was then hired to haul all the bricks and building materials from the railroad cars at the Winthrop rail station to the building site. It was labor intensive work and they hired the right man who knew only hard work from his youth.
The construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway was beginning at the time and Jim had the opportunity to begin as an apprentice oiler for the heavy equipment on site for this mega-project. This opened the door for Jim to later join the International Union of Operating Engineers local 545 (now known as local 158) in 1957 as a heavy equipment operator - a career he truly loved for well over 50 years. Jim was 83 when he stepped off his last union job as a roller operator for his beloved union. Jim loved to share stories of the many projects he worked on during his career from the building of Routes 81 and 87, the expansion of Fort Drum, the cleanup of Alcoa, and laying the pipeline from the Canadian border south into New York City. His eyes would light up and the stories would follow from working in 40 below windy weather during the Seaway days to losing heavy equipment in the swamps while building Route 81 to hanging his rig off rocks to drill for a pipeline. There is hardly a road or bridge in St. Lawrence County that didn’t have a story about Jim’s part in its paving history. Jim never found a piece of heavy equipment he didn't like to operate, but his favorite and happiest moments were when was behind the levers of a paver. This was a career Jim embraced with gusto and enthusiasm.
Jim was born and raised on a farm and continued in the farming tradition for half his life while working as an equipment operator. A hard work ethic was always at the heart of everything Jim did. So, as he was retiring from a lengthy career with the IUOE in the 1990s Jim took up a hobby that went back to his roots. Jim spent the next ten years delivering farm equipment for Waldroff's Farm Equipment in Canton, NY while searching the fence lines and side roads for John Deere tractors that he could bring home and restore. John Deere tractor collecting and restoration became a passion that Jim embraced for the remainder of his life, completing his 60th and final restoration at the age of 86. Jim traveled all over the U.S. east of the Mississippi and into Canada on his quest to rescue old John Deeres and breathe new life into them.
Jim was a member of the St. Lawrence Power and Equipment Museum in Madrid, NY as well as its predecessor organization St. Lawrence Gas and Steam Engine Association for many years. He served on the SLPEM first Board of Trustees and was among one of the original underwriters of the legal work to establish the museum. Jim enjoyed many volunteer hours at the Madrid site in the early years of development which included laying the pull track, road construction, delivering collection items to the museum site, and playing a major role in preparing and erecting the horse-drawn equipment building at the museum.
Jim was a living legacy and a testament of a man who lived his long and generous life to the fullest. Throughout Jim's life he met many wonderful people and was blessed to have many friends. His most recent move to Sarasota in 2017 brought a whole new lifestyle and new friends that Jim embraced, as well. Jim was a very kind, caring, dedicated, clever, knowledgeable, and thoughtful man who always lent a helping hand or an attentive ear. He was a wonderful loving husband to Julie, a dedicated father, and a good friend to many. He will be greatly missed.
Jim is survived by his wife of 37 years, Julie, and six children: daughter Jeanne Hazelton of Wichita, KS and her two girls Elishia and Keely; son Jamie of North Lawrence, NY and his two children Taylor and Shelby; daughter Lynne (Pat) Kelley of Seaford, NY and their two children Pat and Kirsten; son Michael (Ronda) of Massena, NY and their two children Brooke and Connor; son Daniel (Emily) of Mount Pleasant, SC; and daughter Bridgette (Robert) Hildebrandt of Tolland, CT and their three girls Nora, Allie, and Rorie. Jim is also survived by seven great grandchildren Lyla, Emilia, Declan, Elliott, Tripp, Rowan, and Peyton. Jim is also survived by his siblings Eileen (Gerald) Snyder of Moira, NY; Joan (Wayne) Michaud of Cookeville, TN; Winnie (Ralph) Frary of North Lawrence; and Joe of North Lawrence.
Jim is predeceased by his parents, his brother Edward, sister Patricia (Proulx), an infant brother Francis, and his son-in-law Dallas Hazelton.
Jim’s burial will be at the Sarasota National Veterans Cemetery in Sarasota, FL February 28th at 11:30 a.m. A Memorial Mass will take place July 1, 2022 at 11:00 a.m.. at St Patrick's Church in Brasher Falls, NY. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the St. Lawrence Power & Equipment Museum, PO Box 400, Madrid, NY 13660 and Tidewell Hospice House, 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238, Attn: Philanthropy.
A very special thank you to all the caring professional teams that cared for Jim, both at Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Tidewell Hospice House. Although Jim’s stay was brief at each location, your kindness will not be forgotten.