Shorty after Tim “Big Dog” Graham died on Dec. 12, friends at the Wellington Party Center said his memorial service would need a huge venue.
They were proven right Saturday as loved ones from near and far packed the Lorain County Fairgrounds exhibit hall to remember a man born in Elyria but adopted by Wellington.
A procession started at Howk Memorial Park and was led by a horse-drawn carriage. Police and firefighters blocked off West Herrick Avenue for the parade, which stretched all the way to the fairgrounds entrance.
Graham, 63, was beloved.
He was one the village’s biggest donors to entities such as VFW Post 6941, Eagles Aerie 2051, the Wellington Kiwanis Club, and the Wellington police and fire departments. He regularly held fundraisers for residents suffering from injuries or illnesses and used his Big Dog Catering business to provide charitable service to countless events in the area. He also owned the Wellington Party Center, which has closed since his death, and Dog Tracks Diner on West Herrick Avenue.
It was hard to walk more than two feet inside the packed event at the fairgrounds without hearing a story about Graham’s generosity, warmth, or concern for his community.
“He just had such a big heart,” said his daughter, Megan Graham, as she greeted attendees with her sisters, Kirstin and Ali Graham. “He’s going to be missed by all of us. I’ve lived with him for the past six months. We’ll all just miss his generosity and his heart. He was one of the few good people left in this world. Awesome dad and awesome person. I’m honored to be his child.”
Lisa Forbush of LaGrange and Steve Fox of Wellington were found sharing a tearful embrace and fond memories involving Graham.
“I met Timmy about 15 years ago,” said Forbush. “We developed a friendship like no other. His legacy will be that he was the most kindhearted person you could imagine. Knowing him was an honor and what he’s done for the community is almost too much to think of.”
“I loved the guy,” said Fox. “I’ve known him since I was 15 years old. He used to let me sleep in the bar and even gave me my own key. He’d let me in when I didn’t have a place to stay. I rent from him now and live right above the place. He was my best friend in the world.”
Wellington Dukes boys basketball coach Dan Gundert took his players to remember a man who regularly aided them. “If everyone in the world was a little more like him, it’d be a better place,” he said. “He did everything for us. He’s had us to dinner at the restaurant, always donated to us, and did everything possible to help.”
“Timmy catered our annual meeting that draws about 2,500 people,” said Terry Mazzone of the Lorain-Medina Rural Electric Cooperative. “We ordered meals for 2,500, but 3,000 people showed up. We never ran out of food. Timmy was one reason the draw was that large. It was because he was known as a great caterer. He was a great friend too. He just cared about people. That’s Tim Graham.”
“I could stop at his house anytime,” said Kirk Richman. “He was one of the first people who welcomed me to Wellington and he was just an amazing guy. You can’t replace someone like that. There’s no way. He was one of a kind.”
“He would help anyone, anytime, no matter what,” said Jim Brasee. “He was the best man at my wedding and we went on many vacation trips together. You couldn’t spend time with a more fun person if you tried. He was awesome.”
“He’s been a charter sponsor for the Westwood K-Kids,” said Wellington school board member Ayers Ratliff. “When (Francis) Scruci was here as superintendent, he told Big Dog he wanted to have a cookout for the kids at Westwood. Big Dog brought over all of the burgers and hot dogs, helped cook all of it, and never asked the schools for a dime. He supported people whether they were in kindergarten or 60 years old.”
After everyone had settled in at the fairgrounds, the Rev. Gary West addressed the crowd of approximately 400.
“Farmers put plants in the ground,” he said. “They cultivate it and allow it to grow and serve a purpose. Then that crop develops and comes to maturity. It’s there to provide for people who are in need, hungry, or need nourishment in their life. It’s the same way with us. It’s the same way with Big Dog.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.
Photos by Jonathan Delozier and Al Leiby Friends Lisa Forbush and Steve Fox share a tearful embrace as they remember Tim “Big Dog” Graham.
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