Accent Stories

Don Graham


Class of 1969

Upon meeting Don Graham ’69 for the first time, you’ll likely learn two things immediately. 

First, he is a proud Ashland alum. Second, he owns a thriving financial services firm. 

However, what might not be readily apparent is how he’s combined these two facts to empower a new generation of Ashland Eagles.

While Don Graham has been a visible force for good on campus for years, it’s surprising how much of his transformative work happens below the radar.

Before graduating in 1969 with a B.S. in physics and chemistry, Graham stood out on the football field. Across his four years, the Eagles lost only six games, and Graham–positioned beside his twin brother Ron on the offensive line– was crucial to the team’s success. 

After graduating, his passion for the university and unwavering commitment didn’t wane. They only grew stronger–even if his path toward it took a few unexpected detours.

Graham was accepted to The Ohio State University’s dentistry program during his senior year, and his future seemed clear. But a brief conversation with Coach Fred Martinelli–Graham’s coach, mentor, and friend–changed those plans in ways he couldn’t have predicted.

“Coach Martinelli pulled me aside and told me I should interview for the head coaching job at Monroeville High School.” Because his father was a football coach at South Central High School and his brother was planning to follow in his footsteps, Graham had long since decided on a different career after growing up with parents who were teachers. “I told him I didn’t want to coach because I wanted to make some money,” he laughs. Coach Martinelli, though, wouldn’t take no for an answer.

“It will be good for you,” he said. “The interview itself will be a great experience.”

So, Graham followed the advice, met with the school and was promptly hired to coach football and teach science. 

“I was an attractive candidate,” he says. “It was during Vietnam, so there were almost no male teachers. With my majors, I could teach whatever science classes they needed.”

Over the next four years, Graham would lead the Monroeville, Clyde and Alliance football teams to success. “Every school hired me,” he says, “after coming off seasons where they didn’t win a game. I got a reputation for turning programs around.”

After taking an assistant job at national powerhouse Massillon for two seasons, Graham eventually returned to his hometown of Willard and took over their head coaching spot. In 1976, outside of teaching and coaching hours, he began to sell insurance. By 1980, he’d retired from education and used his lump sum pension as seed money for what would become a highly successful financial services business–Donald M Graham and Associates. 

No matter where he was or what he was doing across Ohio, his heart was always in Ashland and with the football team he loved. 

Graham’s contributions to Ashland University and its football team have been immeasurable. His involvement has not been limited to mere financial support. He’s also dedicated his time and effort to the cause, helping shape the team and the university into what they are today –a source of pride for alumni and current students alike. As the color commentator for the Eagles’ football radio broadcasts alongside Dave Wilson on game day, Graham has also been the president of the Ashland Gridiron Club, a booster organization he helped found in 2006.

“I’ve had great relationships with the coaches, staff and athletes down through the years,” he says. “From Coach Martinelli to Lee Owens to [current coach] Doug Geiser, they know that if they need anything, we’ve got their back. I love the team–and what it stands for, its mission–and I’m willing to do whatever it takes for them to be successful. We’ve always tried to be the team behind the team.”

Graham’s commitment to Ashland doesn’t stop at the university borders. It extends to his business, as well. He’s known for hiring Ashland University graduates and lending a helping hand to those who have followed in his footsteps.

“Ashland students are special,” he says. “And I’m in a unique position to help them find success for themselves.” Graham cites his company’s internship opportunities as a great way to give Ashland students a chance to get real-world experience while still in school–and then find positions for those who show their commitment and promise either within his company or throughout his extensive network.

His firm, spread across several offices, comprises Ashland alumni doing exceptional work for the company and building successful careers for themselves. The main office in Willard manages the financial services of at least 900 households, with Ashland alumni playing a crucial role in providing those services. 

“Six of our ten employees,” Graham says, “are Ashland grads.”

Graham’s business ethos reflects his approach to life and work–a belief in self-reliance and the importance of support roles. He encourages financial advisors in his firm to be just that–advisors, not salespeople. His company is largely fee-based, providing a range of services from cash management to estate planning.

Graham’s story is a testament to his steadfast dedication and unwavering commitment to Ashland University, its football team, and the people who make it what it is. The contributions of this former Alumni Association board president and Athletic Hall of Fame inductee go beyond financial support; they’re about connecting with people, embodying the spirit of Ashland, and paying it forward. His voice is heard during the game broadcasts, but his behind-the-scenes work extends far beyond what many will ever know.  

Don Graham is a remarkable example of what it means to be an Ashland University alumnus–dedicated, hardworking and committed to giving back. 

His story serves as a reminder of the power of education and the enduring bonds of a university community.

It’s also an example of what happens when you listen to your mentors–Graham still credits Coach Martinelli with embodying the spirit he’s tried to live by each day:

“Work hard, be humble and do what you’re asked to do.”

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