Friends say music was just one of many of Helen Graham's gifts
If you go
What: A celebration of Helen Graham's life.
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Janesville Senior Center, 69 S. Water St. Janesville.
JANESVILLE The members of the heavenly choir should look out.
Helen Graham is coming their way, and she's ready to sing.
Graham, 94, the founding member of the Sweet Adeline's and the long-time leader of the Janesville Senior Center's "Choristers," died Thursday.
"Helen would rather sing than eat," her late husband Tom once said.
The former Helen Meyers was born in 1915 in the upstairs bedroom of a house on Janesville's Center Avenue.
Her grandfather insisted that she take music lessons. Later, after studying at the former Mercy Hospital School of Nursing, she worked as a private duty nurse and then at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago.
During her time there, she took piano lessons at the Conservatory of Music in Joliet, Ill.
She married Chester Dyle in 1941. When he died in 1948, she and her two young children returned to Janesville and her nursing career.
She married Tom Graham in October 1949, and the couple raised three children: Douglas Dyle, Dennis Graham and Donna (Dyle) Falconer.
Her nursing career took her from a private physician's office to the Red Cross and then back to public nursing.
She was a skilled and efficient nurseâ€”but it's more likely that she'll be remembered for her devotion to music.
She co-founded the Janesville's Sweet Adeline's in 1952, the Janesville Senior Center Mixed Chorus and the Choristers.
Graham also sang in other quartets and choirs and during the late 1980s would go to the Plantation Motor Inn in Beloit and sit in on Dixieland band sessions.
People loved her outgoing personality.
Kay Muzi said Graham became her "first friend" after she moved to Janesville in 1956, and that friendship lasted until for more than five decades.
"She was at my daughter's wedding, and she grabbed the microphone and started singing with the band," said Muzi. "It was in Milwaukee. She didn't know these people. She didn't care, and everybody loved her."
Graham never gave up singingâ€”even after her voice gave out.
At last year's talent show at the senior center, Graham lip-synced a series of songs about aging.
"It was wonderful," Muzi said. "She tied to win the show with a little 8-year-old. They were the oldest and the youngest in the talent show, and they won."
Along with her musical talents, Graham was a giving person.
"She was always ready to give; she was always ready to act," said Ida Mae McRoberts.
McRoberts sang with her in the 1950s in the Sweet Adelines and was friends with her, too.
"Anything she could do for anyone she was right there," McRoberts said. "She was always ready to help, to chairman-up things. You could always depend on her."
She was a charter member of the Elks Ladies and was a member of the Women of the Moose, Catholic Women's Club, MacDowell Club, Mercy Auxiliary, Mercy Alumnae Association and Nativity of Mary Catholic Church.
In 1987, she was awarded a YWCA Women of Distinction award for her community service.
Graham was a "tell it like it is" kind of person, Muzi said.
In a 2000 essay, "A Morbid Subject," Graham makes it clear what kind of funeral services she wanted: "I don't want my kids or grandkids to have to stand in line at a funeral parlor. It's uncomfortable not only for them but for those attending. Besides, I may not have a visitation, and a procession to the cemetery is out. I told Tom if there was one, I'd jump out."
At the end of the essay Graham wrote: "I'm running out of time in more ways than one, so I'll have to give this more thought, but no flowers, no procession at this point. I do want my friends to have a party. The only thingâ€”I hate to miss a party!"