Daughter, son carry on SC man’s giving tradition

SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — The children of a Spartanburg businessman created some Christmas holiday cheer in the memory of their father.

Nicole and Nicholas Graham delivered gift bags of fresh apples, oranges, bananas, grapefruit, pecans and candy canes to residents at Heritage Court Apartments on Thursday. It was a gesture that would have made their father proud.

Dennis Graham was known as “The Produce Man” because he set up Graham’s Produce, a produce market inside a small building on John B. White Sr. Boulevard. He also used to deliver fresh produce to Heritage Courts, an independent living complex for senior citizens and people with disabilities on South Church Street.

Graham died from kidney cancer on Sept. 30. On Thursday evening, his two children attended the Heritage Court Apartments Christmas party and told residents they would continue their father’s tradition of delivering fresh produce to the complex.

“Those children love their father so much. To do something like this in his honor is just wonderful,” said Vicki Sandifer, the manager of Heritage Court.

She said she was touched by how proud Nicole and Nicholas are of carrying on their father’s legacy.

After a piano-led sing-a-long rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and a prayer, Nicole announced that in honor of her father, everyone would receive the gift bags. She fought off emotions during her brief speech, but many in the room were not successful and began crying. Some shouted “God bless you” and expressed their gratitude.

Throughout the party, residents shared stories with Nicole and Nicholas. One woman told Nicole the story of how her father brought a specific item that he didn’t have the week before, just for her. Another woman told the story of Graham giving her a tomato for the tuna sandwich she was making.

The elder Graham used to take truckloads of fresh fruits and vegetables to local nursing homes every week. Since many living in nursing homes are unable to drive, Graham’s deliveries provided residents with access to fresh food that may not have been available otherwise. Their father started making the deliveries in 2009.

“He would set up produce along the sidewalk to keep it like a shopping experience,” said Nicole. “He understood what it meant to get older and not be able to do as much for himself, so he wanted to help them out.”

Nicole and Nicholas enjoyed listening to the stories about their father. They also enjoyed the festive holiday atmosphere.

“It’s everything,” said Nicole on being able to help others by keeping up something her father started. “He always wanted to be remembered as someone who had a diverse group of friends.”

Nicole said the passion for helping others runs in the family, noting that her mother helped her and Nicholas prepare all the gift bags despite working 12-hour holiday shifts as a postal worker.

“It’s just our family’s big thing I guess,” joked Nicole.

Nicholas said that helping people by doing something he used to do with his father was rewarding.

“It’s nostalgic, as cliché as that is,” he said. “It’s great to give back and to see all these familiar faces.”

Both Graham children are graduates of Dartmouth University. When their father became ill several years ago, both children put off going to graduate school to help him at Graham’s Produce.

Nicole now has her master’s degree in creative writing and Nicholas is pursuing his master’s degree in cultural studies. Nicole said their education was funded in large part by helping her dad with his produce business.

“My brother and I went to Dartmouth, and it was paid for in watermelons. We would help my dad haul watermelons and whatever profits we made, he would match,” she said.

In October, Nicole and Nicholas founded the Dennis Graham Memorial Fund to help give local residents easy access to fresh produce. Delivering fruits to nursing homes on Thursday was the first official act of the foundation.

“It’s an area that needs some help. We were always community-oriented and family- oriented,” said Nicole. “I feel like I have a purpose now.”

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Information from: Herald-Journal, http://www.goupstate.com/

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