Born in 1942 Yazoo City, John Graeber has never dreaded a day of work in his life. He started working at age 12 for his father’s ice and butane business, but didn’t make much money, so he went on strike at age 14.
He and his cousin were making $7.50 a week. They wanted $10. His father agreed to give them a raise, but told them they’d have to start paying room and board at home.
“We decided against it,” he said, “and it wasn’t until we were 16 that we made enough to take a girl on a date.”
Graeber started dating his wife in the ninth grade, and they have been together since. Today, he tries to instill his work ethic in the students he teaches as a Ole Miss Golf Course instructor.
During college at Ole Miss, Graeber’s father developed brain cancer and passed away. Graeber moved home to run the business with his wife and family, then sold it. He later purchased a steel business and sold it when his kids moved to Oxford with their families, opting to follow them to the town.
Throughout life, he held a passion for golf that never faded, giving golf instructions and playing in tournaments whenever he found time.
Graeber began working as a golf instructor for the Oxford Park Commission shortly after moving to Oxford 20 years ago. Then, members of the Ole Miss Golf Course approached him to instruct golf, and he has been doing it for years.
Graeber said golf lessons are more than just golf. “Being out here is what I love,” he said, speaking animatedly about his work at the golf course. “I’m probably out here more than anybody.”
For Graeber, being an instructor is much more than helping someone with their golf game. It is about showing them they can do it, and giving them the satisfaction of accomplishing something they could not do before.
“My favorite part about coaching golf, is when they hit a really nice shot, look up at me, and smile,” he said. “That’s when I know I got ’em.”
Graeber is an advocate for doing what you love to do. “Whatever your favorite thing is, I don’t care if it’s cooking, do what you love to do,” he said. “I have never done what I don’t love to do.”
Graeber said his lessons are free if he cannot help improve your golf game.
Jason Solinger, a University of Mississippi English professor, has been Graeber’s client for more than two years. Solinger said Graeber was always fun and companionable. He enjoyed going to the course and getting help with his golf game. Solinger has two sons, 10 and 13, he often brings to lessons.
“He’s just a warm guy,” Solinger said. “He’s so great with the boys. He’s like the perfect teacher. He’s one of those teachers who is always so positive.”
Solinger said Graeber won’t allow you to be in a bad mood on the golf course.
“If you’re upset, you can’t be as good as you truly are, and I never want my clients to go backwards,” Graeber said. “The hardest thing about teaching golf is teaching balance. You either have it or you don’t.”
He said when his clients finally correct the balance and hit a nice shot, he becomes as excited as they do.
Graeber’s father, three of his brothers, and his children all attended the University of Mississippi. He has grandchildren continuing the tradition.
“My father never ever missed an Ole Miss ball game,” Graeber said. “I used to have to finish up work at the shop so he could go early.”
One of his best memories of Ole Miss football is when Ole Miss played in the Cotton Bowl at Texas Christian University. He and other Ole Miss fans took a special train to and from the game. “It was the best time, traveling all that way, and we got an underdog win,” he said.
Graeber’s grandson now plays shortstop for the Ole Miss baseball team, and Graeber supports him by attending practices and games between clients at the golf course.
“It’s the best place I’ve ever been, and my kids are here,” Graeber said, explaining why he moved to Oxford 20 years ago.
He said he came from a small Delta town with “I-S-M,” or too much judgment. “Put anything you want in front of I-S-M, and it was probably there – racism, sexism, you name it,” he said. In Oxford, “Nobody cares what you got. Anybody up here will help you do anything you wanna do. Living here for almost 20 years, I have never had to lock my door when I go to sleep at night.
“That’s just Oxford. Everybody knows everybody, and they got your back. When you just be yourself, you can be anything you want to be in Oxford.”