Notable Neighbor: Medina native found careers in Air Force, aviation
MEDINA – After graduating from Medina High School in 1974, Donna Graves sat around a year, wondering what to do.
Out of the blue, she decided to join the Navy, but the day she went to the recruiting office, they hadn’t come back from lunch, but the Air Force recruiter was there and said, “You don’t want to join the Navy.”
So even though she had never seen an airplane up close, she joined the Air Force.
She grew up in Medina, a daughter of George and Gertrude Williams. The Williams were well known in Medina as owners of the Sinclair Station on West Center Street, now Rudy’s Restaurant.
Graves left Medina in January 1976 for Lackland Air Force Base, where she did her basic training. She completed four years in the Air Force.
After retiring from the military, Graves took a job as a budget analyst for the government, working in England. There, she met her first husband, an American military man. After they divorced, she married a man who worked for General Colin Powell in Georgia.
When both bases in Georgia were closed, Graves went to work for Delta as an international customer service agent out of Atlanta. She was working with Delta when 9-11 occurred, she said.
Graves was 52 when Delta was trying to downsize and offered her a package “I couldn’t resist,” she said. “I still had a few years until I could get my pension from the government, so I put my name out to the whole world and got a Civil Service job with the Air Force.”
She was sent to Elmandorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, where she worked as a budget analyst for three years, until she was transferred to Leavenworth.
“I retired for the second time from there,” she said.
Her career path has always thrust her toward aviation. While she was working for Delta, she met a Georgia cropduster, who let her ride with him for two years in his Stearman.
“That was my first time in a small plane, and I learned a lot about radial engines,” Graves said.
She said Delta Airlines actually started as a crop services company called Delta Air Service.
When she came home after her second retirement to attend a funeral of a co-worker, she met the owner of Rochester Air Center. He runs a flight school and told her, “You’re always talking about airplanes, why don’t you come and volunteer at the Rochester Air Center.”
She did, and that probably influenced her to pursue and received her student pilot’s certificate.
Graves’ retirement was short-lived.
After returning to Medina, she was contacted in the spring by the government and offered a job with the U.S. Army Central Command as a systems accountant. USARCCENT, which is responsible for all of the Middle East activities, is known as “Patton’s Third Army.” She is working with the Third Army and many World War II veterans marched through Europe with General George Patton. Graves ex-father-in law was one of them.
“After General Patton died in December 1945, my father-in-law wrote a letter to his widow Beatrice Patton about his passing,” Graves said. “She wrote a wonderful letter back to him and I have a photo of the envelope. I am not sharing the letter, which is beautiful, because I want to respect my ex-husband’s family. The stamp on the letter is sideways, which meant ‘friendship, thinking of you.’ It means so much to me that I even have the envelope, and now I work here where his portraits and memorabilia are housed.”
“I share my birthday with General Patton on Nov. 11,” Graves said.
When Graves, now 62, was hired it was for a six-month deal, she said. She left Medina in June to begin her new job in Georgia in a federal budget contracting position supporting operations in Kuwait. When she arrived, she learned her company had won a contract for an additional five years. She is now being transferred to South Carolina, but will come home at the end of the month to attend her 45th high school reunion and close her apartment.
“I need to work a few more years while I’m able to do so, and this will put me in a good position to buy a house when I’m ready to retire – for the third time,” she said.