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Hazel Graham Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview with
Hazel Graham

Leader of Girl Scout Troop, Bryant School; first Executive Director, Jackson County Historical Society; and friend of President and Mrs. Harry S. Truman.
February 21, 1989
Niel M. Johnson

[Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


This is a transcript of a tape-recorded interview conducted for the Harry S. Truman Library. A draft of this transcript was edited by the interviewee but only minor emendations were made; therefore, the reader should remember that this is essentially a transcript of the spoken, rather than the written word.

As an electronic publication of the Truman Library, users should note that features of the original, hardcopy version of the oral history interview, such as pagination and indexing, could not be replicated for this online version of the Hazel Graham transcript.

This oral history transcript may be read, quoted from, cited, and reproduced for purposes of research. It may not be published in full except by permission of the Harry S. Truman Library.

Opened May, 1990
Harry S. Truman Library
Independence, Missouri

[Top of the Page | Notices and Restrictions | Interview Transcript | List of Subjects Discussed]


Oral History Interview with
Hazel Graham

Independence, Missouri
February 21, 1989
Niel M. Johnson

JOHNSON: Mrs. Graham, I'm going to start by getting some background. When and where you were born and what were your parents' names?

GRAHAM: I was born in Kansas City, Missouri, just up the hill from today's Plaza district, in 1913. My father was Ernest Brace, and my mother was Grace Brace. I started to school at the old Sweeney School, which is just beyond the Plaza a couple of blocks. I lived in Kansas City until shortly before high school age, and I had my high school training in Lee's Summit, Missouri.

JOHNSON: What was your father's occupation?

GRAHAM: He had been in charge of the storehouse for the Terminal Railroad, but he was a person who liked very much to be his own boss, and he wanted to have a small acreage where he could have a large strawberry patch and that type of thing. So we moved to the Lee's Summit area, just at the edge of town. Of course, it was not the time in history to make that kind of a move, but he did.

JOHNSON: That would have been about what year?

GRAHAM: Well, it would have been in the early twenties.

JOHNSON: Did we get the exact date on your birth?

GRAHAM: July 10, 1913.

JOHNSON: And then you moved to Lee's Summit.

GRAHAM: Just before high school age.

JOHNSON: So you went to high school in Lee's Summit.


JOHNSON: And you graduated from high school there?

GRAHAM: Yes, graduated from high school in Lee's Summit.

JOHNSON: And then what did you do?

GRAHAM: I went to Kansas City to earn enough money to go to college. I was extremely fortunate in being able to get a job at the Lucerne Hotel, which was a residential hotel on Linwood Boulevard, they hired me to be switchboard operator.

Very shortly after that, I started keeping books for the hotel, at the switchboard. Before too long, the property changed hands; this was in Depression days. An insurance company in Dallas, Texas took the property over on an unfulfilled loan. The Brookside Hotel in Kansas City was taken over the same day that they took the Lucerne Hotel over, and they wanted to take the manager of the Lucerne out to the Brookside immediately. They asked me if I would become the manager of the Lucerne Hotel. So, overnight I became manager of a hotel with 40 employees and, with their help, was able to succeed.

I called them all together the next morning and told them exactly what had happened and told them that I could not do it, but we could do it. And we did.

JOHNSON: What did that do to your college plans?

GRAHAM: Well, by the time I had enough money saved to attend college, which I was so interested in doing, college graduates were not making anywhere near what I was making, and I couldn't afford it. My parents were having problems at this time; their health was very bad, and it just simply was impossible for me to go on to college. So I never received any college work at all.

JOHNSON: During the Depression, then, you are manager of the Lucerne.

GRAHAM: The Lucerne Hotel.

JOHNSON: And how long did that last?

GRAHAM: I was there until 1939, when Kenneth Graham and I were married. We had not intended to be married the last day of June; we had intended an earlier wedding in June, but the building changed hands again, and they persuaded me to stay and train the new people. So the last month before I was married I trained a new group of people coming in to manage the hotel, and it was never managed as a luxury residence hotel after that.

JOHNSON: Is that still there, that building?

GRAHAM: The building is there, but it has been used for many things since then, including underprivileged housing. Of course, Linwood Boulevard today is not a desirable place.

JOHNSON: But in the twenties that was an upper-class area.

GRAHAM: It was the place to be.

JOHNSON: So you're married in 1939.

GRAHAM: We were married in 1939, and we moved to Independence in 1940, for Mr. Graham to become the manager of the Herald Publishing House.

JOHNSON: Was his background in business, as a business major?

GRAHAM: No, he majored in political science and journalism. He came to the publishing house from KMBC [radio station].

JOHNSON: Where did your husband graduate, what university?

GRAHAM: Kansas University, KU.

JOHNSON: So you moved over here to Independence to . . .

GRAHAM: We moved out to Golden Acres.

JOHNSON: Golden Acres, where was that?

GRAHAM: It was the subdivision at that particular time. It is just off of Noland Road at Gudgell, two blocks east.

JOHNSON: And now you're a housewife, or are you doing . . .

GRAHAM: I did not work at all, outside the home, from the time we were married, until I went to the Historical Society. We raised two daughters and that covered a longer period of time than it would for some families because there's six years difference in the two girls.

JOHNSON: So you had two children, two daughters. And what are their names?

GRAHAM: Donnis Graham is the older one and Karen Graham Wade is the younger one.

JOHNSON: And one of them you mentioned is an architectural historian; she majored in architectural history and is director of a museum.

GRAHAM: Yes. And the other daughter followed more closely in her father's footsteps. She is employed at the University of Kansas.

JOHNSON: In the forties, during World War II and later on, you lived in Golden Acres, and then you moved to . . .

GRAHAM: We moved to Delaware [Street] in 1947.

JOHNSON: And what was the address there?

GRAHAM: 610 North Delaware.

JOHNSON: What impelled you to do that?

GRAHAM: Because Golden Acres at that particular time in history was not in the Independence school system, and we had our older child ready to go to school. I had helped establish, through the Independence Young Matrons, a kindergarten in the system of Independence, at Bryant School. They had never had kindergartens. So we were very anxious to move into the Bryant School area.

JOHNSON: That's where Margaret Truman went . . .

GRAHAM: That's where Margaret went to school too.

JOHNSON: Did both of your daughters then go to Bryant School?

GRAHAM: Yes, both of them went to Bryant School. I had a scout troop, all through the time that our younger daughter was in school, that became very active at the Jackson County Historical Society.

JOHNSON: Had either of you met the Trumans or known the Trumans at all by this time?

GRAHAM: Well, only like everybody else that knew them. I don't remember even what year it was, but my first intimate contact with him was when I took my Girl Scout troop, which were just Brownies at that particular time--they were in the second grade--up to the square in Independence. There was a library right in the center of town, just barely off the square at that time, and they had a story hour. I was walking there with my Brownie troop up to the library. Mr. Truman was home at that time, and he came out to pick up the paper just as we were walking by. He came out to the sidewalk to speak to the children. He knew some of them because some of them lived close to him, and he called them by name. Then, the ones that he didn't know he would say to me, "What's her name?" and I was supposed to supply the name for each one of them. He talked to every child in that group, and asked them where they lived and how was their family.

JOHNSON: When was this?

GRAHAM: Well, let me think. My daughter was born in l947 and she was in second grade at this time.

JOHNSON: So it probably was 1954, or possibly '55.

GRAHAM: It was in that era. He was very cordial to them and there was absolutely no reason, nothing for him to gain by it, except just being nice to children.

JOHNSON: Well, now when you were living down there on Delaware . . .

GRAHAM: We were just a little over a block from their house.

JOHNSON: Once in a while there would be crowds gathering at the Truman home, while he was President, for instance on his first trip back home.

GRAHAM: The fence was not up at first.

JOHNSON: Right. That was put up I believe in '47; that would have been about the yea