Sam Graber – Rochelle, IL
Sam Graber dreamed of being part of the Whiz Kids of Philadelphia in 1950, and now with the help of Photoshop he can see what that would have looked like. He’s been in Rochelle for over 50 years, has served on the Rochelle Hospital Board of Trustees, been active at St. Patrick Catholic Church Rochelle, is a loyal member of Rochelle Rotary Club, and has enjoyed a long career in the life insurance business. Here’s his story:
That was in the late 1940’s, and Sam Graber was soon crazy about basketball, as well as football and baseball. Life was good for a young boy growing up in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Each morning, he’d start the day scouring the sports page of the Wisconsin State Journal, and baseball’s “Whiz Kids” of Philadelphia caught his eye. “That year, I jumped on them and stayed with them,” he said. That’s how he found his summer team, but what about the rest of the year?
His uncle, Laurence Graber, was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and literally wrote the book on alfalfa management. He was known as “Mr. Alfalfa,” and in 1953 little Sammy Jo and his Dad, Ernie, went to their first Badger football game together, and the sea of red and roar of the crowd hooked Sammy for life.
There’s still a lot of kid in Sam, and that’s why you can see him wearing his favorite Phillies or Badgers cap year-round. It’s the foundation for his love affair with sports. As you might expect, Sam often brings up sports when he sits down with a client. “I grew up on a farm, and we learned hard work,” Sam said. “My Dad had a saying, ‘You have to pay the price to see the promise.” Work hard. Be patient. Stick with it.
“I tell them the story, and I use sports. You’ve got to have a game plan. Growing up I learned that your team has to control the ball. We had to prepare for that.” Sam has been a great student himself since starting his insurance career in 1969, learning how each product can help his clients. He’s been a top producer at Western Catholic Union for years. He’s learned how to prepare his clients for the game of life.
“I always emphasize that I thought what I offered makes sense and could play a big part in their life.”
Sam’s Phillies often remind him how one simple move can change a course tremendously, and one move today can help his clients for many tomorrows. The Phillies traded for all-star catcher JT Realmuto, but they gave Miami a young pitcher named Sixto Sanchez, who might haunt his old team for years. Decisions in the 50’s have allowed Sam’s dominos to fall in place for the past 70 years. Growing up, after his high school career was completed at Mineral Point, a chance meeting with former teammate Thomas L Speich led both young men to Lakeland College just outside of Sheyboygan, Wisconsin. “He’s been my best friend all my life, and it’s still that way today.” When you grow up shoveling snow together to clear a basketball court, the bond runs deep.
As a junior at Lakeland, he was named the “Athlete of the Year,” and was thrilled to meet Packer Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr at the ceremony. A few years ago, Sam’s basketball prowess got him named to the college’s Hall of Fame. He had great success shooting the ball, and would have “really scored a lot” if they had the three point shot back then. To shoot well, you must focus on the basket. Sam’s focus on basketball brought him most of his joy for the rest of his life. It brought his best friend Tom, took him to Lakeland, there he met his future wife, Sandi, took him to Rochelle to teach and coach, and that job paved the way for his opportunity in life insurance sales.
As Sam looks back on his good fortune during his 51 years in the business, he knows he’s been blessed to learn from four pillars of strength and extraordinary leadership: Ken Detweiler, Bill Clements, Jim Schwarzbach and Darrell Malano. They were Sam’s Vince Lombardis.
Lesson #1, treat people well. “I never push people. I want to allow the people to take some time to think it over.”
That patience was introduced to Sam by his parents, then Sam put it to use with his students. People relax when Sam’s in the room, and he always, always, always is respectful. That paid off big when he was chaperoning a bunch of students on their senior class trip to New York City. As soon as a man in the elevator said that boxing great Cassius Clay was in his hotel, Sam was quickly on the hunt.
Sam found Cassius Clay entertaining the hotel staff, cooks, waiters and “women, there were a lot of women.” Sam talked the guard into getting close enough to meet the Champ. Clay stood up and asked “You are WHO, now?” Again, just as he treats everybody, Sam showed great respect, and told him who he was, where he was from and what he did for a living. “I was looking up at him, you know. My gosh, he was a massive guy.” Sam asked for an autograph, and Clay said, “That’ll be no problem,” he said. “Continue the good work working with young kids.”
Sam remembers, “I will never forget the size of that man and the courtesy that he provided a small-town guy.” Giving and receiving respect means a lot to Sam Graber, even if you’re the champion of the world.
It seems that a guy like Sam should fit right in in the “City of Brotherly Love.” A trip to Philadelphia to see his Phillies is on top of his bucket list. He’s been a Phillies fan for 70 years now, and being true to his core belief, he’s paid the price during many of those years.
Sam Graber can be reached at the Graber Financial Group office at 409 4th Avenue in Rochelle, and at 1-815-562-7139. He might even pick up if he has the game on.