Funeral director talks about decades in Detroit, move to Dearborn

Photo courtesy of Oakwood Common Mona Graham enjoys the balcony view from her apartment at Oakwood Common.

Photo courtesy of Oakwood Common
Mona Graham enjoys the balcony view from her apartment at Oakwood Common.


DEARBORN – Mona Graham, a new resident at Oakwood Common, recently took a few minutes from unpacking to reflect on her move from Detroit’s Corktown to the Beaumont senior living community here.

“My daughters convinced me it was time to move,” said Graham, retired funeral director of Don Graham Funeral Home, a three-generation family business in Detroit. “With real estate escalating in Detroit, everything happened quickly. It only took four hours for my Corktown condo to sell.”

Graham soon described how it is just one of many changes she experienced over the years. Born of Scots-Irish heritage in Canada to an American father and Canadian mother, her family moved to Detroit when she was only 1 year old.

Graham met her husband, Don Graham Jr., through Scouting.

“I was 15, and he was 16,” she said. “The leader of my Girl Scout troop and his Boy Scout troop were friends.”

The couple dated for a few years before completing their education and marrying. Her husband’s father, Don Graham Sr., established Don Graham Funeral Home in 1929 in southwest Detroit.

A graduate of Wayne State University with a business degree in management, Mona Graham was the only woman in her class of 1957. Fifteen years later she attended mortuary science school to join her father-in-law and husband in the family business.

“I had to take embalming and do everything that comes with getting a degree,” Graham said. “Helping families is what I really enjoyed.”

Graham said the people they served were of all different nationalities, including the growing Hispanic population in their community.

“A lot of people couldn’t speak English, so they would usually bring someone to translate for them,” Graham said.

This is where she found her business skills to be helpful in advising female clients who didn’t have as much financial education and understanding about the choices available to them.

She and her husband also had a busy family life raising two daughters and a son, all of whom graduated from Cass Tech High School. It was their son Hugh who was the third generation to become a funeral director and join the family business.

Graham shared that the family’s funeral home was not immune from changes that happened over decades in Detroit. Most notable was the construction of I-75 in the late 1960s. The funeral home was in its path — forcing them to move and rebuild.

They relocated to the site that is now part of the service drive for the new Gordie Howe International Bridge, which meant the funeral home had to be torn down again.

“It didn’t make sense to rebuild,” said Graham, whose son Hugh retired to Mancelona, while her daughters remain close by.

Daughter Glynes Graham is a veterinarian, whose clinic is at Grand River and Trumbull in Detroit, and daughter Lynne Hopkins lives practically next door in Fairlane East.

Looking back, Graham carries lots of positive memories of the families they helped, and the travels that she and her husband took before he died five years ago.

She added: “Considering all the changes, moving to Oakwood Common has been easy. I knew people who lived here and they always talked about how friendly it is. And, that’s what I loved about Corktown.”