Fehr Graham co-founder Joe Graham leaves behind legacy of laughter, innovation

Joe Graham, co-founder of Fehr Graham, was known for his meticulous approach and zest for work. His passing on Sept. 9 at age 96 marks the end of an era that dawned when he and Allen Fehr started Fehr Graham, an engineering and environmental firm, in 1973.

As the firm stands on the cusp of celebrating its 50th anniversary on Sept. 15, Graham's legacy remains an enduring testament to his indomitable spirit and dedication.

Fehr Graham Chief Executive Officer Mick Gronewold said Joe's dedication and visionary leadership are part of what helped shape the firm into what it is today.

"Joe was always more than a co-founder. He was instrumental in setting the cornerstones from which we were built," Gronewold said. "His legacy will continue to inspire us to get it right, mentor the next generation and work to make a positive impact in the communities we serve."

He was fun and focused
Longtime Fehr Graham employee Gay Broocks, a Senior Engineering Technician who joined the firm in 1976, fondly remembers her time with Joe. She had known him since her childhood when their families attended the same church.

"He was organized and orderly," Broocks said. "He was always focused on getting things right. That was part of Fehr Graham's great reputation."

Graham was a jovial presence around the office. In those early days, with only seven employees, they often worked closely together, and Graham would always entrust her with additional responsibilities. His meticulous filing system set a strong foundation for the company's future.

In an era when plotting, gridlines and contours were crafted by hand, Graham's talent was obvious. He would freehand projects, and when they later checked the proportions with a ruler and calculator, he was spot on.

"His talent was amazing," Broocks said.

Clients would frequently drop by to discuss projects, but many were also Joe's friends. Broocks recalled that Graham and Fehr, who died in 2021, were different in personality but shared a profound friendship that complemented their workmanship and characters.

Cherished friendships
Quentin Davis, a retired Fehr Graham partner, worked at the firm for 29 years. He cherishes memories of Friday lunches with Graham at Schnitzel's in Freeport and countless good times during work hours.

For Davis, one thing always stands out when he thinks of Graham: "Joe had a deep, hearty laugh. Everyone knew him by his laugh."

In the early days of surveying, before the advent of desktop computers, Graham took charge. He used an early office computer to write programs that created calculations for boundary surveys, teaching others in the process. Organized and methodical, Graham was also known for his fun-loving nature, sharing his boat at company summer outings and enjoying good times with colleagues.

In recent years, Davis made a point of checking in with Graham regularly, especially when the retirees' lunches at Fehr Graham were canceled because of COVID-19. He always enjoyed their visits.

Beyond his company contributions, Joe Graham served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and was an active member of Grace Episcopal Church in Freeport, Amvets, Rotary, Union Savings Bank Board, Freeport Country Club, The Elks Club, Stephenson County Building Commission and many more.

Fehr Graham's first office opened at 660 W. Stephenson St. in Freeport with five employees on Sept. 15, 1973. Al Fehr and Joe Graham were competing against each other for work and decided instead to form a business together.

A visitation for Joe Graham is scheduled from 4-6:30 p.m. on Sept. 22 at Burke-Tubbs Funeral Home in Freeport. The funeral service is at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 23 at Grace Episcopal Church.

Read more about Joe Graham in his obituary here.