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Shelter to be named for Graffs

June 18, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

daniels@herald-mail.com

BOONSBORO - Blissful is the first word that comes to her mind when Hagerstown resident Florence Graff thinks of her childhood growing up in New York City.

For nearly half a century, both as a board member and volunteer with San Mar Children's Home near Boonsboro, Graff has sought to bring that same warmth and comfort to girls from across Western Maryland in need of emergency shelter due to trying circumstances in their homes.

"Blissful, it was perfect, and that was one of the reasons, when I saw what was here, and the hurt and the pain, that I wanted to do my best," said Graff, 89, widow of the late Dr. Henry F. Graff. "They've been beaten up and thrown around and it takes a long time for them to accept you."

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In April, the board and friends of San Mar initiated a $1.2 million capital campaign to build a new shelter for adolescent girls, bolstered by a $432,000 pledge by the State of Maryland that required a matching donation from the community.

Much to Graff's surprise, the San Mar board voted Friday morning to honor Graff, who made a substantial donation to the campaign, by naming the new shelter after her and her husband. The facility will be called the Dr. Henry F. and Florence Hill Graff Shelter Home for Girls.

"This is substantial, it really gives such a boost because, with the lead gift, it gives confidence in everybody else to give," said Bruce T. Anderson, chief executive officer of San Mar.

Anderson added that Graff's volunteer efforts with the shelter have been at least as substantial as any monetary contribution she could give.

"It's been invaluable," Anderson said. "If I would have taken her service or the money ... I would have taken her service. Her dedication over 47 years, my goodness. You're hard-pressed to find anybody, anywhere, who has given that much time to one place."

Graff, who asked that the amount of her donation not be disclosed, said she was unsuspecting of the board's decision to honor her or her husband with the naming rights, and appeared uneasy by the attention she received.

"That was a total shock, I had no idea," she said. "I'm a little bit modest about this sort of thing, but if it reflects what I have given and what they have given me, that's OK."

Graff remembers one day, in 1970, when a man came into the shelter and asked if he could leave his children there following his wife's recent death. The man later died, orphaning the children.

"Those precious little children came in and broke my heart," Graff said. "With children, I melt."

San Mar now needs only $140,025 to be eligible for state funding. Between pledges, cash contributions and in-kind contributions, $480,025 is needed to meet the $1.2 million goal.

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