Donor’s life is like a country music song
Tom McGraw’s life story has all the makings of a country music song: He grew up on a farm, worked hard and made lots of money, but lost everything to alcohol. Then he picked himself up, quit drinking, met a beautiful woman, worked even harder, and got it all back.
“I know about having nothing,” admitted McGraw, 78, who’s been sober for almost 40 years. “I know about second chances.”
McGraw is a longtime Salvation Army supporter. He and his wife Linda live on 25 acres in central Minnesota, near the city of Buffalo Lake. McGraw has never lived farther than a few miles from his current home, aside from when he was a young man attending St. John’s Prep School and serving in the military.
In addition to donating money, McGraw rings bells several times a week during the Christmas season.
Helping The Salvation Army “is about responsibility,” he said. “How you treat those with less tells you what your character is.”
He especially likes The Salvation Army because the organization is in the business of giving second chances to thousands of people who struggle as he once did. He also believes that donating to The Salvation Army makes good business sense.
“What I give goes to good use,” said McGraw, referring to the fact that 82 cents of every dollar donated in Minnesota and North Dakota goes directly to helping people in need. “By giving to The Salvation Army, I can leverage more good works than I could ever do by myself.”
Indeed, McGraw knows a thing or two about business. In the early 1980s he founded what is now Midwest Independent Soil Samplers – a revolutionary company that helps farmers determine the amount of fertilizer needed for specific tracts of their land, thereby maximizing their yields.
“My business evolved to become the largest soil sampling company in North America,” said McGraw, who sold the company five years ago. He credits much of the company’s success to Linda, who worked just as hard in the office as McGraw did dirtying his boots in the field.
Through the years, McGraw has spoken at agricultural seminars across the world, having traveled to 30 countries.
During the Christmas season, McGraw makes the 20-minute drive to the big city – Hutchinson – to ring bells for The Salvation Army two or three times a week.
When he isn’t busy ringing, he recruits bell ringers at his church and throughout the community. Last Christmas, he wrote a long letter in the local newspaper encouraging people to get involved.
“Please consider being a Salvation Army bell ringer – it’s one of the best things you can do in the Christmas season,” he wrote.
McGraw enjoys ringing because he gets to witness the impact of The Salvation Army.
“A couple times a week, somebody will put money in the kettle and say, ‘You guys helped me out when I needed it,’” McGraw said. “You talk about gratification. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
At almost 80 years old, McGraw has the mind and body of a man half his age.
To stay sharp, he reads lots of books, helps a young farmer down the road, and is developing a new farming invention – one that he believes could make just as big of an impact on the agriculture industry as the soil sampling company he founded.
The invention “is my contribution back to agriculture for what agriculture has done for me,” McGraw said. “Whatever I get from it will go to charity.”
McGraw was reluctant to tell his story because, as he put it, “Character is who you are in the dark.” But he agreed that sharing his thoughts could inspire others to join him in supporting The Salvation Army – a charity he says he will remember even after he dies.
“Not everything I’ve done in my life is good,” chuckled McGraw, reflecting on his younger years. “So when I’m up there in front of St. Peter, I’m going to point to The Salvation Army and say, ‘But they’ll testify for me.’”