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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Million dollar love

Ohio congregation receives & gives a gift of love

With great love, Zion Lutheran Church, Waterville, Ohio, has for the last 10 years given away $1 million to more than 100 missions, organizations, projects and agencies. 

It all began as a love story: Katie (Bryant) Graf’s love for her husband Doug.

Katie was an only child and her parents, who lived in Tiffin, Ohio, were proud and wealthy. Her father was a successful businessman; her mother was involved in the local bank and universities. Doug’s family had a blacksmith business in nearby Waterville.

After her father died, Katie introduced Doug to her mother. It didn’t go well. In fact, after several times being with Doug, Katie’s mother was still so against this boyfriend that she told her daughter: “All of this wealth is yours if you stop dating Doug.” Not long after, Katie made it clear that her love for Doug was more important than her mother’s money.

They married, and Katie became an elementary school music teacher, and her husband a custodian for the local schools. 

During the 50 years they lived in Waterville, Katie’s mother wisely invested “her” wealth in nursing home corporations. Doug and Katie continued to live off their wages. They weren’t able to have children, so Zion became their family. Katie directed the children’s choirs and Doug took care of the building and grounds.  

Every 10 years ...

According to the investment policies, every 10 years Katie’s mother reinvested and reallocated her wealth. Ten years went by, then another and so on. When it came time for the money to be reinvested in 2000, Katie’s mother had died. As a result, the money went to first of kin: Katie.

By then Katie was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and knew nothing about the money that had been left to her. Doug was overwhelmed by this windfall, having never seen that much money in his life. His main concern was making sure Katie was financially secure in the nursing home. Having done that, he arranged to give “God’s” money ($2.7 million) to their “first of kin”: Zion.

Doug died in 2000 at age 74; Katie two years later at age 78.

With Acts 1:8 clearly in mind (Jesus’ command to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”), Zion set up a mission endowment fund in 2004 that would serve its community, the surrounding area and the world.

Zion’s anniversary theme this year is “Million Dollar Love Story,” celebrating the Grafs’ love for each other, their congregation and the work of the church.


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