Friends and business associates mourn loss of Bill Graves, Willmar Domino’s Pizza franchisee
WILLMAR -- Friends and associates were remembering Bill Graves, a Domino's Pizza franchisee -- whose business grew from one store in Willmar to 100 stores in nine states -- as a caring and upbeat individual.
WILLMAR - Friends and associates were remembering Bill Graves, a Domino’s Pizza franchisee - whose business grew from one store in Willmar to 100 stores in nine states - as a caring and upbeat individual.
Graves, 52, of Flower Mound, Texas, and formerly of Willmar, died Wednesday night in a plane crash in southern Argyle, Texas, according to authorities.
“There was never a dull moment working for Bill Graves,’’ said Claudia Lenz, manager of Dough Management Inc., Graves’ Domino’s Pizza office on U.S. Highway 12 in Willmar.
“He loved life and loved to run (I’ve lost track of how many marathons he’s completed),’’ Lenz said in a written statement. “He never desired publicity or recognition. An article in the newspaper about him is the last thing he would want.’’
A good friend, Scott Barney, said Graves enjoyed life “to the Nth degree.’’
“He loved people. He loved relationships. He had a drive to him,’’ said Barney. “But he loved people and he loved to be with people. When you were with Bill, there was no boredom. He was a true friend to me.’’
Barney said he met Graves more than 20 years ago through Walt Gislason of Willmar because both men had a love for flying and they were both businessmen. Barney became good friends with Graves as a result.
Graves and his wife, Susan, and their family moved from Willmar to Flower Mound, Texas, in December 2013. The couple has four sons and two daughters. Barney said he has been to Flower Mound three times and brought along his grandson, Cameron.
“I went down there as much to see Bill as I did to bring Cameron down because he missed the family.
They were such a loving, caring, kind family, giving from the heart. They were just fun to be around,’’ Barney said.
“The cool thing about Bill was he taught me so much about relationships and not even knowing that he did it - just how they lived in their giving, caring, loving ways - and that’s who they were. I’m going to miss him,’’ he said.
Barney said Graves would always say “I’ll see you soon’’ rather than say goodbye.
“And that’s what he said to me when he moved to Texas. He really meant a lot to me. But I also know that one day because of who Jesus was to him, what his faith is, one day we’ll rejoice in heaven together,’’ Barney said.
Graves was secretary of the Midwest Chapter of the Domino’s Franchisee Association, according to the association’s website, with 100 stores in Iowa, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
Emily Raup of Chicago and formerly of Lakeville, Minnesota, said Graves opened his 100th store on Nov. 15, 2014. Raup said her father, Randy Halberg, is business partners with Graves.
Raup said Graves “was very proud of this accomplishment that he worked hard to achieve.’’
Graves started as a Domino’s Pizza driver in 1981 and became a franchisee in Willmar in 1985, according to the association’s website.
The Denton Record-Chronicle said Graves was also CEO of Dirt to Dough Consulting, which incorporated in Texas in August 2013, with the business office in Lewisville.
Dion Warne, senior vice president of Home State Bank of Willmar, moved to Willmar in 1993 when he met Graves. Both were partners in the development group Willmar 10 Investors.
Warne said Graves was a business person who had tremendous drive and great vision for what he wanted to accomplish. Warne said Graves’ first store was located in the Appletree Square building where Home State Bank was formerly located at the corner of Lakeland Drive and U.S. Highway 12 East in Willmar.
“It was fun to know a guy like that and at the same time he was a generous person, always upbeat,’’ said Warne. “He was just a regular guy. He made a lot of good decisions.’’
Ken Warner, president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, said Graves “was one of those giving individuals that did a lot in our community and a lot of times he did those quietly, either though his business or through his personal choices.’’
Graves was an unsuccessful candidate for the District 2 seat on the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners in 2008 against incumbent Richard Larson. The seat covers part of Ward 3 and all of Ward 4 in Willmar.
The Tribune quoted Graves, who was 45 at the time, as saying having a county commissioner under the age of 50 would be unique. Graves also said his dream was to work in a public service capacity to help create jobs, increase the tax base and be a good steward of taxpayers’ money.
Graves and his wife, along with other volunteers, helped Domino’s franchise friends feed hundreds of hungry residents in Mississippi and Louisiana who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29, 2005.
The Graves drove their mobile pizza store to the Gulf Coast and served 900 cooked pizzas to Mississippi residents of Long Beach and 960 cooked pizzas in Bay Saint Louis in early September.
The Tribune at that time quoted franchisees Val and Glenn Mueller, who thanked the Graves for responding to the call for assistance.
“They’re just really neat people that would help you, too, if you needed the help,’’ said Val Mueller.