John P. Graven (BUS ’49, MBA ’50) was in DePaul’s first class of 15 MBA graduates. Like many college students of his era, he was a veteran of World War II. He served in the U.S. Army, and memories of his wartime experiences were still fresh in his mind when he entered DePaul. One memory, which he later shared with his wife, remained especially vivid.
“He was among the troops that liberated Buchenwald,” says Anastasia P. Graven (MA ’64) of her husband, who died at age 81 in 2006. The Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, held Holocaust survivors and political prisoners from across Europe. “The American Army wanted to reassure the prisoners that they were not another army coming to overcome them. The generals said, ‘We have to explain to the prisoners that we are here to save them.’”
The commanders asked GIs who spoke the detainees’ various languages to step forward to tell the survivors they were free. Graven, the son of Greek immigrants who settled in Chicago, volunteered to talk to the Greek survivors. “They told him to say, ‘We are Americans, we are here to help you and save you and return you to your own countries,’” Anastasia says. “The Greek prisoners fell on their knees, kissed (the soldiers’) hands and thanked them. He was a 19-year-old kid, overwhelmed by all this. It was a very moving event in his life.”
When Graven’s service ended, he returned to Chicago. “It was an opportunity to proceed in life after a harrowing experience,” his wife says. “He wanted to go back to school on the GI Bill, which of course was a big godsend. The GI Bill opened up education for many of that generation. Going to university then was an elite thing.” DePaul’s mission served the non-elite, including military veterans and the children of immigrants who wanted to expand their prospects through education. “DePaul opened its arms and made them feel welcomed, comfortable and accepted,” she says. “He treasured the whole experience.”
Graven entered DePaul’s MBA program right after earning his bachelor’s degree in accountancy. “He always was a numbers man,” Anastasia says. “He worked in accounting at a CPA firm, but he wanted to have the MBA.” He left the firm, attended MBA classes during the day and taught accounting at a junior college at night.
John and Anastasia met in 1949 after Easter Sunday services at Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, then located on Chicago’s South Side. “He introduced himself and said, ‘Who are you?’” she recalls. “I told him, and he said, ‘I think you are the woman I am going to marry.’” They tied the knot in 1952.
John convinced Anastasia to get her master’s degree at DePaul, and they both went to work in the Chicago Public School system. John was a principal at Taft High School and an assistant superintendent; Anastasia was a principal at Boone Elementary and Stephen Decatur Classical School.
John considered DePaul his “saving place,” Anastasia says. “He told me, ‘When the time comes, and if I have the capacity, I want to support students who go there.’” In 2008, Anastasia established the John and Anastasia Graven Scholarship Funds to benefit business and music students, and she later added an accountancy student scholarship fund.
“John always said he got a good education and it provided him with opportunities to develop and move into the future,” says Anastasia. Through the Gravens’ scholarship funds, 29 DePaul students to date have had the same opportunity to attend DePaul and expand their horizons.
By Robin Florzak
Read about DePaul MBA grads from other decades: