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DeKalb Salvation Army captains start with extra challenge

Monica Maschak -
Keith Graham and wife Michelle Graham are the new Salvation Army Captains for DeKalb.
Monica Maschak - Keith Graham and wife Michelle Graham are the new Salvation Army Captains for DeKalb.

DeKALB – Salvation Army Captain Michelle Graham learned something about herself when she started running the local chapter while her husband, Keith, was recovering from emergency brain surgery.

“With all that we've dealt with in the past few weeks, I've seen my leadership come out,” said Michelle Graham, 32. “God has shown me I can be a leader.”

Capts. Keith and Michelle Graham started as the new pastors and officers of the DeKalb Salvation Army on June 25, though only half of the husband-and-wife team was working before last week.

Keith Graham, 40, was recovering from a surgery to removed a benign tumor from his frontal lobe that he didn't know existed until he woke up in the hospital on June 1. He had suffered an overnight seizure, which an MRI revealed was caused by a small tumor. Surgeons at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn quickly removed the tumor.

The diagnosis came a couple weeks after the couple learned they would would be transferred to DeKalb from the Midway Church and Community Center in Chicago. While the surgery put Keith Graham on medical leave until last week, the couple still made the transition from Chicago to DeKalb.

With her husband recovering, Michelle Graham led the agency, preparing for the annual back-to-school supply distribution, supporting the agency's ministry and youth program, and overseeing the agency's food pantry, which serves more than 2,000 people a month.

“It's been something I never would have thought would happen,” Michelle Graham said.

Although the task was slightly daunting, even after seven years of leading the Midway chapter with her husband, Michelle Graham said she was grateful to see what she could accomplish on her own.

And it's something that likely would have been a lot harder, Michelle Graham said, if it weren't for the way the agency's previous captains, Michael and Alisha Cho, left the organization. Michelle Graham said the Chos, who led the agency for about five years, set the couple up for a smooth transition before taking a new assignments in Minneapolis.

Being committed to the cause runs in both of the Grahams' blood. Both of their parents were Salvation Army officers, with Keith growing up in Jamaica and Michelle in St. Louis. During their teenage years they heard the call to become officers, though neither of them accepted the call for a few years.

“It requires so much compassion and dedication, and I didn't think I had it in me,” Keith Graham said, acknowledging the past two months are evidence to the contrary.

After meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota, while working for the Salvation Army, the husband and wife team were ordained and commissioned in Chicago in 2007. They bring with them two children, Christopher, 5, and Sean, 3.

“It's quite the process,” Keith Graham said. “But I feel great now.”

About the Grahams

• Michelle, 32, and Keith, 40.

• Both their parents were Salvation Army officers.

• Couple took over DeKalb Salvation Army post June 25.

• They have two children: Christopher, 5, and Sean, 3.

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