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Behind the Board: Ken Graham

Every non-profit organization has a board of trustees, who guide the organization toward its goals. Trustees generally have an interest in the organization or cause which they are passionate about, that could not be more true with our own Board of Trustees. Today we dive a little deeper into the background of one of our long time trustees, Ken Graham.

Like I said, participating on a board requires an interest, passion for service, and the urge to make a difference. Ken embodies all of that and more, he recently walked us through his personal story of how a boy raised on a dairy farm in Ireland to a Midshipman in the British Merchant Navy, Master Mariner of Liberian Flagged cargo ships, to a consultant in Ship Claims and finally to a property owner.

The brief history I just provided should give you a pretty decent insight to Ken and his story. The more you sit and discuss all of his adventures, the more modest he becomes. He recounted a meeting recently at Old Bergen Church, where he volunteers to oversee the grounds and is an elder, of a woman from West Africa who was sure he had never heard of her home town. As luck would have it, his refresher trip up and down the coasts of Africa over the last two years had reacquainted him intimately with her home town, much to her delight.

Ken attributes much of his success to his personal credo that his “word is his bond.” If he says it, he does it and it’s that simple. As he pointed out, for someone to place him in charge of a ship at the young age of 28, they needed to trust him and he needed to make good on his promises, which he always does.

While working Ken was working for a multinational corporation as a British Master Mariner out of London, he decided to go on a blind date. Lucky for him, he fell quickly in love and married his now wife one year after they met. He called his boss, up in Canada, and told him he needed a leave of absence and he never sailed again.

After he and his business partner decided to go their separate ways one Friday afternoon, Ken went on the hunt for an office in Journal Square. Again, as luck would have it, the next day he met the owner of 26 Journal Square and told him he needed space badly. The building owner bypassed the renting office and gave Ken the recently vacated office of famed Jersey City lawyer and preservationist, Morris Pesin. Morris, was one of the strong driving forces behind Liberty State Park, one of the greatest public spaces in the state. With Morris’s office still warm and with some remaining file cabinets, Ken moved in the following Monday. The transition happened so fast that even the rental office at 26 Journal Square questioned how he got the deal. Journal Square and Jersey City was a perfect location for Graham Marine Associates, Inc. and their clients who worked in the World Trade Center and also loved having lunch at Windows on the World.

One day while having a beer at the Summit House, he saw 615 Pavonia with a For Sale sign. Immediately Ken realized the opportunity and great potential the site had, looking past the present and into the future with the assets of Journal Square he saw a good investment. He later befriended Harry Bochner, then owner of 619 Pavonia, and Harry’s brother, Michael, who owned 621 Pavonia. The Bochner brothers were looking to sell their property and Ken agreed to purchase 619 and 621 which expanded his presence on Pavonia. These three sites would later be consolidated and sold to what is now Journal Squared.

So from humble beginnings a Sailor dropped his anchor in Jersey City and grew his business and then sold off and retired, paving the way for the next generation of Journal Square to take over. We thank Ken all the time for his dedication to our organization and to Journal Square as well as his volunteer efforts at Old Bergen Church . He can still be found at his office in the Essex House, a Class A Rooming House on Pavonia Ave.