Mary Ellen Kiesner, co-manager of the Wauwatosa Special Olympics, along with her husband, Daniel, nominated Lee for the award. In a recent phone conversation with your Catholic Herald, she said, “What we saw in Lee is that he’s totally dedicated to be the very best person he can be. If there’s a young athlete or a fundraiser, he’s there to help. He continuously asks, ‘What can I do?’” According to Kiesner, “Lee is kind and quiet. He’s just such a gentleman. Even when he received his award (Aug. 1) he was so humble.” She added that Lee often sings the National Anthem to start a Special Olympics event.

With swimming in winter, bocce in spring, bowling in fall and basketball in fall and winter, Lee has a nonstop life as a Special Olympian. His favorite sport is bowling with a partner.

Name: Lee Eldon McGraw
Parish: St. Therese, Milwaukee
Age: 48
Occupation: Kitchen assistant at McDonalds
Favorite movie: “The Sound of Music”
Favorite song: “YMCA”
Favorite quotation: “Do unto others as you would have done to you.”
(Catholic Herald photo by Amy Rewolinski)

According to Leona McGraw, Lee’s mother, “As long as a person is between 8 years old on up, with a cognitive disability, they can participate in the Special Olympics.”

She said the games have grown so much in the area that participants can now only take part in four sports.

When Lee started in Special Olympics, she said, one of the biggest challenges he dealt with was when he had to stay overnight, as opposed to being in the security of his own house. He’s very much of a routine individual, so it was learning to adjust. But after the first overnight, he quickly adapted and now has friends through the Special Olympics, one of whom he often talks to via cellphone.

Since parents or caretakers need to drive their Special Olympians to most events, Leona, too, has a busy life. But, she said, “I’m very proud of Lee. It’s a lot of work. I’m thankful.”

She added, ”The parish (St.Therese) does a fine job of supporting the Special Olympics here.” Often the participants practice bocce – an Italian form of lawn bowling – on the front lawn of the parish church.

Besides the Special Olympian award, Lee was also surprised in May when he was awarded the Ike and Bud Van Roo Spirit of the Special Olympics Award for outstanding Special Olympians.

In addition to his involvement with Special Olympics, Lee is an usher, generally at the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass, at St. Therese Parish. However, he also is a substitute usher when needed.

“I joined with my dad Eldon in 1981 to usher,” he recalled. His father, a retired Navy man who later worked as a manager for Ryder Truck rental, died in 1997.

Lee works as a kitchen assistant at McDonald’s on Highway 100 and Burleigh Road. He started this occupation at a local café, Dianne’s Kitchen. When that restaurant closed, he moved to McDonald’s.

According to Leona, there are four other members of St. Therese Parish who participate in the Special Olympics.

The Special Olympics Program was started by the late Eunice Shriver, who died last year at age 88, sister of former President of the United States John F. Kennedy. More than 40 years ago, she started the Special Olympics as a small camp for special needs youth in sports, in part because of her own sister with special needs. The program operates under the motto is “Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”