Former School of the Osage grads rally together to help a beloved classmate

2 months 5 days 4 hours ago Sunday, November 12 2017 Nov 12, 2017 Sunday, November 12, 2017 4:32:00 PM CST November 12, 2017 in News
By: Cameron La Fontaine, KOMU 8 Reporter
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KIRKSVILLE - Jamie Graham graduated School of the Osage in Lake Ozark in the mid-1970s. Since then, he's worked to advocate for people with disabilities all over Missouri. 

"Jamie was, for most of us, the first special education student that we had come in contact with," said former classmate of Jamie's, Michael Beale. 
Throughout high school, Jamie was a kind-hearted presence who loved every one of his classmates. He was never bullied or picked on for his special abilities, according to one former classmate, and he made sure that others weren't picked on either. 
Jamie now gets around his town of Kirksville riding his three-wheeled bike, and he's well known for it. 
"They tell me, 'Jamie you have a famous bicycle.' 'I said famous?' 'Yeah, it's driving all over Kirksville,'" Graham said. 
That's until one day in September when Graham's bike was stolen from outside of his home.
Confused and saddened by the robbery, Graham took to Facebook to voice his frustrations. 
"It's my independence my three wheel bike, it's my independence," he said. "It makes me be me."
Graham's Facebook posts about the incident caught the eyes of former OHS classmates Beale and Sandy Irwin-Washburn. Beale asked Jamie what he would think about trying to get OHS alumni to help pitch in for a new bike, since he could not afford one on his own.
"Jamie taught us a lot about acceptance and even love," Beale said. "I thought we owed it to him to help in anyway that we could."
Beale and Irwin-Washburn created a Facebook page and invited OHS alums and asked for anyone to give what they could, so they could put together a fund to get Graham a new bicycle. 
Jamie was ecstatic about how his friends were coming together to help him.
"They said 'Jamie we'll pay for it.' 'Really? You'll pay for it?' Wow, I did not expect that," he said.
In less than two weeks, the group raised nearly one thousand dollars to get Jamie a brand new bike, in his favorite color, yellow. The group used the rest of the money raised to get gifts for Jamie. 
A handful of OHS alums made the trip to Kirksville to deliver the bike and the presents in person. 
Graham himself felt humbled by the act of kindness.
"Why me? Well because they love me, that's why, but wow," he said. "It makes you speechless, makes you feel kind of funny."

For Beale personally, Jamie's effect on him came back around years later in his personal life. 

"My youngest daughter, Lauren, who's now 25, has autism," Beale said. "So, in a roundabout sort of way, Jamie taught me a long time ago that mentally disabled people, just because they're not like us doesn't mean they can't have a good life, and it doesn't mean they're not happy."
The visit in Kirksville was full of laughter and hugs and a very appreciative Jamie Graham, who now can ride around his town again on his bright yellow bicycle. Graham and his classmates may be 40 years removed from high school, but they never forgot the power of Graham's love and everything that he taught them. 
Graham told the Kirksville police, which hasn't had luck in tracking down his old bike, that he does not want to press charges if the perpetrator is ever found. 
"If they needed to do that, there must be good reason for it," Graham said. "They probably needed the bike more than I did."

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