- On April 24, 2002
Steven L. Graham ’78 makes “CraftLace” and “Noooodles” for kiddie crafts
Caption: Graham donated two houses in Springfield, Massachusetts, to Save Our Kids.
Like the colorful strands kids transform into key chains from the plastic lacing he sells, Steven L. Graham ’78 has woven several career turns and personal interests into a useful whole. And just as a key anchors its chain, Graham’s love of children anchors all he does.
His Massachusetts-based business, Toner Plastics, not only creates playful materials, it hosts tours and sends smiling youngsters home with freebies. As a father of three girls, he’s coached as well as shuttled his brood to countless sports meets. Graham’s community service efforts are child-centered, too: he has donated two houses he owns in inner-city Springfield, Massachusetts, to a nonprofit group called Save Our Kids — one for a neighborhood center for tutoring and a daily meal, the other as a temporary home for teens with no place to live.
Graham named Toner Plastics — maker of gimp, a generic term for the thick plastic string that campers have laced into key chains, neck lanyards, and numerous other craft projects — for his Princeton adviser, Professor Richard K. Toner, who, Graham says, took an interest in a marginal chemical engineering student. “As hard as I tried, the grades just didn’t follow. I was seriously thinking of transferring to a big name wrestling school since that was my passion, but Professor Toner convinced me to stay.”
Lessons learned toughing it out at Princeton probably helped Graham when he launched Toner Plastics after a stint with a large corporation, Monsanto, and a stab in the real estate market. He answered an advertisement to purchase a business producing gimp, but ended up with old equipment and no customers. “We had no sales for six months. It was a very humbling start,” he says. But going direct to retailers rather than distributors made the business grow.
This tenacity, coupled with his interest in kids, helps Graham take the long view in looking for results from Save Our Kids and in his other efforts to buck up education in the inner-city areas near his home. He’s adopted as his personal motto this quote by B. Andreas: “There are lives I can imagine without children but none of them have the same laughter and noise.”
By Maria LoBiondo