Mary was born May 6, 1928 to Goldie Conrad Brown and Dewey Brown in Lawrenceville, Illinois, in hardscrabble southern Illinois prairie and farming country. By the age of 2, her father had died and the country was plunged into the Great Depression. She was raised by her widowed mother who took in laundry to make a living. Mary made the most of a life that didn’t hand her any breaks. She bore two children at a very young age, and 3 more children after marrying US Army Staff Sergeant Charles Graham in 1948.
She was preceded in death by her son Karl Kierner and is survived by 4 children: Patricia Smith of Arizona, Ted (Ruth) Graham, Vickie (George) Abidin, and Cherrie (Glenn) Dean, all of Michigan, plus 10 grandchildren and more than a dozen great-grandchildren.
In 1951, Mary and her husband Charles left rural Illinois and joined the great Northward Migration for the chance of better jobs and a better living for their growing family. They settled in Ypsilanti where Charles worked as a welder in the decommissioned WWII bomber plant at Willow Run, and Mary worked in a dry-cleaning shop. The marriage came to an unfortunate end in 1960 and she soon remarried.
Mary was small in stature, barely 5 feet tall but large in spirit, feisty and determined. She labored at many jobs including at the King Seeley factory and the Argus plant to make sure her children had everything they wanted and needed. Despite a lack of education and means, she obtained training as a beautician, saved her money and bought a house on Ann Arbor’s Old West Side with a small beauty salon attached. She worked there as owner-operator till she was well past the age of 75. Mary enjoyed cooking, gardening, music, and in her later years, shopping and dining out. Mary loved her children more than anything. Against all odds, she achieved her aim of providing them a better life and better opportunities. Despite her many health problems, she lived independently until the last few months of her life. She died peacefully in hospice with family around her on September 28, 2017 at 89 years of age.