A Little Lady with a Big Heart
January 5, 2018
by Laurie Jasper
Esther (Ruiter) McGraw, 85, a life-long resident of Hudson, died Dec. 16, 2017, at the Hillsborough County Nursing Home. Born in Hudson in 1932, Esther lived her entire life in the town she loved. Esther was a huge part of Hudson, and Hudson was a huge part of Esther. Although she didn’t venture too far from her hometown, Esther made quite a difference in the many lives she touched within Hudson’s borders.
“Esther was the epitome of what New Hampshire used to be; she was what New Hampshire was all about. She didn’t have a lot, but she shared what she had,” said Hudson resident and former State Senator Bob Clegg, who has known Esther for over 25 years. “If you were hungry, she’d feed you, if you needed help, she’d be there. She’d often say, ‘I have to go help the old people,’ and she was older than most of them. She was a super lady,” continued Clegg. Clegg recalled that Esther became his fiscal agent during his 2008 campaign for Congress, and she enjoyed every minute.
“Her heart and soul was in Hudson,” said Esther’s daughter Ellen (McGraw) Nolen. Nolen recalled her mother volunteered wherever she could, including as a Girl Scout leader. Esther was also a certified nurse’s aide and often did private duty and overnight care.
“She was very good with people, and she’d do anything for anyone,” said longtime friend Joyce Hurd.
“Esther will be missed, she was always involved in the town,” said retired Hudson Deputy Fire Chief Gary Rodgers, who was a classmate of Esther’s son Michael at the former St. John’s School (now Library Street School). “She took care of everyone. They lived on the corner of Connell and Library Street, and she was kind of the watchman for the other parents. A memory I have is that I lost my lunch money or something and she noticed I was sitting on the wall and she made me come in to eat lunch. That was Esther. She took care of me.”
Hudson resident Bertha Ashford also recalled Esther’s generosity. “I delivered the Nashua Telegraph to the McGraws for 25 years,” said Ashford. Over the years, they formed a friendship. “She was always so thoughtful. On hot days, I might find a cold Coke in the paper box for me. On winter days, I might find a note that said, ‘stop in for a hot chocolate.’ She really cared, and she always shared what she had,” said Ashford.
Ashford said Esther enjoyed attending activities and church suppers at the First Baptist Church. She was not a member but had many friends there. One of those friends was (the late) Sue Misek. “Sue and Esther had a bond that was bigger than just the historical society (where both were active members); it was as big as the town,” said Ruth Parker. “They were to each other the friend you go through life with just one like that; it was a true friendship and they were good for one another.”
“Growing up in Hudson, Esther was one of the few students who drove a car (her father’s) during high school. My brother-in-law Clyde Smith and Esther were best friends, and he told me Esther would pick up several classmates and drive to Nashua for high school before Alvirne was built,” recalled Hurd.
Esther was very proud to be a member of the first graduating class of Alvirne High School. That notable fact truly reinforced Esther’s link to Hudson. As a long-time member of the Hudson Historical Society, she was, “… the goodwill ambassador to the town on behalf of the society. She was one of the key members of the House Committee. Everyone knew Esther. She helped people, to me that was one of her special gifts,” said Parker. Esther could always be found at the annual Hudson Old Home Days celebrations, giving tours of the Hills House during the annual third grade history tours and serving her famous Texas cake at society programs.
In addition, Esther cherished her memories of working at the former Benson’s Wild Animal Farm. She lived nearby the Hudson attraction throughout her entire life and became an original member of the Benson Park Committee when it was formed in 2001, eventually being named its chairman. She remained feisty and determined throughout the many years of negotiations with the state –nothing was impossible to Esther. Former Benson Park Committee Chairman Curtis Laffin recalled Esther’s passion for the park. “Yes, indeed, she certainly was dedicated to the park project,” Laffin said. “She would not take ‘no’ for an answer. I kind of used to characterize her as one of those tough, little, old ladies in combat boots who just got into every part of the whole project. I think the way it all came together, she had a lot to do with it.”
It was Esther, with her many local connections, who pursued memorabilia such as the seal trainer’s equipment for the envisioned Benson Park museum. She was gifted the ticket booth (in rough shape) from a donor who wished to remain anonymous. Esther then donated it to the town for the park and it became an Eagle Scout restoration project. It was an exciting day for Esther when she and a Hudson delegation attended the Benson property purchase and transfer ceremony at the State House with Governor John Lynch on Jan. 23, 2009.
“Maintaining the traditions of the town was important to Esther,” said Leona Shanholtz, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Hudson Historical Society.
Shanholtz recalled Esther served as a town ballot clerk for 30 years and recommended Shanholtz to the moderator to serve as well. In 2004, the Hudson Chamber of Commerce named Esther Citizen of the Year for her lifelong contributions to Hudson.
Above all, Esther loved her family. She and her husband Richard (“Dick”) were married for 56 years, until his death in 2011. They both loved to garden and cook. “The day my father passed away was the day Esther McGraw gave up,” daughter Ellen Nolen stated. “It broke my heart when we had to put her in the nursing home.”
Many friends in Hudson kept in touch with Esther. Gary Rodgers wrote often to Esther, sharing news of her town. Others visited her with fresh baked pies or sent cards and flowers. “I can’t say how awesome Hudson was about sending cards or notes or flowers. It made us feel good to know she wasn’t forgotten,” said Nolen.
“Esther was a little lady with a big heart,” said Clegg. All who had the privilege to know Esther would certainly agree.
Esther is survived by her three children; Ellen Nolen and husband Bill of Sunapee, N.H., Michael McGraw and wife Gail of Alexandria, Va., and Georgia Drew and husband Mark of Goffstown, N.H.; eight grandchildren, Danny, Kelly, Joshua and Sarah McGraw, Dale and Travis Roy, Adam and Liza Drew, and Heather, Tyler, Amy, Katie and Geoff Daley; six great-grandchildren, Rowan, Hunter, Gemma, Zeke, Eden, Emma and many other dear family and friends.
Visiting hours will be held on Saturday, Jan. 6, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at Dumont-Sullivan Funeral Home, 50 Ferry St., Hudson, with a brief prayer service being conducted from 11:30 a.m. until noon in the Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made to Hudson Historical Society, P.O. Box 475, Hudson, NH 03051.