Alumni Spotlight: It's
a gimp thing Steven
L. Graham '78 makes "CraftLace" and "Noooodles"
for kiddie crafts
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
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."