At 82, ‘Mama’ keeps serving soldiers, retirees at Fort Sam

Courtesy photo

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON — At 82, an age when most Americans have long settled into retirement, Stella Graham keeps working, as she has for decades at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

For nearly 48 years, Graham has stayed true to her mission of serving military members, families and retirees at Fort Sam through her part-time job with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. Her servant’s heart keeps her young and is a testament to the Exchange’s core value of family serving family.

“I like helping, giving back and giving words of encouragement,” said Graham, who works at the Exchange’s food court at Fort Sam.

The San Antonio resident has spent her entire career in food service at the Fort Sam Exchange. Her husband served in the Army, and he brought her to Fort Sam in 1968, after he returned from Vietnam. Since then, Graham has dedicated her career to serving Soldiers, families and retirees.

“Everyone knows her,” said Marjorie Wilson-Granvle, Fort Sam Food Court manager, who has been Graham’s boss since 2007. “Everyone calls her ‘Mama.’ I started it, and everyone picked up on it.”

Graham works several hours every weekday. Her duties include preparing salads, baking bread and ensuring the dining room is ready for customers.

“And if she’s not here, customers will ask about her,” Wilson-Granvle said.

Graham’s favorite part of her job is talking to retirees every morning and helping them get their coffee. She also relishes the chance to talk to active-duty members.

“I love their uniforms,” Graham said. “My father, my brother, my husband — they all wore the uniform. God bless them.”

Even though she’s 82, Graham isn’t slowing down. Her dedication to doing her job, and doing it well, makes her an exemplary associate, Wilson-Granvle said.

“She’s here early and willing to stay late,” Wilson-Granvle said. “She’s faithful and loyal. Her co-workers have nothing but respect for her.”

Graham tried to retire once, back in December 1994. Her retirement lasted just two months. She returned to the Exchange because, as a former military spouse, she loved the connection with the military.

When she’s not working, Graham spends time playing bingo and checking on her daughter and son-in-law, both of whom have physical disabilities that require them to use wheelchairs.

When it comes to her job at the Exchange, Graham says she wants to continue working until she reaches 50 years of service.

“I can handle anything that comes my way,” she said.