The Hutchinson News
SOUTH HUTCHINSON - Dressed in a white jacket, Marion Reed Graber was ready to relieve the next muscle-aching complaint at his South Hutchinson business on a recent afternoon.
For the past 54 years he has worked as a massage therapist, relying on his hands to bring comfort, The Hutchinson News (http://is.gd/DnUPua ) reports.
A career that depends on hands rather than eyes was imperative for Graber, who is legally blind.
"My folks discovered I had problems when I was a little tyke," he said. He didn't respond the way a child with clear vision would have. Doctors diagnosed him with a degenerative disease known as Retinitis pigmentosa or RP. The progress of RP is not consistent. Some people will exhibit symptoms in infancy, while others may not notice symptoms until later in life.
A cheerful man, Graber appears fit and much younger than his 76 years. Because he was impaired at such a young age it wasn't as difficult to adjust to blindness as someone who might lose his or her eye sight at an older age.
For Graber, it's life.
He grew up on the family farm east of Pretty Prairie near Cheney Reservoir. However, by the mid-1960s the land became part of the wildlife reserve when the lake was built. His parents, Rudy and Tilly Graber, purchased other ground southwest of Pretty Prairie. From a young age Graber was determined to be a farmer, even as his vision grew progressively worse, to the point that he never was able to get a driver's license. Yet he still drove a tractor for many years.
"I was involved in farming all my life," he said. Eventually he was forced to give up tractor driving, but remained a partner in the operation. He would buy the equipment and others would operate it. He was even a partner in a harvesting operation.
Tilly Graber helped her son study throughout school. After graduating from high school he took courses in Swedish massage through a correspondence course.
"If I had full vision I would have farmed," Graber said. "But, because of my vision I wanted something to do working with my hands. I like helping people and I didn't want to live off of everyone's tax money."
Along with the correspondence course, he moved to Wichita for three years and attended a massage therapy school and did residential training. Then he moved back to Pretty Prairie where he opened his first office. To bring in more income, he went to work at Cessna in Hutchinson, on the assembly line making a pump used in agricultural equipment and airplanes. He enjoyed that work, but realized if he was going to be a massage therapist he needed to focus solely on that career. It was a scary decision.
"Cessna said I could come back," Graber said. "That came awful close to happening. I even picked up the phone to make the call. But, I couldn't do it."
Instead he learned to practice patience, giving the business time to grow. Certainly he missed the regular paycheck, but he was helping people.
"That's what we're here for," he said.
His clients have ranged from an infant who wasn't moving its head properly to a 100-year-old who comes in on her own, using a cane.
Over the years he has been blessed with people who helped him along the way. He has been part of a car pool to his office.
"I've ridden with a lot of different people from Pretty Prairie," he said.
His is the no frills type of massage. It's not a spa. Forget the new-age music playing, or the scent of patchouli wafting through the air.
However, his prices are reasonable and he has very strong hands. His wife, Virginia, confirms he gives excellent backrubs.
"I couldn't do without him," she said.
Graber feels the same about Virginia who is his key helper.
Over the years electronic talking equipment has helped make life easier. He uses a talking clock to tell him when the massage is over. And he has a special computer, as well as a battery operated machine that will tell him if he has a $20 bill in his hand or $1.
Despite being in good health, Graber has made the decision to retire Nov. 15. He hoped to find someone to take over the practice, but didn't have any takers.
After Nov. 15, he plans to continue in agriculture. He'll help with things like the marketing of the hay and wheat and changing disc bearings.
"I don't fly an airplane or drive a car. But, there are a lot of things blind or vision impaired people can do if you let them," Graber said. "There are blind attorneys, chiropractors and I even knew a blind hardware store owner."