FBC Starkville’s Creative Learning Center Director, Karen Graham, has been on staff for 11 years. She hires, trains, and manages 40 staff members, writes menus, creates and balances the budget, plans for holiday-themed events, coordinates school pictures, and works with the 135 kids who attend the CLC and their parents. “Every day is different, which is the fun part,” she says. Linda Blair, FBC’s Financial Systems Manager, speaks very highly of Karen. Linda says she is “very organized and detail-oriented, thorough, [and has] good communication skills. [She] may be small, but she… expects top performance and leads her staff effectively and fairly.”
Karen was born in Opelika, Alabama, where she lived until she was six years old. Then her parents, Wayne and Bettye Jordan, moved the family to Starkville because her father started working for the Mississippi State Extension Service. Bettye was a stay-at-home mom for their kids: Mark, Karen, and Tim. Later, she worked for the Starkville school district central office, and even worked for a bit at FBC’s Creative Learning Center. About 30 years ago, Wayne and Bettye moved to Athens, Georgia, where they are now retired after Wayne worked for the University of Georgia’s Extension Service. The Jordan five attended FBC Starkville and were actively involved in church life; Karen was baptized here, she was a part of the choir, Girls in Action, Vacation Bible School, and youth trips, and the Jordan’s went on family mission trips together.
Karen grew up in Green Oaks subdivision and remembers “a lot of riding around, going to the movies, and [attending] church camps in the summer.” She attended Starkville High School, where she played clarinet in the band for four years and was in the flag corps. Between her marching band involvement and her older brother, Mark, playing football, the weekly games were a memorable family affair, but Karen’s favorite memories from high school were of band. She loved going to band competitions in Panama City, Florida, and through band she learned a lot about taking pride in being a part of a group. Senior year, Karen went to prom and went on a few dates with a friend named Ross Graham, who also grew up in Green Oaks. They didn’t keep in touch immediately after graduating in the spring of 1980, but they would reconnect several years later.
Karen went to Mississippi State, and she graduated in three and a half years with a degree in elementary education. She chose education because she had always loved kids and babysat a lot in high school. Her first job out of college was to teach second grade in south Louisiana because they were in need of teachers. After working there three years, she moved to Bay City, Texas, where she taught remedial reading to first through sixth graders for two and a half years. In 1988, partway through her tenure in Bay City, Karen got a call from Ross Graham. He had been hanging out with friends from high school, and they were calling classmates to find out where everyone’s lives had taken them. That sparked a relationship, and in June, when Karen was in Starkville for a friend’s wedding and needed a date, she asked Ross. They got engaged in October, Karen finished out the school year in Texas, and they were married on June 24, 1989. Continuing the FBC Starkville legacy in her life, they were married in FBC’s sanctuary. Ross and Karen just celebrated 28 years of marriage this past June; Karen says that Ross is a “big guy, but he has a soft heart.” She loves his work ethic and provider-mentality, and he is her best friend.
Shortly after they were married, the Grahams moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Ross worked in sales for Gulf States Manufacturing (now Kirby Building Systems). Karen taught during the three years they lived there, and in 1992, their son Jordan was born. When they moved back to Starkville, Karen taught fourth and fifth grades at Oak Hill Academy in West Point for three years, and then taught sixth grade for nine years at Starkville Academy.
After 23 years of teaching, Karen was ready for a change. In 2006, the CLC’s director at the time was leaving, and a friend told Karen about the position. When she started eleven years ago, there were 56 children in the program; today there are 135. One of Karen’s favorite things about her job is that she got to teach many of the parents in school who now have young kids in the CLC. She also loves “getting to know [the] young families and watching them grow over the school year and seeing them develop relationships with the teachers.” Often, teachers will get invited to kids’ events and are thought of as part of the family. Karen also really values having strong support from the church and that FBC sees the Creative Learning Center as a valuable ministry. In fact, several families whose kids attend the CLC have started attending First Baptist on Wednesdays and Sundays.
When she isn’t directing the CLC, Karen loves to shop, be outside, and read. Her husband, Ross, is now a draftsman with Kirby Building Systems, and together they enjoy watching their son coach basketball. After attending Starkville Academy and Mississippi State, Jordan just finished his first year of teaching seventh grade history and coaching basketball at the Academy. And this past Spring Break, the Grahams went on the FBC mission trip to Victoria, British Columbia as a family.
Thank you, Karen, for your eleven years of service. You are a tremendous asset and blessing to the work and ministry of the Creative Learning Center and First Baptist as a whole.