Heaven on Turf
James and Letty Graff
Theirs is a love story set around music and athletic turf. James and Letty Graff, two talented music students from Hastings College, found a way to live their passions and have the life they always wanted.
James, a 2001 vocal music graduate, and Letty, a 1999 piano performance graduate, first met at a Music Mixer in Fuhr Hall. The classically trained baritone and his assigned accompanist were married in 1998. After graduating from HC, James assumed leadership of the family turf farm in Fort Morgan, Colorado. Letty took time off from teaching piano to be a stay-at-home mom.
“For me to be back at the turf farm is ironic,” James said. “I didn’t want anything to do with it at first. I got asked the same question all the time: ‘Do you sing to the grass?’”
Graff’s Turf Farms, established in 1979, produces 440 acres of climate hardy, highly adaptable sod, which makes the perfect turf for some of the best known athletic fields in the nation.
A leader in the sod industry, Graff’s Turf Farms has provided athletic turf at Invesco Field for the Denver Broncos, Wrigley Field for the Chicago Cubs, Busch Stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals and more. James is co-owner and operating manager of the farm.
Both active members of the community, James and Letty recently recognized a growing need for the arts in their area. As a member of the school board, James witnessed first-hand the pressure placed on area schools to cut programs involving the arts, and feared those programs would not return even when budgets started to recover.
Last year, Letty and James opened the School for the Performing Arts for the community of Fort Morgan and the surrounding area. The school offers professional level instruction in dance, voice, piano, guitar, percussion and more for students of any age.
“We knew we could offer a quality level of instruction and a standard of performing arts education with degreed instructors,” James said about their decision to establish the school. “We never dreamed it would take off at the rate it has.”
The School has grown from 40 students when it opened last year to 150 students, ranging in age from three to 62, and nine instructors. James is president of the board, and Letty teaches piano. Both work to perform the day-to-day duties involved in running a non-profit school, with support from volunteers and the community.
“It’s fun now to be doing what we’re doing, using our degrees, and to have it make sense now, to know that music wasn’t just a whim,” Letty said. “In a lot of what I teach, I go back to what I learned at Hastings College.”
The Graffs say their best reward is the impact they are having on area high school students. When the Graffs’ first group of high school seniors graduated this year, one student qualified for a music scholarship and many others had success with auditions, contests and other awards because of their experience at the school.
“We both found music to be our deep-seated passion, but not for our career,” James said. “We wanted kids, we wanted that small community lifestyle. The school was our opportunity to live our passion.”