Mark S. Graham
A beloved husband, father, grandfather, and respected Sioux Falls entrepreneur, Mark S. Graham died peacefully at the age of 77 on December 6, 2022 after battling dementia for several years.
Mark leaves an impressive lasting legacy as a result of his vision and inspired leadership. His energy to constantly make things better led to game-changing industry innovations. He took brave calculated risks to compete in business and make life better for his family. He had a big bold personality and built countless strong relationships in business and in life. “Say what you do and do what you say” was his way of telling everyone that his intention was pure and his word was always good, and that he expected the same from them.
Born March 20, 1945 to Floyd Graham and Doris Ringling in Worthington, MN, he was the eldest of 2 children. He graduated from Mitchell (SD) High School, attended the University of South Dakota, and finished the Owner President Management Program at Harvard University in 1996.
Mark was a hard worker from a young age and was determined to succeed in whatever he did. He was a Brakeman for Burlington Northern Railway. He had a natural knack for retail sales and then insurance sales - which brought him to Sioux Falls in 1974. To realize his entrepreneurial dream, he bought Bell Paper Box in 1976 after seeing an ad in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader for the small carton shop with 1 full-time employee and 2 part-time employees.
At Bell, Mark led decades of growth and innovation until his retirement in 2010. He received 2 patents for breakthroughs in fresh pork packaging, was the subject of countless business articles chronicling his success sometimes seemingly against all odds, and he continued as Chairman of the Board until 2022. Bell Incorporated is currently one of the largest independent manufacturers of folding cartons in the United States. In 2009, Mark was awarded the Robert T. Gair Award by the National Paperboard Packaging Council for his outstanding lifetime contributions to the industry. As Mark would have said, “Not bad for a hog farmer’s son!”
Mark would be the first to tell you that his life would not have been complete without the love and support of his wife of 40 years, Patrice (Harvey) Graham. Her faithful dedication to caring for him, especially in his final years, was remarkably touching. He is also survived by his 3 children and 4 grandchildren: Ben (Molly) Graham with Sterling and Harrison of Sioux Falls, SD; Sara (Ben) Arndt with Fletcher and Finley of Sioux Falls, SD; and Heather Graham of Sacramento, CA. Mark will also be remembered by his family of thousands of past and present Bell Incorporated employees - no matter how tough things got, he was proud to never miss a paycheck to any of them and considered them to be Bell’s most valuable assets.
Mark’s success in business eventually enabled his generous philanthropy and community involvement. Mark and Pat spread their giving generously across the entire community - especially fond of causes supporting children, animals, and the arts. Mark was the founding benefactor of the Graham Academy Preschool at the Washington Pavilion, proud supporter of the Sioux Empire United Way, the South Dakota Symphony, the Ronald McDonald House, and the Arnolds Park Amusement Park at Lake Okoboji. He was a passionate advocate for Sioux Falls and for local economic development, served as a Trustee for the University of South Dakota Foundation, and also served on the Boards of the South Dakota Symphony and the Iowa Great Lakes Association.
Mark enjoyed spending time with his family, travelling with Pat, completing projects around his homes in Sioux Falls, Okoboji, Naples, FL, and St. Barth’s; and collecting cars. Mark was especially happy when he was together with his grandkids for summers in Okoboji. Another highlight was enjoying great food and wine with friends and family. His spirit will always be with us at the head of the table and stories of our time together will always bring many more laughs and tears. “We solved all the world’s problems last night, but couldn’t remember them this morning.”
He was preceded in death by his parents Floyd and Doris Graham and sister Nadyne Balding and his beloved Westie, Callie.
Memorial contributions can be made to support the Graham Academy at the Washington Pavilion, the Sioux Falls Area Humane Society, and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of South Dakota.