Even at the age of 93, Walter Graver has no time for things such as relaxing, kicking back or reflecting on a life well lived.
Instead, the long-time Hilton Head Island resident, activist and philanthropist continues to be fueled by his love of the arts, passion for helping area youth and his commitment to enhancing the future of an island that has been his adopted home for nearly three decades.
Graver is the president of Community Vision, a driving force for the creation of a new multi-million-dollar arts and entertainment center on Hilton Head for nearly the past decade.
He’s also been involved in multiple aspects of the island community since his arrival here in 1986. Graver was on the committee that oversaw the opening of the Self Family Arts Center, served on the Cultural Council of Hilton Head for many years and actually donated what is now the town’s official Christmas tree, to name just a few of his contributions.
In between all that, Graver has played a huge role in the growth and development of the island since its incorporation, serving as a voice for change and evolution.
In addition to his unrelenting quest for a new cultural center, the former Upstate New York native helped bring the internationally recognized annual youth piano competition to the island.
More recently, Graver has also provided Community Visions’ support to the Hilton Head Island Institute’s effort to make the island an annual destination for world leaders, educators and activists through a series of public seminars and forums.
“Maybe it’s the German in me that I am just stubborn and passionate about the things that mean the most to me,” Graver said of his seemingly unending energy for Hilton Head causes. “But I’ve sat in the shadow of the trees that other people have planted here on Hilton Head, and I don’t mind if the next generation finds some shade in the trees I’ve helped to plant.”
That shade is especially pronounced when it comes to Graver’s unwavering commitment to inspiring young children through the arts, which is likely to be among his most enduring legacies when all is said and done.
Even before his Hilton Head arrival, Graver was busy helping children around the world through the Youths’ Friends Association, which was started by his longtime boss and mentor in the diamond business, Johann Smit.
Smit, who tapped Graver to run the North American operations of the Amsterdam-based J.K. Smit Diamond Tools, created the Youth Alliance Foundation and charged him with overseeing its charitable givings to youth-oriented groups and foundations across the country.
When Graver retired, he continued to run Youths’ Friends Association from Hilton Head with the blessing of the Smit family, and has continued to promote and fund Lowcountry arts programs to the tune of more than $1 million. For years, he supported the Hilton Head Island High School arts programs, and currently is a benefactor to the Hilton Head Christian Academy.
“We want to encourage young children to become involved in the arts and get them active in things that will make them better adults,” Graver said. “We strongly believe these programs produce better-rounded and successful children.”
There’s no question, however, that Graver’s unwavering commitment to Community Vision’s creation of a new arts and cultural center on Hilton Head continues to be his most driving passion. While he understands the price tag isn’t cheap and the commitment required is significant, Graver argues the true cost comes in not building the center.
“Hilton Head has great beaches and golf, but what we’re talking about is making it a true destination for the arts, and for that to happen we need to build this center,” Graver said. “The arts can become such an economic driver that we really can’t afford not to do this.”
Regardless of whether that remaining tree gets planted or not in Graver’s lifetime, there’s no denying he’s provided more than his fair share of shade across the tapestry of an island he has called home for nearly 30 years.