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Artist designed for World's Fair, Carnegie

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 12:39 a.m.
Donald R. Graeb

Don Graeb was a prolific, talented artist, whether he was designing an exhibit for the World's Fair or using a broken credit card to paint thinner lines on a watercolor.

“It wasn't just being gifted, there was so much work involved to being that good,” said Michael Graeb of Hampton, who as a child watched his father make models for exhibits and paint in his basement studio.

Donald R. Graeb died on Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, of dementia and Parkinson's disease in his home in Shaler. He was 81.

He was born July 16, 1931, to John and Lavina Graeb of Troy Hill. His father died when he was 6, and relatives fed and housed the family. They lived in a remodeled chicken coop, and his mother became a waitress at the Duquesne Club.

After graduating from the former Allegheny High School, Mr. Graeb was drafted into the Army and fought on the front line during the Korean War.

“Once they were almost overrun. They were sighting down the barrel and shooting direct fire at attacking soldiers,” said a friend, Marc Wilson, section head for minerals at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. “They would sleep in trenches next to the gun. It was cold, miserable and loud.”

After his discharge, Mr. Graeb worked for a sign company and enrolled at what was then the Carnegie Institute of Technology, where he received a bachelor's degree in industrial design. He designed exhibits for the World's Fair in Montreal, an air show in Paris and the American Helicopter Museum in Philadelphia.

Wilson worked with him on designing the Hillman Hall for Minerals and Gems at the natural history museum.

“He not only designed the exhibit spaces, but also helped select the specimens that were displayed to instill a sense of artistry as well as scientific content,” Wilson said. “Don's artistic sensibilities gave it that little extra oomph that made it stand out.”

Mr. Graeb met his wife at a dance in Westview Park.

“He was relatively good-looking, and he was a nice guy. He didn't seem to be phony in any way,” recalled Bernice Graeb of Shaler.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Graeb is survived by a daughter, Susan Boroch of Pine; sisters, Corrine Frayer of Indiana Township, Janet Graeb of Sheraden and Maxine Greygor of Allison Park; and two grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his brother, John.

Friends will be received from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 to 11 a.m. Thursday in the Bock Funeral Home, 1500 Mt. Royal Blvd. in Shaler. A service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday in the funeral home. Burial will be in Allegheny County Memorial Park in McCandless.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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