Ties That Bind- 35 Years, 300+ Ties

Bill Graff, Ph.D.
Written and Photographed by Tom Barnard

Few people on the LeTourneau campus know there is a rabbit hole into another world, located in the fence along the northern border of the campus. Those who venture through the small gate enter a world of green plants, little fish, a loving home, ornery smiles, and many, many neck ties. You've arrived at the home of LETU engineering professor Dr. Bill Graff and his wife, Igglis.

Dr. Graff arrived at LeTourneau College in 1974. After spending more than a decade teaching at secular universities and being fired more than once while being vocal about his Christian faith, a coworker recommended he try out a Christian college. He remembers tears forming in his eyes during his interview at LETU as he felt God's calling.

Within a week, LeTourneau called with an offer for employment. At the same time, the person who called to offer him the job said there was a house for sale right next to the school if he was interested. Graff called a real estate agent and bought the house sight unseen. Thirty-five years later, that house is still Igglis' dream home.

But what makes Dr. Graff avidly collect neck ties? He explains that it all started when he taught at Purdue University. "I really hated wearing ties, and so because I was forced to, I decided I might as well wear the most outrageous ties I could find." In 1962, a bright red tie was actually considered outrageous.

Many of his ties have been handmade by students; some from unusual materials. "One tie I received as a gift was soldered together out of resistors and other things," a tribute to Graff's career as professor of engineering. "Another student," Graff reminisces, "brought me a wooden tie from his trip to Tibet." He proudly remembers little stories for each one: "This tie was crocheted for me by a male student named Fjord."

Not only is Graff known for wacky ties, but also for the wacky annual competition he hosts that is named after famed engineer and cartoonist Rube Goldberg. Students build unique contraptions, intended to use a maximum number of energy transitions to accomplish a trivial task. "An excellent example of a Rube Goldberg demonstration is the popular children's board game 'Mouse Trap' by Milton Bradley," he said.

When asked what he plans to do with his time after retiring this year, Graff said, "I hope I'll be doing the same thing I've been doing for the last 40 years-teaching circuit theory and how to live the Christian life." He will continue teaching part-time at LETU.

Down the rabbit hole" there are some curious characters. But Dr. Bill Graff is even more remarkable than the goofy necktie he's wearing. In so many rich ways, each tie represents a life he has touched. In every case, the real tie that binds together Graff's life is his loving commitment to his Lord Jesus Christ and decades of service, seeing students' lives changed through the lessons he imparts.