Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
FAIRFIELD — Fairfield resident Nohema Graber occupied a special place in many people’s hearts, but especially in those of the town’s Hispanic community.
Graber made many friends through her job as Fairfield High School Spanish teacher, and through the Catholic Church, where she was a daily parishioner. A native of Mexico, Graber befriended several people in the Hispanic community, and was always willing to offer a helping hand when they were in need.
Yenifer Jimenez Garcia became a close friend of Graber’s three years ago after Jimenez’s nephew died in a car accident. Graber comforted the family in their time of grief, and offered a “novena” or “novenario” as it’s known in Spanish, an ancient tradition of gathering to pray for a person — often one who has just passed away — for nine straight days.
Graber invited Jimenez to her house, and asked about her career aspirations. At the time, Jimenez was working in a restaurant. Graber asked her why she didn’t continue her education after high school, and Jimenez replied that she didn’t have the money. Graber told her there was help available, but Jimenez had no idea how to ask for such a thing.
“She told me, ‘I’m going to help you,’” Jimenez said.
Jimenez also felt she was too old to begin college since she was already 25. Graber laughed at this suggestion, because she obtained her degree in English and her teaching certificate when she was in her 50s.
Graber invited Jimenez to join a group of women who recited the Rosary every Friday night, and in the group was a person who could help Jimenez find a scholarship. Jimenez did obtain a scholarship, and attended Indian Hills Community College, where she studied accounting.
Jimenez joined the group of women reciting the Rosary every week. She told Graber that, while she was born Catholic, her family did not practice and she had not taken her First Communion. Graber told Jimenez she could take classes to formally join St. Mary Catholic Church in Fairfield, and that Graber would be her sponsor.
The entire Jimenez family became close to Graber. Jimenez’s sister Maria said that Graber encouraged her to go to college as well, just like Yenifer. When Maria told Graber that she planned to become a teacher, it filled Graber with joy, and that Graber would love to have Maria take her place as FHS Spanish teacher. Maria said it was a lovely thought, but she found her calling helping younger kids. Maria has been a teaching assistant at Washington Elementary School for the past eight years.
The Jimenez family, and the entire community, was shaken when Fairfield Police issued a notification on Nov. 3 that Graber had gone missing. That very afternoon, Yenifer asked her supervisor at Cambridge Investment Research if she could leave work early so she could search for Graber. Yenifer visited Chautauqua Park, where Graber was known to walk every day after school, and Jefferson County Park. All night long, Yenifer and her friends and family prayed the Rosary hoping that Graber would return.
The following day, Yenifer spoke to Graber’s husband Paul. She asked him if he had eaten anything, and he had not, so Yenifer prepared a meal for the family. Yenifer said she sent a message to all her Latino friends on Facebook asking them to gather in Central Park to pray the Rosary. That morning, the high school dismissed all students at 9:30 a.m. but did not say why.
“I was getting very worried,” Jimenez said.
Later that day, a news release from the Jefferson County Attorney’s Office stated that Graber had been found dead in Chautauqua Park, and that two juveniles were being charged with her murder. The news sent shock waves through the town. Yenifer was devastated. She said she will remember Graber as someone who was always happy.
“She represented happiness, and never showed sadness,” Yenifer said. “She was so strong.”
In the following days, Yenifer organized a novenario to pray for Graber’s soul, returning the favor that Graber had given to her family years earlier.