By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Grafton – After lifelong Grafton resident Joe Kuras ended his 30-year stint volunteering for the town’s youth baseball teams, he focused on other passions: writing, music and his hometown.
In 2013, he joined Jayne Carroll Wilson as they co-authored the hardcover book “From Wilderness to the Information Age: A Grafton Chronicle,” released in April 2016. While conducting book research, Kuras also compiled traditional folk songs reminiscent of Grafton and ultimately released the CD titled “Reflections of a Common Man” this year. Previously, he and Stasia Obara Rawinski co-authored “A History of the Polish American Community of South Grafton, Massachusetts,” published in September 1999.
“A Grafton Chronicle” spans history prior to the town’s incorporation up to the modern era. The co-authors were mindful that the town’s earliest timeline was documented in the 1879 publication “History of Grafton” by Frederick Clifton Pierce, Kuras noted.
“We summarized the history of the very early years, then picked it up in the 1800s to provide more detail going forward,” he explained.
Learning about Grafton history, Kuras became fascinated with the town center’s evolution throughout centuries.
“Today, Grafton Common is a fairly pristine environment and looks picture-perfect,” he said. “Back in the 1700s and 1800s on some of the streets that today have quaint cottage houses were little one-, two- or three-person shops to manufacture shoes and other goods. Where the library sits today, there were three buildings, which was a combination of retail and small manufacturing. It was a nitty-gritty, blue collar area around the Grafton Common over 100 and 200 years ago.”
Kuras appreciates the opportunity to relay stories of Grafton’s World War II veterans. The book includes a photograph of three WWII veterans together. Each has passed away since last year’s book release.
“You see veterans around town and know they served in the war, then you take the rest for granted,” Kuras said. “To hear some of their personal war experiences gives you another perspective of them.”
Kuras himself has a rich sports history in Grafton. He coached and served in various officer positions for Grafton Little League for 15 years; and then another 15 years with the Grafton Lake Sox Baseball Club, a summer league team for high school boys. He asked himself, “Now that I’m done with baseball, what am I going to do with my life?”
That’s when Kuras dusted off the guitar he has owned since his preteens and into Grafton High School, where he graduated in 1971. While in college, he performed with a trio called Jump Leg Jubilee at venues in Cambridge and Worcester. While beginning to co-author “A Grafton Chronicle” in 2013, he taught himself how to play the banjo.
“The banjo intrigued me because it’s a laidback instrument,” he said. “You just pluck and strum – and it’s a good way to relax.”
When not working on the book, Kuras played songs on his banjo from the instruction manual. Stumbling upon tunes that reminded him of his hometown, he adapted lyrics to further share Grafton history.
“It occurred to me that these songs tell Grafton’s history, but you can’t really reflect that appropriately in a book,” he said. “I thought maybe someday I’ll document these songs in a CD, almost like another appendix to the book.”
A retired computer software professional, Kuras recorded the music in his home office with a laptop, smartphone and the Spire app. He performed all of the CD’s 13 songs with multiple tracks of him playing acoustic and slide guitar, banjo, harmonica, and lead and backup vocals. “Reflections of a Common Man” was released in March 2017.
“I never aspired to be an author, musician or baseball coach – everything just happened.” Kuras acknowledged. “It’s rewarding doing something for your town that other people appreciate.”
Book and CD profits go to local scholarships and charities. The book and CD are on sale at Grafton Country Store; the book is available at Gauvin Supply. They can be purchased together or individually by sending a check payable to “Grafton Chronicle Project,” 9 Grist Mill Rd., Grafton, MA 01519. Costs are $30 for book and $10 for CD including hand-delivery in Grafton and bordering towns; add $3 for U.S. mail delivery. For information, email [email protected]
Photos/Ed Karvoski Jr.