Kraetz comes back - with class
July 3, 2008 · Updated 12:39 PM
"For dozens of former Oak Harbor Elementary School students, this Fourth of July was more than Independence Day - it was Homecoming.My brothers and I all knew that in 2000 we had to go to the city park and meet Mr. Kraetz, said Melinda Roberts Brakensiek. Brakensiek traveled all the way from St Louis to fulfill that promise Tuesday, even though she first made the pledge in 1978 when she was in Loren Kraetz's fifth-grade class.Kraetz, an Oak Harbor teacher for 31 years from 1959 to 1990, told each of his classes to meet him back at the park on the Fourth of July in the year 2000 for a reunion. Kraetz used the assignment as a lesson in math, having each kid figure out how old they would be when 2000 rolled around.He explained it very clearly, said former student Jay Williams, who was in Kraetz's class of 1979. He was going to have a party in 2000 and sure enough here we are. This is amazing.Throughout the afternoon, former students and colleagues dropped by to say hello and test Kraetz's memory of who they were. He usually remembered. His students remembered him too.He had a way of reading to you where you were just entranced, said George Hartman of the class of '67. Hartman also recalled how Kraetz got his class interested in stamp collecting.Bethany Wilcox, who was in Kraetz's last class in 1990, said he always thought of interesting ways to teach.I remember we made apple juice once, and really unusual art projects, Wilcox said. And we all had nicknames. He used to call me 'Catwoman' because my mom told him I liked cats.Wilcox, who returned from Ellensberg for the event, said she came back because Kraetz said he would tell everyone what the A stood for in his signature: A. Loren Kraetz. Did she expect him to finally reveal the secret?I hope so, she said.Karen Hoffman, a fifth-grader in 1966, said she seemed to recall that Kraetz had a medieval pillory in his classroom, with cutouts for offender's head and hands.I don't think he ever had anyone in there, she said, but added that the device made a lasting impression just the same. Helene Maylor Valdez, a 1965 graduate of Kraetz's fifth-grade classroom, came with her son Ryan, who was a Kraetz grad in 1987. She said one of the best things Kraetz did for his students was that he had them write short essays about themselves and their future plans. Then, just before they graduated from high school, Kraetz would send each a package which included those papers, their predictions and their fifth-grade photos.He did that for everyone, Helene Valdez said. Kraetz told Valdez that he still had some artificial daffodils she brought to class one day.They're in the garage now but I still have them, he said.Valdez was delighted with the turnout.When he told us to do this in the fifth grade I said no way. Just to see it really happen is amazing, she said. He was a great teacher.Kraetz himself was kept busy working the crowd.I'm pleasantly surprised, he said about the turnout, with some former students visiting from as far away as Arkansas and Indiana. Some people I would never have expected."