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Kracl draws inspiration from Disney

November 23, 2018

When it comes to living her life, Denise Kracl often thinks about Walt Disney.

While accepting the Schuyler Sertoma Club’s prestigious Service to Mankind award during a Nov. 13 banquet at St. Augustine Parish Hall, Kracl said her commitment to dedicated philanthropic efforts are, in a way, inspired by the late American entrepreneur, animator, voice actor and film producer who is best known for developing “Mickey Mouse.” She said she can’t help but think about Disney, recalling his ambition to create Walt Disney World in Florida after the success of Disneyland in California that opened in July 1955.

“He looked on a map and he found two intersections – you and I would have called it swamp because it was swamp,” she told the few dozen people from Schuyler and Columbus in attendance of Disney while scoping out locations in ‘the Sunshine state.’ “But Walt Disney saw an opportunity.”

Indeed. Although Disney passed away in 1966 before the opening of Walt Disney World, the site that was once just swampland is now home to the 25,000-acre complex that boasts four theme parks, two water parks, 27 themed-resort hotels, multiple golf courses and other entertainment venues, among other things.

“And so when we’re going around town, meeting with families and talking with people, especially children, I ask myself if it is swamp or is it an opportunity? I choose to see opportunity,” Kracl said. “In every child, that’s what I see. They are our future. So that’s what is important to me – that every child has an opportunity, every child has a warm coat. Everything I do is to keep kids out of the courtroom and in the classroom.”

Kracl is best known as Colfax County’s attorney, coroner and public information officer, but throughout the years she has played a key role in helping those in need, especially children. Eight years ago, she and Colfax County Diversion Officer Saul Soltero started the Schuyler Food and Toy Drive. Since its inception, it has become heavily backed by area volunteers, businesses and service groups, resulting in hundreds of less fortunate area families getting toys, food and more during the holidays.

Master of Ceremonies Randy Hrouda, a Schuyler Sertoma Club member, said Kracl was highly deserving of the distinction. The Service to Mankind award is an honor presented to someone not affiliated with the organization that goes above and beyond in service to the community.

“She’s a busy lady. She’s been involved in a lot of things, but the thing that really impressed me with her is her commitment to that Schuyler Food and Toy Drive deal at Christmas time,” he said prior to the start of the banquet. “She really works at that … She really does a lot of good for some real-deserving people – people who really do not have a lot.”

Kracl’s 12-year-old daughter, Kodie, was in attendance to watch her mom accept the award. She said her mother is her role model and for her friends.

“It means a lot. It really makes me want to follow in her footsteps and do it,” Kodie said about her mom receiving the award, noting she oftentimes helps her mom with efforts like the food and toy drive. “She’s great to the community, she treats everyone with respect. She tries to make everyone happy with what she’s doing.”

Sertoma, which saw its Schuyler chapter start in 1968, is one of the oldest service clubs in the United States. It aims to improve the lives of those who need help, particularly those at risk or impacted by hearing loss, through education and support. Each club around the country selected a recipient for the Service to Mankind award.

Twila Wallace, Kracl’s mother, made the trek from her home in Columbus, along with several others, to watch her daughter receive the honor.

“It shows that hard work pays off. She’s dedicated,” Wallace said. “When she starts something, she finishes it.”

Wallace learned that long ago.

“When she was 5 years old, she told me she was going to be a lawyer and I was like, ‘oh, yeah right,’” Wallace recalled, noting she and many other family members were teachers and so she assumed her daughter would follow in their footsteps.

Kracl did actually earn her Bachelor of Arts in secondary education (history and political science) -- before pursuing law school.

“She always kept this law idea in the back of her mind,” her mom said.

Kracl credited her mother, noting she is always right by her side.

“Honestly, she helps me with a lot of the projects and things that I do,” she said. “She has been on all of the mission trips with me and supports all of my causes.”

The banquet was lively with a few dozen people in attendance, including several past recipients of the Schuyler chapter’s Service to Mankind award. Lunch was put together by Schuyler Sertoma Club Treasurer Janis Kasik, of Schuyler, who made homemade vegetable beef soup, chicken salad sandwiches, and egg and cheese salad sandwiches, among other things.

The Rev. Sarah Gengler provided the invocation and closing prayer, as well made remarks about Kracl. The reverend said the community is lucky to have Kracl, noting having witnessed Kracl walking around town picking up garbage in her free time among the many things that make her special.

Prior to the ceremony’s start, Kracl was overwhelmed with emotion as she saw people come in to be on hand for the presentation.

“It’s an honor and I don’t take any of this for granted, she said, wiping away the tears in her eyes. “It’s much easier for me to do things for other people and be in the background than it is to be acknowledged.”

But, in true Kracl fashion, she emphasized the importance of what others do.

“This whole community gives,” she told the crowd. “And I appreciate all you do to help make it a better place.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of the Schuyler Sun. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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