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County losing two patrons of arts, education

By Ed Brock

Paul and Mary Kraack are saying goodbye to Clayton County where they have built a legacy of contributions to the arts, the county's education system and community service.

When the Kraacks came to the county in 1978 from their native Indiana Paul Kraack was working for a retail company at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, then just Hartsfield airport, and Mary Kraack started working in 1979 as a drama teacher at Morrow High School.

From there Mary Kraack went on to be a driving force at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center in Morrow, forming the Clayton Alliance for Summer Theatre in 1990. Paul Kraack began teaching in 1985 and has served as the school system's spokesman, served as administrative assistant for the Evening High School program and was recently appointed as the director of student services.

But on Tuesday they will move down to St. Mary's, Ga., near the Florida border where they will be closer to Paul's two sons and Mary's parents in Florida.

"For both of us leaving this community we've been in for 26 years, it's a very big step for us," Paul Kraack said. "We chose to live here because it seemed to have a strong sense of community."

Since CAST was created the program has put on 47 total shows using young actors from the county's school system as well as some professional performances such as the production of "The Fantasticks" in 2002.

On July 17 CAST celebrated its 15th anniversary with a special performance at the PAC.

"It was truly an incredible evening," Mary Kraack said. "The show went so well and everybody was just so supportive."

Mary Kraack served as state director of the Georgia Thespians for three years before going to work part time at the PAC in 1990. In 1993 she became the full time technical operations manager at the theater, the construction of which she documented on video tape from 1988 to 1990.

"As I look back I'm surprised I had the vision to do that," Mary Kraack said.

The PAC has become the most used building in the school system since its opening, with between 250,000 and 300,000 people attending 450 to 500 events at the facility each year. But when CAST put on its first show the building that was meant to be its home hadn't been finished yet, so they held the first two shows, "Narnia" and "Grease," at Morrow High School.

"It was a mixed bag. It was disappointing that we weren't in the venue I'd hoped for but it was exciting that we were able to start a new program," Mary Kraack said.

Later, when they did open the CAST production of "Annie" at the PAC, Mary Kraack said it was the most exciting moment of her life.

Mary Kraack also began a class on the technical side of theater, teaching lighting, sound and other production skills. Josh Acree, 22, was a member of that class when he was 17 and even now he works the sound effects at the PAC when he's not at work for the Clayton County Fire Department.

"It was just lot's of fun," Acree said. "It was awesome to learn in a place like that with a person like her."

In St. Mary's Mary Kraack will also be running a summer theater program as well as teaching drama in the schools there.

"There's nothing magic about what I do," Mary Kraack said. "Anybody who has the desire can create a theater program."

Dan Wilson, the PAC's coordinator, will pick her successor, Mary Kraack said.

Along with his work in the school system Paul Kraack has worked as a public relations and political consultant for the Clayton County Chamber of Commerce, the county's government and community arts agencies. He designed and executed Web sites and wrote newsletters for various organizations.

He was also president of the Kiwanis Club of Southlake where Lou Hisel, Kraack's friend of 20 years, will have to step in until the end of September.

"I just think the Kraacks were educational giants," Hisel said. "The arts are really going to be hurt by the loss of Mary Kraack. It's these types of people we can't afford to lose."

Along with the personal reasons, the Kraacks say there are some professional reasons for their move to jobs that pay less than what they are making here. For the past three years, Mary Kraack said, the PAC hasn't been receiving the support she believes it deserves.

And Paul Kraack said he had planned to work here for a while longer, but a week ago he was offered a job in St. Mary's and he decided to leave because he also doesn't think he has the full support of the Board of Education.

In 1998 the board unanimously voted to appoint him as the school system's public relations and information coordinator. The recent vote to appoint him as director of student services was four to three.

School board member Barbara Wells was one who voted for Kraack.

"I'm sorry to see Paul leaving," Wells said. "I think he was a credit to our school system a we're going to miss him. We're going to miss both of them."

On a personal level, the move means the Kraacks will now be a four-hour drive away from their family members in Florida. They will be needed there, too.

"Our son and daughter-in-law are opening a fine arts school down there and they need our support right now," Paul Kraack said.