Few Wisconsin educators have remained principal in the same high school as long as the legendary Ed Kracht.
When Kracht retired in 1959 he had just finished his 37th year as principal of Eagle River High School. Under his guidance, some 2,200 students navigated the depression, WW II, the Korean War, six presidents, and a cyclical tourist economy. He was also instrumental in guiding students to the military and helped others find jobs, careers and raise families.
Kracht was born on a farm in 1890, in Michicot, Wisconsin. Always oriented toward education, he received a teaching certificate from Eau Claire State Normal School. After several years in front of the classroom in Marion, Wisconsin, he moved on to be principal of Birnamwood high school. His next move occurred in 1922 when he began almost four decades as principal of the newly constructed Eagle River High School.
Over the years the number of students grew along with the population of Eagle River. Throughout his tenure as principal, Kracht balanced education along side the economic and cultural ways of life unique to the Northwoods. For example, students whose parents needed their help in the Spring to open their resort or family business would be released early in the day or several days before the end of school to work. Because deer hunting was so engrained into Eagle River culture and way of life, Kracht was also willing to look the other way when students took a day or two off from school to hunt.
Based on comments from former teachers and students, Kracht’s management and leadership style can be characterized as authoritarian. He managed the teaching staff and students from the top down. At the school level, he alone set the stage for how Eagle River high school students’ education would be delivered. Only Mr. Kracht approved lesson plans! In the 1940s and 1950s, students often referred to the six foot, three inch, Kracht as “Bull Kracht” when talking about him privately.
Kracht was also not above embarrassing teachers or students in front of their class or over the intercom. For example, Kracht sometimes delivered pay checks to the teachers in their classroom where he might hold the check above the teacher’s head, causing them to have to reach for it. Students shuddered when they received a request over the intercom to “meet with Mr. Kracht in his ‘inner office’”. Even though Kracht was a disciplinarian, sixty years after his retirement, former students still refer to him as “Mr. Kracht”.
On the other hand, supporters of Kracht’s approach to education and managing the school gave him high marks for his interest in the well being of students and hiring quality teachers. One former teacher from the 1950’s recounts how Kracht “nurtured” him during him during his early teaching years. In the early 1940’s, Kracht loaned a freshman student (who ultimately became a college professor and published author) from a poor family one of his own suits so the student would be properly dressed at a forensics competition.
Even though Kracht was known for backing the teachers when they disciplined a student, he made exceptions. A senior (who went on to be mayor of a southern Wisconsin city) was one half credit short of graduation because of an altercation with a teacher. Kracht heard the student’s and teacher’s sides of the story and sided with the student, waiving the half credit requirement which allowed the student to graduate.
When Kracht saw a senior failing and most likely unable to graduate, he used an unconventional approach to allow him to successfully finish school. Because the student liked to work with his hands, why not have him learn math, how to create and read plans, carpentry and other projects that would challenge his thinking by remodeling Kracht’s office! The student credits Kracht with keeping him in school and graduating. The student went on to become a respected leader in the Eagle River community.
Under Kracht’s leadership, a new classroom wing was added in the 1950s and in 1959, a new auditorium and gymnasium constructed. The building was named the E.W. Kracht Auditorium, in honor of the man who dedicated his career to the education of Eagle River students.
Kracht married Anna Elmer in 1914. They lived for many years near the News Review and Lakeland Motors in downtown Eagle River. Their two sons, Edward and Matt were born in Eagle River. They went to college and careers in other Wisconsin cities. Kracht also enjoyed the outdoors. He owned about 120 acres east of Highway 45 in Clearwater Lake where he regularly planted a garden and some eighty acres of pine trees. Kracht died in 1964, Anna in 1978.
By Ken Stallman, Class of 1959