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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
A Man of Many Names: Remembering Dr. Richard Krajczar
By Shannon Fehse and Josh Krajczar 10-May-19
We are shocked. We are grieving. We are inspired. We are humbled. For the thousands of international educators who have been fortunate enough to cross paths with Dr. Richard (Dick) Krajczar over the years, there remains an element of disbelief that he’s really gone. Affectionately known as Dr. K, he was a force in the international community for more than 45 years, and his reach stretched far and wide. For those who knew him in a more personal context, the disbelief is overwhelming. How can it be that we will never hear that unmistakable voice again? That we will never hear him yell, “Geez Louise!” and then dramatically slap his forehead? Or that he will never again take walks in the Wyoming hills, drive his beloved 1950 Willys Jeepster, or go swimming with his grandkids? Dick Krajczar spoke to his family daily—sometimes multiple times a day—even though they all lived in different countries and he was rarely in the same place for more than a week at a time himself. He was a loving and dedicated husband, father, and grandfather, and his role as a mentor and father figure extended far beyond his immediate family, to people all around the world. Dick Krajczar embarked on his first post as an international educator in 1972, moving with his wife Sherry and infant son Josh from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Kabul, Afghanistan. A few years later, their daughter Morgan joined the family. From there, the Krajczars moved to Syria, where Dick served as the head of the Damascus Community School, and then later, Jordan, where he was the superintendent of the American Community School in Amman. During this time, Mr. Krajczar finished his doctorate degree, earning, through his admirable tenacity, a new title, and becoming the infamous Dr. K. In 1989, the Krajczars moved to Malaysia, where Dr. K became the head of the International School of Kuala Lumpur. From 1996 until this year, he served as the executive director of the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS), with the exception of two years, when he served at the executive director of the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE). He was due to retire at the end of this school year, still possessing a youthful energy which rivaled that of folks half his age. Within hours of his unexpected passing on 19 February, word had spread globally, and the news was met with an outpouring of shock, grief, and stories from the countless people whose lives he’d touched. The stories came from every walk of life, and Dr. K had done a lot of walking. As a result, Dr. K was known by many other names, depending on how and when you knew him during the full life he led. To some, he was Dickie, their baseball teammate back in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, an energetic boy who lived in a small row house with his mother and three brothers. To Jimmy, he was a best friend, and Jimmy believed Dickie could do great things—maybe even go to college one day. Dickie would eventually earn a scholarship to play football out west. It was then that he left eastern Pennsylvania for the wide open spaces of Wyoming. To his football teammates, he was Krytz, and they’d tell you stories of mischief and adventure. If you asked Dick himself, he would have told you that Wyoming changed his life. He learned about individualism and self-reliance, but also learned the value of a community if you were committed to being a part of it. Later, he became Rich, owner and manager of The Gypsy Rover, a restaurant in Colorado’s high country during the turbulent late 60s, a place that had only outdoor seating and a rowdy crowd of regulars. He claimed to be the first person to ever sell a hoagie outside of the original thirteen colonies. For a short time, he was Cookie, working in a small galley on a fishing boat in Alaska. He fondly remembered the tranquil early mornings when the water was a mirror. Upon graduation from college, he became Mr. Krajczar the teacher, and “Coach K” (the original) to his wrestlers. From there, he was Mr. Krajczar the principal. Former students—even those who were only in elementary school when he started his tenure in Amman—warmly recalled how he was a father figure to so many and knew every student’s name. Years later, at ISKL, Dr. K sat in a director’s chair in the mornings, welcoming each student as they arrived on campus, complimenting fresh haircuts and new shoes. To Sherry, he was a husband of 49 years, a cheerleader, and a partner in life. They would sit quietly in the kitchen nook on summer mornings, drinking coffee while watching the hummingbirds and deer in the yard. They had been discussing plans for his upcoming retirement, and had recently looked at new properties in downtown Sheridan, Wyoming, so they could be “closer to the action.” They hold annual tickets to the local rodeo, a family highlight of every summer. Their other family home, in Maine, has been a cherished place for the Krajczars since the 1980s, when they bought a house along the mid-coast. He hoisted the American flag up the pole in the yard and drove his Jeepster down the two-lane roads, watching the ferry come and go, his baseball cap flipped backward, and paint on his clothes. His trusty chainsaw was always at the ready for cleaning out brush or trimming branches; yardwork was a never-ending task. Every year on Independence Day, he decorated the Jeepster with miniature flags and joined the local parade, waving at neighbors and tossing out candy as he passed. Wonderful memories were made in Maine, a place where Dick had formed friendships with a local lobsterman and the manager of the dump, and it was here that he was most relaxed. To Josh and Morgan, he was Dad, a sounding board, supporter, and advocate. He offered advice, but he also listened intently. Skype calls were frequent, and they always squeezed in an “I love you,” even despite their dad’s notoriously abrupt hang-ups. To Morgan’s children Areya and Troy, he was Baba—and a proud Baba, too. Their innocence brought him so much joy. Whether he was watching them unwrap Christmas gifts, visiting them at school, listening to Areya reading, tossing a ball around with Troy, or having a more serious chat with a wag of his finger, he absolutely adored being part of his grandkids’ lives. To his younger brother Donnie, Dick was a guardian angel, mentor, and best friend. He was also Donnie’s inspiration to travel the world, making countless memorable journeys abroad and becoming an integral part of each school’s culture and family in his own right. For hundreds, Dr. K was a boss, and often, the best boss they’d ever had. He treated everyone as an equal, no matter their position in a school. He embodied the idea of “it takes a village,” and everyone was part of that village. Stories abound of Dr. K stopping by to talk to maintenance staff and secretaries, asking them how their families were doing, and remembering their children’s names. Watching the recent Celebration of Life held in his honor at ISKL, it was evident that Dr. K was one of a kind. Teachers who left the school two decades ago still feel a connection to Dr. K, and continue to be inspired and influenced by his impression on their lives. For hundreds of others, Dick Krajczar was a mentor, a leader, and an inspiration. Countless educators worldwide have reached out to send their condolences and share their stories, claiming that they owe their career in international education to Dr. K. He gave speeches at universities that encouraged educators to go abroad, helped young teachers make connections, and offered advice that would change the course of so many lives. He took risks on people, instilling in them the confidence that they needed to move forward in their careers. To those who knew him from innumerable EARCOS conferences over the years, Dr. K was an energetic force in every room. He was easy to locate with his gleaming head, enormous smile, and his colorful batik shirts, not to mention that crackly voice and eastern Pennsylvania slang. He made sure to book the best possible keynote speakers, and he’d be just as awed as everyone else by their inspirational words. He’d zip around the conference venue at full speed, popping his head into nearly every room during presentations, giving a thumbs-up to the presenters and checking to make sure that all was going well. When it was time for a workshop to begin, he could be seen wandering the ballroom with his signature bell, signaling that it was time to wrap up conversations and get going. The condolence messages received in the weeks since his passing share common themes: Dick Krajczar was a legend, a giant among men, who made everyone feel special, even in a room filled with hundreds. His energy and enthusiasm were contagious. He loved people, connected with them, and connected them to one another. He seemed invincible. To me, personally, like to many others, Dick Krajczar became a father figure. I first met him in early 2012, when he came to Shanghai for a school visit. I was introduced to him by my then colleague and buddy Josh, Dick’s son, and I remember his boundless energy and huge smile. In the years that followed, I too would see him buzzing around the room during EARCOS teachers’ conferences, and would go out for dinners with him, Sherry, and Josh during their trips to Shanghai. By 2015, my relationship with Josh, and consequently, with his family, was changing. I joined them for Christmas in Wyoming that year, experiencing traditions like smoked oysters and clam chowder on Christmas Eve, and Dick’s favorite, a massive breakfast feast on Christmas morning. We spent the following Christmas skiing in Switzerland. A particular memory from that trip stands out among others. Josh and I were making our way down a switchback when we suddenly noticed that his dad wasn’t with us. We yelled for him, but got no response. I kicked off my skis and started marching back up the hill to find him crashed into a snowbank, skis crossed, as he tried to right himself. When he saw me, he shouted, “Gosh danggit, look at you! You’re like Heidi of the mountain comin’ up here!” Apparently, a young Swiss couple had skied past him and offered their assistance, but he politely declined and said he was okay. But when I got to him, he allowed me to give him a hand, and we carried on down the mountain, laughing the whole way. Josh and I spent a wonderful day with Dick in Manila just two weeks before he passed. It was the first day of our holiday, and the day before he flew to the AAIE conference in San Francisco. We spent hours sitting on his patio, talking. We told him we were thinking about taking a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad this summer, and asked him if he’d like to join us; it would be the perfect way to kick off his retirement. He loved Mongolia, so he was thrilled with the idea, and we sat watching YouTube videos and reading blogs from those who had made the trip. Later, we took a dip in the pool, and he sat back, face toward the sun and arms outstretched, so relaxed and so happy. We pressed him on his plans for retirement, something he rarely discussed. Josh suggested fly-fishing, getting back on the golf course, attending Wyoming Cowboys football games, remodeling the house in Maine, or maybe even writing a book about all he’d seen and experienced during his career. The research for the book, Josh said, would encourage him to reconnect with people he’d known for years but perhaps hadn’t spoken to recently, and it would be fun to recall stories and adventures with those he’d shared them with. He smiled when these ideas were mentioned, as though they all sounded lovely, though he didn’t say much. Maybe, as busy as he’d been for so long, he was just looking forward to putting his feet up and not having a plan at all. Dick Krajczar was a man who wore many hats and was known by many names during the course of an extremely full life. Always warm, welcoming, and humble, he was the epitome of a “people person,” and he made everyone he encountered feel special. In coming to terms with his passing, ISKL teacher and longtime family friend Karen Palko referred to a quote by Walter Bortz, “Many people live too short and die too long.” It was a quote that resonated with all of us, because we recognized that, in this case, the opposite was true. In her speech at the celebration of life, Karen said, “Dick spent his whole life living, and literally no time dying, all for the betterment of others. He lived right up to his last breath being a terrific father, and a father figure to so many people. He was an amazing husband, wonderful grandpa, great brother, treasured friend, and inspirational leader.” No matter what name you knew him by, everyone who has had Dick Krajczar’s presence in their lives is better for having known him. If he were here right now, maybe we’d do for him what he’s done for so many of us over the years...give him a thumbs-up and a smile and say, “Good on ya!” He was loved, and he is missed. ____________________________ "Dick Kraczjar was one of the most beloved and respected international school headmasters in the network. After successfully running several international schools in Damascus, Amman and Kuala Lumpur, Dick spent his final years directing the largest regional association for international schools: EARACOS. He ran this agency so successfully that they kept postponing his retirement and urging him to stay on until the end of this year. Very few people have compiled a record of success as impressive as Dick did. But above all he was truly beloved as a kind and engaging person with a great sense of humor. To me and many others he was an extremely close friend and is sorely missed already." —Forrest Broman, Founder, TIE ____________________________ When I finished my HeadTalk at the [AAIE] conference, the first eyes I searched for to seek meaningful approval were Dick’s. He gave me a smile and a thumbs up, which meant everything. Shoot, I’m 55 years old, and still his words of approval meant the world to me. All of us at AAIE and around the world send our condolences and heartbreak to Dick’s family. —Jeff Paulson, President AAIE ____________________________ "As I contemplate what Dick’s passing has done to my life...there is already a widening hole in my heart that gets bigger each day, instead of smaller. I know time is supposed to heal this type of hurt. But this is one of those cases, that, for me, will be the opposite. He has been there for every aspect of my adult life and he has welcomed me into the extended Krajczar family. Although I am profoundly sad that Dick is gone, I am also forever thankful to have had a 35-year dance with him." —Karen Palko, IS Kuala Lumpur ____________________________ "Dick energized EARCOS, reached out to so many regional heads and made them feel part of this organization. Under his leadership, EARCOS became synonymous with high-quality programs for students, teachers, administrators, and boards." —Jaci, Joe, Derek, & Kirk Stucker
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01/19/2021 - Wyoming Joe
I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. K and spend a lot of time with Josh and Morgan in college. Josh and Morgan were very fortunate to have such an incredible guy in their lives. Josh and Morgan's personality and sense of humor is second to none and definitely came from Dr. K.
06/27/2020 - Beth
Dick was a good friend of mine many years ago when we were students at Liberty High School. I am so proud to learn of all of his accomplishments, and of the legacy that he leaves to his family and friends around the world.
01/02/2020 - Eula
I retired not so long ago and am into reliving some of my most rewarding experiences. I was searching for Dick's email address to re-introduce myself (which wouldn't have been necessary, knowing Dick) and to thank him again for my opportunity to speak at EARCOS in Bangkok in 2012 when I found this memorial. What a life-broadening experience. Thank you, Josh, for introducing us as a result of your and my meeting on a plane trip to Billings.
Dick lived life with such vitality and energy. I had not idea he was no longer with us--in person.
05/12/2019 - Bruce Gilbert
Dick visited Ulaanbaatar and the international school to lead a board workshop. At the end of one of the days, he sat with us at home in the late afternoon sun, drinking coffee, and gazing out at the hills surrounding the city.
“This reminds me of Wyoming,” he said.
I did not see Dick again for 15 years. I had been out of the region. We met at an ACAMIS conference in Macau. He spotted me first, “how ya doing” as he crushed my hand. I was pleased to see Dick, surprised he remembered me and my name. I reminded him of the afternoon coffee in Ulaanbaatar and his comment about the resemblance to Montana.
“No,” he corrected me instantly, “I said Wyoming.”