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Crockett puts global experiences to work in Mitchell

Kathryn Crockett turns the page of music for student Allison Buckley, 17 of Mitchell, during piano practice Nov. 27 at Crockett’s home in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 3
Kathryn Crockett turns the page of music for sisters Allison, 17, and Natalie Buckley, 14, as they rehearse their Christmas Duet performance at Crockett’s home Nov. 27.(Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)2 / 3
Kathryn Crockett pets her dog Ben after her piano students left her house Nov. 27. (Sean Ryan/Republic) 3 / 3

Step in to the Carnegie Resource Center with Kathryn Crockett, and she can immediately delve into a mental dossier of information about the building — its history, maintenance, uses, displays and the people who work behind the scenes in each of those areas. And, its weeds.

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“I could write a sonnet about the dandelion,” Crockett said wryly. An active member of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, part of Crockett’s volunteer efforts include maintaining — aka weeding — the Carnegie’s flower beds during the spring and summer seasons. Petite, soft-spoken and put-together, Crockett declined to divulge her age, saying, “When I get to be 99, I’ll tell you.” But for more than 50 years, the Mitchell native has invested copious amounts of time and energy into the communities in which she’s lived, and those communities have spanned the globe.

Born at the former Methodist Hospital in Mitchell, Crockett graduated from Stanford University with a major in British Empire history — living proof that a history major can prepare students for a variety of career paths.

“It was a wonderful major,” she said. “Stanford brings out the abilities that you don’t even know you have.”

Some of those abilities for Crockett are writing and research, skills she has utilized prolifically throughout an array of professions.

Her first job after graduating from Stanford was at the United Nations in New York City. She worked with foreign experts from all over the world, helping them with their written reports. She also often served as an unofficial guide for them in New York City, which could mean a night at the opera or dinner at an upscale restaurant.

“I had the most fascinating job,” she said. “These are people who are trying to do research that would lead to betterment of the economy and lifestyle in those countries around the world.”

She met her future husband, William Francis Crockett, while there. After getting married, they lived in Munich, Germany, where William was stationed from 1952 to 1954.

“It was still pretty obvious there had been a war,” she said, but added that she loved their time there. “Living in Europe was truly interesting and educational.”

After their time overseas, the Crocketts moved to Ann Arbor, Mich., while William finished law school. Then, they moved to his home state of Hawaii. From 1956 to 1991, Crockett lived in Maui and Honolulu in Hawaii, where she raised two children and worked primarily in the education and health professions, and taught piano off and on.

One of her accomplishments was helping to develop the J. Walter Cameron Center, a nonprofit organization founded in 1973 in Wailuku, Maui, Hawaii. Its mission is to support health, education and human services organizations for Maui residents. When it began, it focused especially on rehabilitation for the mentally ill, mentally handicapped and physically disabled, and included a sheltered workshop. In her role as project director, Crockett said she and her secretary wrote the grant applications and spearheaded the efforts to raise the $2.2 million needed to construct the facility.

“It was a major, major project,” she said. “After 40 years, that facility is still in use and serving the handicapped and the community.”

Some of the other organizations Crockett kept busy with while in Hawaii were the Stanford Club of Hawaii, Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, Maui Philharmonic Society, Japanese Cultural Society and was a founding member of the Maui Arts Council. She also studied for an MBA at the University of Hawaii, noting the practicality of the coursework — particularly what she called very useful courses on federal taxes and labor law.

“You have to keep learning,” she said.

It’s her education that she credits with the opportunities she’s had over the years, which began in her hometown. While she said the quality of education she received in Mitchell was excellent, going to school out-of-state had been a long-time goal, and one she’s glad she pursued.

“You can get a fine education (in Mitchell), but you don’t get the opportunity of learning a culture that is different from the culture you grew up in, which, I think is a valuable addition,” she said. “Part of your college education is not just the classes you take.”

After living around the world, Crockett moved back to Mitchell in 1991 to be with her mother, Priscilla, who had fallen and needed some extra help. Coming from an exotic location was an adjustment, but overall, was comfortable.

“It takes a while to adjust to a South Dakota climate after an Hawaiian one,” she said, chuckling. Even so, Crockett said she loves Mitchell, just as she loved her experiences elsewhere. “I’ve always loved wherever I’ve lived,” she said. “It’s just another chapter.” Since moving back, she hasn’t slowed down. Along with managing the Carnegie’s dandelion population, one of Crockett’s other major contributions is to write grant applications to raise funds for the upkeep of the building. She proudly notes that since the Mitchell Area Historical Society purchased the building from the city in 2006 for $1 — an effort of which Crockett was a part — it has raised more than $200,000 for improvements.

“We have no paid staff and we try to use our contributions wisely,” she said. After years of what Crockett politely calls “deferred maintenance,” the Carnegie was in sore need of attention.

She marvels at the generosity of the donations that have poured in over the years, allowing the Mitchell Area Historical Society to make great strides in maintaining the historic building. Some of the group’s endeavors have included tuckpointing the exterior walls, updating the heating and cooling systems, installing a new roof and new thermal windows, bringing up to code the electrical wiring and putting “major sweat equity” into cleaning the interior of the building and the grounds. In addition to strengthening the building, the Mitchell Area Historical Society has grown to more than 200 members.

Other odd jobs for Crockett include drafting correspondence and putting together the MAHS newsletter. Despite being an accomplished typist, Crockett still hand-writes her work, admitting she’s been reluctant to learn how to use computers.

“I bought a laptop, but I just hate using a computer,” she said.

Crockett said she prefers to do the writing at home, and to have someone else transfer it to a computer. Her dog, Ben, a mid-sized poodle, likes to keep her company as she writes. He also loves the attention from Crockett’s 10 piano students, another of Crockett’s activities. Along with teaching, Crockett is Mitchell’s chairperson for the National Guild of Piano Teachers. It’s only natural to be involved in activities and service projects, she said. It comes from a motivation instilled by her parents, Albert and Priscilla Cohrt.

“I enjoy it,” she said. “You need to do things for your community where you live.”

She also gives credit to her parents, and their genes, for how she’s kept her mental and physical vitality intact. “I was blessed with parents and grandparents who lived to their mid-80s and -90s in good health and with competent minds,” she said. “And, I never smoked.”