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Community mourns John Krahm, 59, beloved educator

Family, friends and colleagues paint the picture of a humble, hard-working man, a generous spirit who gave his time and love to legions of youth -- troubled or not -- and to everyone who crossed his path, including those he didn’t even know.

West Stockbridge — In what is a devastating shock to several communities, John Krahm, a beloved social worker, school administrator and school committee member, died last Sunday, September 14, at his home in West Stockbridge. His wife Julia said he had been cutting firewood and mowing his lawn before she found him unresponsive on his tractor. The cause of death was presumed to have been a heart attack. He was 59.

Family, friends and colleagues paint the picture of a humble, hard-working man, a generous spirit who gave his time and love to legions of youth — troubled or not — and to everyone who crossed his path, including those he didn’t even know.

A native of Rockville Center, Long Island, Krahm was one of four siblings, and the “peacemaker in his family,” said Julia Krahm. He began his career as a CPA in Manhattan — his father’s career — but eventually switched to social work. He moved to the Berkshires in 1986 to work at the DiSisto School in Stockbridge, a therapeutic boarding school, then spent the last 24 years at Berkshire Farm, a residential non-profit child welfare agency. Berkshire Farm’s students attend the Berkshire Union Free School District in Canaan, N.Y.

Krahm began working at the Farm — which works with up to 250 children every year — as a social worker, managing a cottage of children. He was chair of a special education committee, and last July he became an administrator.

“He gave and gave and gave,” said Bruce Potter, Superintendent of the Berkshire Union District, who had worked with Krahm for the last 10 years, adding that Krahm often gave anonymously. “He was a father to many of these kids,” said Potter. “Kids who had nothing in life but trauma stayed connected to John, years after they left, because he meant so much to them.”

“He still believed in every kid,” said Julia Krahm, “even after failures.”

The gifted social worker devoted his evenings to children as well, spending as much as several nights a week as a 6-year member of Berkshire Hills Regional School District school committee, where he had been chair of the buildings and grounds subcommittee. He had also spent time on the technology subcommittee.

Two of Krahm’s children attend district schools: Matthew Allan is a 10th grader at Monument Mountain Regional High School; Grace is in 7th grade at Monument Valley Regional Middle School. Krahm’s two older sons also attended Berkshire Hills schools.

District Superintendent Peter Dillon said that Krahm’s sudden death has cut a swath of grief across both the Berkshire Farm and Berkshire Hills school communities. “He’s the nicest, most soft spoken, most thoughtful person out there,” added Dillon. “He gets learning and teaching, cares about all kids, including his own. He was remarkable.”

Krahm, said Dillon, also spent time working on the District Capacity Project, a state pilot, education reform program to increase student learning through labor management collaboration, and teacher professional development. Krahm was also “extremely active on the high school renovation project,” he added.

“He always showed up with a smile,” said Karen Smith, chair of the high school renovation steering committee. “He was a bright light in a dark sky.”

“He was a gentleman, quiet, unassuming, thoughtful…always there when needed,” said district school committee chair Steve Bannon. “He didn’t say much, but he didn’t have to, letting his actions speak for themselves.”

Bannon said he had last spoken with Krahm at the high school renovation forum at Monument High on Saturday, where Krahm “seemed fine,” he said, adding that “either he hid it [symptoms] well or it came on very suddenly.”

When Krahm wasn’t advocating for children and education, he dedicated himself to his own family, which included Julia, his wife of 16 years; Matthew Allan and Grace; and two grown sons, David and Michael, from a first marriage. Krahm had taken it upon himself to manage the morning household and parenting duties during the last two years, said Julia, while she had a demanding schedule studying for her doctorate in physical therapy. She said that her husband would rise at 5 a.m. to plow after a storm, so that she could leave on time.

“He stood at the bus stop with the kids even when they said they didn’t need him to be there,” she added.

Krahm could be found baking cookies with his daughter Grace, or spending time with his son, Matthew Allan, over a sandwich at Subway. He was excited for Michael as he traveled through New Zealand and most recently, Australia. When his eldest son, David and daughter-in-law Ashley — both ER physicians in Florida — were about to marry, Krahm made birch candle holders for their wedding, upon learning that the store-bought versions they wanted were too expensive.

“John’s family knew how much he loved them and he knew how much they loved him,” said Julia.

Krahm loved beauty, too, and created it around his home, building stone walls around his property “to make his home beautiful for his family,” said Julia. “John loved building things,” she added, “not for the things, but for the people.”

People, it appears, were Krahm’s passion. He helped friends and neighbors at every turn, mowing and plowing for those who couldn’t. He and Julia organized neighborhood picnics. Neighbor, close family friend, and former school committee member, Carol Kuller, said that Krahm was a strong man, who lifted weights, and when Kuller’s husband once asked for help lifting a wall oven, Krahm said, “that’s OK, I can do it. I don’t need your help.”

Kuller said that when she and Krahm rode to school committee meetings together, they discussed school issues, “but mostly John talked about his family.”

Krahm also found time to teach Sunday School at Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, and for the last 20 years participated in “Notorious Sinners,” a men’s group started by former Catholic priest, Brenen Manning, a speaker and writer. “They were all men of faith who knew that they were all flawed,” said Julia.

“He was a very spiritual guy,” said Peter Dillon. “He cared broadly about lots of world views, and this was evident in how he lived his life and in his work.”

John Krahm leaves his wife Julia; three sons, David, Michael, and Matthew Allan; a daughter Grace; daughter-in-law Ashley; two brothers, Charlie and Barney; and a sister, Kate. Krahm was predeceased by his parents.

A wake is scheduled for Friday, September 19t, at Finnerty and Stevens, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at 426 Main St., Great Barrington.

The funeral is set for 3 p.m., Saturday, September 20, at Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox.

 

 

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