By Kendra Hennis
Tuscola schools have been very lucky over the last thirty-three years to have Jeannie Craddock as their choral director. Craddock brings unmatched skill and dedication to the job and her students.
Craddock was born in Durango, Colorado, but grew up in Aurora, Illinois. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Choral Education from Western Illinois University and Masters of Arts degrees in Choral Conducting and Vocal Performance from Eastern Illinois University. Craddock also studied private voice at the Chicago Lyric Opera and the University of Illinois. She now lives in Tuscola with her husband, Dan. Their son Jacob is a sophomore at Illinois State University, and their daughter Rachel works at the White House and lives in Washington, D.C.
Craddock said that, “When I started teaching in Tuscola, I only planned to stay for a few years, and eventually return to the Chicago area, where I grew up. However, I loved teaching in this small community, and made the decision to stay here. It has been wonderful being a part of an outstanding school system, and a supportive community.”
She says that being a teacher was never a question for her. Saying, “I think I always wanted to be a teacher, and played school as a little girl all the time. Growing up, I really looked up to my teachers and wanted to be just like them.”
She also credits coming from a line of teachers for her passion. Her grandma was an elementary teacher, and her mother taught private piano and voice lessons. She said however, “It wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that I really knew I wanted to teach choir. The teaching opportunities I had in undergrad and in grad school cemented the desire to teach. I have never regretted it, and even on the tough days, I loved my job.”
Craddock noted that there have been many changes to the job over the years in Tuscola, with the biggest being the advancements in technology and the changes of students being involved in many activities. She said, “The changes in technology in thirty-three years would fill an entire newspaper. It is a whole new world in how we listen to music and having computers in every classroom. We used to hand-write grades on each student’s report cards. As for students, kids are way more busy with activities outside of school than when I first started teaching.”
She said that, “after learning rhythms and notes in a song, my favorite part was to shape a song into a meaningful piece of music. I loved to delve into the text of the song and to see how the composer brought the words to life with melody or harmony. Anyone can sing notes and rhythms, but musicians make music, and I loved that process with students.”
As well as being the choral director for fifth grade through the high school, Mrs. Craddock also served as the co-director of the Spring Musical, most recently with Mrs. Johanna Steffens.
Craddock said, “Directing the spring musical is something I also loved! Creating a show from the ground up is exciting! Watching the kids develop their characters, grow as a singer, learn dances, make new friends, and become a theater family is one of the best parts of my job! I am always amazed when it comes together and realize that together we created a magical moment for audiences to enjoy.”
Craddock noted that some of her favorite memories and things she’s most proud of was “being able to teach both of my children for a total of fourteen years, seven each. I loved that Rachel and Jacob were in choir from sixth grade to Honors Choir. I never made them, but I was always glad they chose to be choir because they wanted to sing. They both had leads in musicals in high school as well. Like my mom did with me, I was proud to share my love of music with them.”
She said that she is going to miss a lot about the job, “I will miss just talking to the kids and hearing their stories about their day or their friends. I will also miss those moments in rehearsing when you know that the song is ready for a performance because you remember what it sounded like when you first started it. I will miss seeing that excitement and awe on their faces when they know a song or section sounds really good. Those are the moments that I live for in choir.”
Craddock does have some advice for those considering going into teaching. She says, “Love what you do, and love the people that you do it with. I love my students as if they are my own, and I love the teachers that I teach with; Be organized, it is the key to successful teaching; and be a part of the solution instead of just complaining about it. Get involved in your school and/or a union. Be invested in your district.”
Craddock says that she is looking forward to taking the time off to be able to visit her daughter in D.C., family in Colorado and New Mexico, and traveling with her husband now that she won’t be tied to a busy school schedule.
She leaves some messages to her current students and those in the past.
“To my current students, I am so very grateful that the high school got to perform our musical as so many schools were unable to do so. What a great show to end a career on! I am sad that East Prairie and the high school choirs didn’t get those last contests or concerts together though. Teaching choir remotely has not been the same at all. However, I am excited for them as they will get the opportunity to work with a new director. As I told my students, new is good, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new roads they will travel with a new director.”
“To all my students, past and present, thank you for the many, many great years in making music! As I have gone through pictures this past month, I am reminded of what wonderful people I taught, and how much fun we had creating music together.”
“To the Tuscola Community, I was going to stay on for two years, and then go back to Chicago to teach. However, I fell in love with this town and community and stayed. It was a decision that I have never regretted. I appreciate all of the support over the years and for the choral program. I couldn’t ask for a better place to raise my children and spend thirty-three years teaching the children of Tuscola.”
Tuscola High School honored Craddock during their live streamed Honor’s Day ceremony. During this, Guidance Counselor Justin Bozarth said, “like all of our seniors, we have one staff member who also did not get the proper farewell she deserved. This school year is the last for Mrs. Jeannie Craddock, our choral director for the last thirty-three years. For over three decades, she has poured her heart and soul into the lives of our students through her talents with music. As we recognize Mrs. Craddock today, it seems only fitting that we do it with lyrics. So Mrs. Craddock, as you look back on your career and enjoy a glass of what Neil Diamond described as “red, red wine”, I hope you can relate to Green Day as they said, “it’s something unpredictable, but in the end is right. I hope you had the time of your life.” For so many of your students, they looked at you as one person in their life that they knew they could count on, and think of Bill Withers as he sings, “lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.” Perhaps you can look back on the last thirty-three years of your life spent in Tuscola with husband Dan, and children Rachel and Jacob, and think of Chantal Kreviazuk when she sings, “it feels like home to me. It feels like home to me. It feels like I’m all the way back where I belong.” For so many of your coworkers over the years, we can think of Randy Newman’s song, made famous in Toy Story, as we think of what you have done for us. “You’ve got a friend in me. If you’ve got troubles, I’ve got them too. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. We stick together, we can see it through,” cause Mrs. Craddock, you’ve got a friend in me. This is the Jeannie Craddock we know, a hardworking, dedicated teacher, with a beautiful voice, Christian morals, and an ability to make student after student fall in love with music. So many students have walked these halls and learned from you. So many of them can relate to the Zac Brown Band when they say, “my roots always keep me grounded. Roots remind me where I’m from. Even when I’m a thousand miles away from my roots, I’m home.” Thank you Mrs. Craddock for being a part of thirty-three years of our students’ roots here in Tuscola. As we say goodbye, one song keeps resonating with me, as I have watched your choirs perfect it over the years. I think I speak for all students, staff, and families in Tuscola when I share the lyrics from the musical, Wicked, “Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better, and because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Mrs. Craddock, the most beautiful thing about our working lives is when you can look back and see that you maximize your God-given talents and abilities. Your career here has absolutely achieved just that. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for making Tuscola High School a better place.”