ER crusader Mary Jean Kraski to receive Lifetime Achievement Award

ARLINGTON – Arlington’s Mary Jean Kraski questioned the cramped conditions in the emergency room in Cascade Valley Hospital that lacked curtains or privacy, and caused overflow patients to lay on gurneys in the hallway where the public passed through.

Putting her foot down in a gentle way, the hospital commissioner Kraski asked, “When are we going to do something about the ER?”

That question became the catalyst for a $45 million bond issue to expand and renovate the aging facility overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2007. The newly-renovated hospital opened three years later with a 16-treatment bay emergency unit and plenty more modern medical features.

For her decades of dedicated service to the hospital and the community, the Stillaguamish Senior Center is honoring Kraski at its annual Lifetime Achievement Breakfast Wednesday at the center.

She was born and grew up in Seattle. When the Kraski family moved to Arlington in 1979, they opened Kraski’s Furniture downtown, and wasted no time become actively involved in the community.

While husband, Bob, entered local politics and served on the City Council for 10 years before being becoming a three-term Mayor, Mary Jean worked briefly in the family store, then went to school to become a travel agent, a job she loved, while the couple raised their three sons.

After eight years at their first house on Robin Hood Drive, they built and moved into one of the first dozen homes in Gleneagle along the golf course, where they stayed for the next 31 years.

Her involvement with Cascade Valley started in the early 1980s when a neighbor encouraged her to join the hospital advisory board. At the time, the number of hospital district commissioners grew from three to five, and she and Ray McClure filled the new seats. She served as a commissioner for about 20 years, before stepping down in 2006.

Kraski worked in the Sleep Center for seven years in the Whitehorse family medicine building before retiring in 2013. Since then, she has been serving on the Cascade Valley Hospital Foundation.

She reflected back on the efforts that led to an expanded and modernized hospital that tripled in size.

“The hospital was over a hundred years old, and the community knew we needed to do something,” Kraski said. It took many hands to get the bond to voters on the way to a new campus, from the commissioners and assistant administrator Connie Digregorio to bond committee chairman Dale Duskin and other government and community leaders.

She said improvements brought much more than an emergency room, new buildings and state-of-the-art equipment, a comfortable lobby, gift and coffee shop and public art.

“You get that with the new hospital, but you also bring in new doctors with more specialties, so it has worked out very well,” Kraski said.

During her tenure on the commission, the hospital district bought property on 172nd in Smokey Point, and eventually built a clinic. “We knew that area was going to grow,” she said. “Has it ever.”

Skagit Regional Health took over management of Cascade Valley Hospital and its clinics in June 2016 through a merger.

Kraski has also volunteered at the Arlington Food Bank for over six years – a task shared sometimes by her grandchildren – and has tried to help out every week except when events happen – like her big move recently.

If Kraski ever needs a visual reminder of the towering hospital that she crusaded for, she just moved from her Gleneagle home to within walking distance of the hospital from her condo on Medical Center Drive.

Her husband of 55 years passed away in 2017.

They were both firm believers in community service, and she’s proud that its an idea that’s taken hold across two generations. “I’ve got incredible sons, daughters-in-law and grandkids; they all help out others a lot, and I see them all the time.”

Bob Campbell met Mary Jean while serving as hospital administrator from 1987-2000.

She is deserving of the lifetime achievement award, said Campbell, who now serves on the senior center’s board.

“She is a clear thinker, and not afraid to stand up for something that needs to be done,” he said.

“Loyalty” is the word that best describes Kraski, Campbell said.

“If she buys in and respects you, she is loyal and industrious,” he said. “I admire her strength in those two characteristics.”

Kraski has attended previous award breakfasts at the senior center and enjoyed them, but she is in the dark about what to expect.

She is humble about the accolades to come.

“I really don’t feel like I’ve done anything that exceptional,” Kraski said. “I just think if you live in a place, you should get involved. There’s just so much need out there. There’s something out there for everyone to do.”

The Arlington Rotary Club provides leadership to the senior center, and plays an active role in the Lifetime Achievement Breakfast, sponsoring tables, serving guests, and helping raise funds for the center.

The Stillaguamish Senior Center Lifetime Achievement Breakfast will be 7:30-9 a.m. April 24 in the center at 18308 Smokey Point Blvd. To RSVP, call 360-653-4551 or email dklemens@stillycenter.org. Admission is free, but the fundraising breakfast welcomes donations to support senior center programs.

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