Denise Kracl has found plenty of success professionally and personally throughout the years, but the Columbus native credits her hometown for shaping who she is today.
“Columbus is always going to be home,” Kracl said. “I loved growing up in Columbus. I went to elementary school at Lost Creek, graduated from Columbus High School and attended Central Community College there for two years. A piece of my heart will always be in Columbus.”
Her love for Columbus hasn’t stopped her from venturing out beyond the city’s borders and aspiring for success. Since 2011, Kracl has proudly served as neighboring Colfax County’s attorney while also finding ways to give back to Columbus, Schuyler and other Nebraska communities through volunteerism.
But recently, as previously reported by The Columbus Telegram, Kracl added another accomplishment to her list. She found out she’s one of three people being considered by Gov. Pete Ricketts for an opening on the district court bench for the 11-county Fifth Judicial District. Columbus attorney Jason Mielak of Fehringer and Mielak LLP (see the previously published story on him on our website) and Seward Public Defender Christina Marroquin are also in the mix.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, potentially, for all of the candidates involved,” Kracl said. “I’m absolutely honored to be one of the three being considered.”
The Fifth Judicial District is made up of Boone, Butler, Colfax, Hamilton, Merrick, Nance, Platte, Polk, Saunders, Seward and York counties, though the primary place of residence for the vacancy will be in Schuyler or Wahoo. For Kracl, being able to continue living in Schuyler would be a perfect situation. Although a Columbus native who takes pride in her current role, applying for the vacancy left by retired Judge Mary C. Gilbride was about continuing to help others.
“I love serving the people of Colfax County, and I’m running for re-election and I’m running unopposed, but I believe I can still do more,” she said. “And so I have a strong commitment to public service and almost my entire legal career has been in public service. I don’t live in a world of ‘I wish I could have.’”
Her success isn't a surprise to her mother, Columbus resident Twila Wallace.
"She's very driven, and when she makes up her mind to do something," she does it," Wallace said.
Wallace learned that long ago.
"When she was 5 years old, she told me she was going to be a lawyer and I was like, 'oh, yeah right,'" Wallace recalled, noting she and many other family members were teachers and so she assumed her daughter would follow in their footsteps.
Kracl did actually earn her Bachelor of Arts in secondary education (history and political science) -- before pursuing law school.
"She always kept this law idea in the back of her mind," her mom said.
Kracl is no stranger to hard work. In addition to raising her 12-year-old daughter, Kodie, she has found ways to help Columbus and Schuyler. In Columbus, she has contributed to numerous nonprofit organizations’ efforts, and since 2017, she has been teaching political science in person and through a long-distance learning program offered through Central Community College.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with students,” she said. “This opportunity allowed me to get back in the classroom and work with students who have a very bright future.”
In Schuyler, she serves on the Schuyler Economic Development Council and the Columbus Business Technology Advisory Committee. She has been the chairwoman of the food and toy drive in Schuyler for eight years, led three mission trips to Alaska and served as a disaster committee member for the American Red Cross.
Her efforts have resulted in numerous accolades throughout the years, including being named the Schuyler Chamber of Commerce’s Volunteer of the Year in 2016 and earning the Distinguished Alumni Award from CCC’s Columbus campus.
The Columbus native also has a broad range of experience practicing various forms of law. Besides her role with the county, she maintains a small private practice and serves as the city prosecutor for the City of Schuyler. She previously was a deputy county attorney for Colfax and Butler counties, as well as an associate of a private practice, Knoepfle & Kracl, where she gained all kinds of experience.
Although she would have to absolve herself from her current role and other endeavors if she is chosen for the new position, the new set of responsibilities wouldn't be intimidating for the driven and successful attorney.
“I graduated from law school in 2007 from the University of South Dakota. I worked 20 hours a week, while going to law school full-time and raising my daughter while my husband remained in Schuyler,” she said. “So, you put all of those things together, I had quite the law school experience. I didn’t get much sleep.”
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, said Kracl, who noted she takes pride in helping others.
“It makes me happy. I like serving in any way that is needed,” she said. “I tried my best to pass that on to my daughter. I’m going to work hard to put myself in the best position that I can in anticipation of my interview with the governor.”
The nomination is especially exciting for her mother, who continues to get phone calls and emails from residents in addition to people talking with her about her daughter when they bump into her around town while she's running errands.
"They say, 'congratulations,' they tell me she deserves it and works really hard, is very capable," Wallace said. "I am excited. (Denise) is very interested in law and excited about being in the top three."
Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.