Kent Kretzler started visiting Clarion University around the same time he could walk. His earliest memory of campus is attending homecoming at the age of 3 or 4.
"The football field was where the old Peirce Science Center stood," Kretzler said. "The Clarion players dressed in Harvey Hall and walked down the bleacher steps, through the seated crowd, waiting for the game to begin. We sat on the end, because my dad knew I liked to watch the big guys walking by."
His mom, Lorraine Miller Kretzler, was the reason for the trips to campus. She graduated from Clarion in 1942 with an elementary education degree.
"My mother loved Clarion: the college, the staff, the teachers, the activities, the students, and the entire life she enjoyed as a student and, later, as an alumna," Kretzler said. "I remember meeting so many of the professors in the 50s and 60s – ones whom many of the buildings were named after: Tippin, Marwick-Boyd, Campbell, Peirce and Moore. I recall, as a child, playing in their living rooms."
The Kretzler family – Mom, Dad, Kent and sister Karen – was a fixture at homecoming.
"Whether it was raining, snowing – it didn't matter. We were there. It drove my father crazy, because he hated the cold," Kretzler said. "We always joked that although my dad did not attend Clarion, he should have an honorary degree, based on the number of miles he drove between our home in Pittsburgh and Clarion, and the number of football games that he sat frozen to those bleachers.
During those visits, the Kretzler kids fell in love with Clarion. Choosing a college was easy.
Everyone needs a start
Kretzler's dream was to follow in his mother's footsteps and become a teacher. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Clarion, and he taught for five years. When enrollment started to drop at the school where he taught and knew he would be laid off, he thought about what to do next. The answer was travel.
"I started a small travel agency that grew pretty well. I developed a niche in the market for student travel, marketing to high school bands, choirs, sports teams and senior classes," he said.
He segued into fundraising, requiring that students had "skin in the game," whether they were traveling to Disney or Paris.
Another of Kretzler's prominent childhood memories is being in church and his mother pointing out various members of the Shriners organization. He didn't think much more about it until he joined the Syria Highlanders Pipe & Drum Band.
"That got me started," Kretzler said. He became involved with other organizations, clubs and caravans and eventually found himself as president. If the group was involved in a charitable aspect, he was in charge.
Eventually he was recognized on "the line," a seven-year progression to the organization's crowning glory – serving as potentate, an equivalent to a CEO. Kretzler became the third youngest potentate in history at age 46.
In his leadership role with the Shriners, Kretzler developed various ideas for fundraising, all geared toward supporting the Shriners Hospital for Children.
"There are 22 of them across America. It costs $1.5 million a day to run them," he said."I read a quote years ago: 'What you do for yourself dies with you when you leave this world, what you do for others lives on forever.' I've always followed that idea of doing something for someone who can't," Kretzler said. "It's giving them a start – everybody needs that. A lot of parents just can't afford the health care their children require. Our hospitals, our organizations make it happen."
For his work with the Shriners, Kretzler received the key to the city of Pittsburgh and was recognized with a proclamation by Allegheny County. KDKA's Stacy Smith – a product of the Shriners Hospitals and an honorary member of the Syria Shrine – introduced him both times.
"It recognized not just me, but Shriners members. We make miracles happen every day."
A penchant for giving
When Kretzler's business became successful, he began adding to a college fund his parents had started when the daughters of his sister Karen ('79) and her husband, Chuck Dinsmore ('81), whom she met at Clarion, were born. He wanted to make it easier for the family to educate the girls, and he wanted them to graduate college without debt.
Ultimately, the fund paid for both nieces' bachelor's and master's degrees, with money left over. They weren't the only ones to benefit from his success, though.
"I've done well in life, and I wanted to make sure it's paid forward. My idea was that quote – to give to others for it to last forever," Kretzler said. He decided to create scholarships for students at Clarion University and at the military academy he attended in Woodstock, Va. Recipients are required to have skin in the game.
At Clarion, the Kretzler Family Athletic Endowment benefits football, men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball team members who maintain a certain level GPA, are involved on the team and contribute to the community.
"Kids will benefit from being involved, being a good student, being a good citizen. That's the type of person I want to help – someone who could say 'I was bigger than myself,'" he said.
Kretzler remains active with the Shriners, helping out with the annual East/West Shrine Football Game and the Shriners Open in Las Vegas each fall. Now a resident of Florida, he is involved with the Conquistadors, a small fraternal group that awards three college scholarships each year and is involved with various community enhancement initiatives.
"When I was potentate, I made a lot of speeches. I talked a lot about membership and
being involved," Kretzler said.
Among his key messages was, "If you join this organization and get a card but never get involved, take the card and throw it in the trash on the way out. You're wasting your time. Get involved, and you'll get out of it tenfold what you put in."
"I try to motivate people to do something. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. You make of it what you will."