Middle Keys mourn longtime educator Gradick, celebration of life being planned

waxford@keynoter.comAugust 20, 2014 

Marathon Mayor Dick Ramsay speaks with Kay Gradick at a City Council meeting in January.

RYAN MCCARTHY

Kay Gradick was many things to many people: Teacher, mentor, coach, friend. Even as she hit her 90s, she remained spry and sharp.

Mrs. Gradick, 96, died Saturday, leaving behind a community for which she served in many capacities.

"She is an icon for this school," said Marathon High School Athletic Director Teresa Konrath, whose indoor sports teams play in the Katherine Gradick Gymnasium. "The impact she had on the school will last for a very, very long time. She will be greatly missed."

Mrs. Gradick was a career educator, starting as a physical education teacher in 1953 at what was then Sue M. Moore School (now the Middle Keys operations center for the state Department of Transportation). That's the year she and her husband Jack, whom she married in 1949, moved to Marathon.

She served as principal of Marathon High from 1966 to 1986.

"She was the first woman principal in Monroe County, as well as one of the first women principals in the state of Florida," said Marathon City Manager Mike Puto, a longtime friend and her care-giver in her final years. "Being in the administration, that was usually a man's world. She broke that barrier here."

Mrs. Gradick was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 30, 1918. She graduated from Temple University in Philadelphia in 1950.

She tried out for the 1948 Olympics in London in track and field, and gymnastics. However, she blew out a knee during a trial run and couldn't compete.

But athletics remained a large part of her life, as she competed in senior sports competitions well into her 80s.

At 2003's U.S.A. Track and Field National Master Indoor Championships in Boston, she won gold and silver medals and set a record for her age group (85-89) in the shot put, heaving it 14 feet, 11.75 inches.

She also set a record (18 feet, 1 inch) in the 12-pound weight toss, but quickly lost it. "The gal that beat me is my 87-year-old friend that I room with," she said then.

Mrs. Gradick competed the next year, too, but got injured in the hammer-throw competition, breaking a femur. Still, her toss got her second place.

"Kay was a constant source of energy," said John Dick of Marathon, a member of the Monroe County School Board. "She demanded and got things for Marathon. Because of her tenacity, Marathon and Key West [high schools] were equal."

Mrs. Gradick was involved in the Marathon Rotary Club, a leader of the Marathon Alumni Athletic Association and a past member of Marathon's Parks and Recreation Committee.

Her husband died in 1981. They had no children.

A private service will be held in Marathon. A public celebration of life is planned for the near future. Puto said photos, writing and other tributes to Mrs. Gradick can be sent to him at putom@ci.marathon.fl.us and may be incorporated into the ceremony.

"She always told me, 'Have the courage to stand up and speak, but also have the courage to sit down and listen,' " Puto said. "I will never forget that. Her legacy will live on."

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