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The City Journals

Oakwood principal returns after illness, greeted by 1,000 folded paper cranes

Jan 13, 2020 11:18AM ● By Heather Lawrence

Oakwood principal Tod Cracroft looks up at the 1,000 cranes his students made while he was out receiving cancer treatment. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)

By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]

Fri., Dec. 13 turned out to be lucky for Oakwood Elementary principal Tod Cracroft. He had been out of school since September for chemotherapy and radiation cancer treatments. While he was gone, students folded 1,000 paper cranes which were strung in the main hall. The cranes greeted Cracroft as he quietly snuck back to school. 

“I wasn’t going to get emotional, but this is really special,” Cracroft said. He fought tears as he greeted his office staff and students. 

“The word ‘amazing’ gets overused. So I’ll use the superlative: amazing-est. My office staff and substitute principals have been the amazing-est while I’ve been out,” Cracroft said. 

The idea for the garlands of paper cranes came from a book the fourth graders read. Fourth grade teacher Ali Brusa gave Cracroft a copy of “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” by Eleanor Coerr, tied with a bow. 

“In fourth grade we read [this] book every year. It’s about a little girl who gets leukemia after the bombing of Hiroshima. And it’s a true story. The kids thought it was meaningful to give you the book and fold a thousand paper cranes,” Brusa said to Cracroft.  

The girl in the story hears a Japanese legend: if someone folds a thousand origami cranes, he or she would be granted a wish. Her wish was to live. She folded 644 cranes before she passed away. 

Thankfully, Cracroft said his prognosis is much more promising. “I went for my last procedure, and the doctor who did it said, ‘There’s no tumor there.’ He showed us the before and after scans. It was really great. It was a good moment. We found that out yesterday,” Cracroft said. 

Cracroft had tried to return to school earlier in the year. But the cumulative effects of treatment took their toll. “I came back for about seven days after my first chemo treatment, but then the chemo took effect. It slayed me,” Cracroft said. 

Word spread quickly that Cracroft was in the building, and soon the third, fourth and fifth grades were outside the office to say hi. Cracroft thanked the students for their support. 

“The battle with cancer was a hard fought battle. And it was really difficult. But I received so much support from so many of you. I’ve got a living room full of cards and banners that I look at every time I feel discouraged,” Cracroft said. 

Cracroft recently moved to Oakwood after working at Morningside. He’s famous around school for making up songs, including the school song, and playing his guitar. After a snowstorm in February 2019, he wrote a song about kids coming back to school after their day off, and posted it on social media. 

Cracroft said he loved the support from his Oakwood and Morningside communities. “In the middle of all those treatments, a banner would show up at my house or I’d get a card from a kindergartner. Cards from kindergartners are very faith-promoting. It meant a lot,” Cracroft said. 

People also frequently delivered meals and sent notes of encouragement. “It was a time of grief and gratitude. It’s not an experience I’d wish on anybody, but it’s been such a wonderful experience to see all the good in the world,” Cracroft said. 

Support was the order of the day at Oakwood. After school, 90 kids showed up to service club to make cards. “We made cards of encouragement for patients at Utah Cancer Specialists. We’re taking the cards and drawings to hang on Christmas trees in their waiting rooms,” said club organizer and Oakwood parent Jen Davies. 

“People can be here for hours, waiting and getting their treatment, so this will be something encouraging they can read while they’re there,” Davies said. 

“We’ve been doing the service club for almost a year. It was the principal’s idea; they did it at Morningside,” Davies said. 

Cracroft’s gratitude for the support shown to him was overwhelming. “I’ve missed you all so much. It’s so great to be back. For a guy who always has words to say, I’m kind of speechless. Thank you.”