Kranz back in Sweden relished time in Ridgway

Bob Parana - Staff Writer

While his visit to Ridgway was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Swedish exchange student Valdemar Kranz feels blessed to have had the opportunity to attend Ridgway Area High School, compete in sports, and make friends forever.
“I would definitely say I am grateful from the bottom of my heart of how great everyone was for embracing me and letting me be a part of your culture and bringing me into your everyday life. You’ve given me the most amazing experience I could have ever have hoped for. It surpassed everything I could have hoped for,” he said during a recent phone interview from his home in Bro, Sweden.
Kranz, known as “Wally”, arrived Aug. 22 and was immediately accepted by his senior classmates, the school administration, and the Elkers football program especially Head Coach Mark Heindl who took him to meet future teammates and invited him to spend the team’s season-opener with St. Marys on the sidelines. He also competed in wrestling and was looking forward to competing for the co-op Johnsonburg track team and spending the last couple months with the many friends he amassed during his stay with host family Steve (Puggy) and Melissa (Missy) Starks of Ridgway. The son of Mattias and Kaarina Kranz left the United States and has safely returned to his home country filled with memories from his just over seven-month stay. The six-foot, always smiling Kranz decided it was best to return home when he was faced with the decision to do so in late March as the pandemic spread throughout the nation and world and schools were closed.The well-spoken, now 18-year old (birthday May 5), dynamic young man talked about the quick decision he had to make to go back to Europe.
“It was pretty intense actually. I got an email about one week before about traveling home because the (exchange) organization was going to shut down the program. It said that individual countries would organize trips for students that wished to go home. A week later I got an email from my Swedish representative saying that there had been an interest from other Swedish students to go home and they needed to know if I wanted to do so by the 26th of March. I talked with Missy and my parents to figure out what we thought was the best thing for me to do. Since I really enjoyed staying in the U.S. so much I wanted to stay but not being with my family through all the commotion that the corona has brought with it I preferred being with my family knowing that we wouldn’t be split apart,” Kranz said. Things moved more quickly than he thought once the decision to return home was made.
“We decided to ask them to organize a trip home. On March 28 I got an email with a flight plan. That was basically a shock. I thought maybe it would be a week later. I wasn’t really prepared for it even though I had said I wanted to go home I did not feel ready to go,” said Kranz who immediately sent out a mass text to friends of his decision.
The response was overwhelming. “It was the loveliest thing ever. The responses I got almost put me in tears. Everybody was so sweet and so nice. Missy allowed me to meet up with some of my friends in the garage before leaving so we could talk about memories and have a little fun before I had to leave,” said Kranz. With a heavy heart, he packed his bags and headed to Pittsburgh to begin his trek home. Despite running into a bit of a snag with the original flight, the Swedish student who will finish out his senior year at home in the fall was able to work things out with the airlines and student exchange officials. He eventually caught a flight from Pittsburgh-to-Newark-to-Sweden.
“I’m actually satisfied with how it turned out. I’m also bummed out that I’ve missed out on a lot of possibilities and great memories but to sum it all up I got to experience so much with everybody that I am baffled at how great of a time I was able to have,” Kranz said while describing his arrival in Sweden. “I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t know was there. There was an underlying worry that I might not come home if they shut down all the flights which they eventually did with travel bans and everything. I felt a relief getting home and knowing that now everything no matter how [tough] it gets I will be able to go through with it with my parents and brother. Family matters so much. It’s the same here as it is in the U.S.”

Kranz is currently working in an auto detail shop full of corvettes and other top of the line vehicles. He recently detailed a “sweet Lamborghini”. He hopes to get his driver’s license soon (18 years old in Sweden) and hopes to start his own business perhaps in the real estate market upon graduation.
His parents and sixteen-year-old brother Theodor are also doing well. They visited Kranz over the Christmas Holiday and had hoped to make a return for “graduation”, but that is obviously on hold. If all goes well and the pandemic ebbs, the family is looking to make a return trip to Ridgway around Thanksgiving.
“We’re doing surprisingly well. My parents are still able to do their jobs and we’ve been doing a lot more garden work and spending time together rather than going out. We’re adapting really well,” Kranz said while mentioning his relationship with his younger brother. “We actually are a lot better at getting along than we had previously been. He’s grown as a person and I most definitely have grown as a person during the time [away]. We got a good healthy break from each other. Now we get along a lot better and have a lot more similarities and interests.”
When he came to the U.S. Kranz experienced a big difference between American and Swedish cuisine but was able to adjust. While getting an occasional urge for our foods he’s happy to be back on his typical home country eating regime. “My diet has gotten much better at home compared to eating in the US. I can’t talk down on Missy’s cooking – she’s a great cook and makes really good meals but it’s nice to be home,” he said while also discussing the return to speaking Swedish full-time. “I have gotten good enough at English that I was faster at sentencing in English than Swedish. What ended up happening was I [formed] my sentences in English then directly translated to Swedish while speaking so I ended up speaking incorrect Swedish because it was sentenced the American way,” he said with a chuckle.

As for his name “Wally”, which was given to him by his English teacher in Sweden, he’s back to being Valdemar in his native land. “I ask people to not call me Wally over here because I’ve never been a Wally here but in the US I’ll be Wally forever,” he said again with a laugh.

Never having played “American” football or ever having wrestled Kranz enjoyed “every second” of his time competing in the two sports. “The greatest part was how inviting everybody was to me coming and being able to be a part of your customs, sports, and all. Straight off from the first day I felt right at home and included. Being able to take part in the school routine and being a part of the teams just made everything feel so much more comfortable in going about my day. I never felt alone or left out or that I didn’t have anything to do. There was always something going on whether it was hanging out with friends, going to workouts for football after school, and going on to the wrestling afterward. It was really good to see how sports and life can be incorporated. I’ve learned so much from all my coaches and with Sal (Scott Salberg) with lifting as well. I’ve really kept up working out since I got home. I do my conditioning multiple times a week. I want to stay in shape and not fall out of the great pattern I got into in the U.S.,” he said also mentioning he may join a wrestling club in Stockholm after talking with a Swedish wrestler at his gym.

One of his favorite grappling moments was recording his first career win in his team’s match with Brockway in December. His prowess on the gridiron was also amazing having never played the sport. “It’s an empowering feeling. I have never gotten that in Sweden because I never competed against other people like over there (U.S.). I’ve played some soccer and I’ve played tennis but it’s not in the same sense or as serious unless you’re 100 percent trying to become a professional. It’s not very seriously done and you don’t go all out like I did in both wrestling and football where it’s full concentration. It was just down to you and your ability to adapt. You feel like you accomplished something great,” Kranz said. His efforts on the football field did not go unnoticed and the team presented him with his senior jersey – something not done for everyon“Thanks to the football coaches I got to keep my football jersey even though I didn’t do the full three years with the varsity program. It’s a memory I’ll have for life. I’m going to frame it and hang it up on the wall,” Kranz said noting he frequently “shows off” his District 9 championship medal.
The agile Swedish athlete who was looking to compete in javelin and perhaps high jump and long jump on the J-Burg track team said he could not have asked for better hosts than the Starks. “I am so grateful for them giving me the opportunity to come to the U.S. They are the foundation of this even being possible so the biggest of thanks to them. They gave me probably the most insight into how living in the U.S. is and how great the nation is too. They are great people,” he said. In an interview in December, his father Mattias talked about how his son’s trip came about.
“My wife Kaarina started with genealogy some years ago. She used the online tool Ancestry and got a mark that there was a connection from my great grandfather to a family tree in The USA. The lady who had that tree was Peggy Fannin – mother to Missy Stark and Marty Fannin. Her late husband Joe Fannin was the son to Della Johnson who was the daughter to Mårten Johannesson or Martin Johnson as he called himself when [the family] immigrated to America,” he said.
The Kranz family visited Ridgway six years ago when they came to meet their American relatives. Plans were put in place to eventually bring Valdemar here as part of the student exchange program. In 2015 members of the Fannin family visited Sweden.
While hoping the trip to Ridgway happens near Thanksgiving or soon after, Kranz hopes his American friends visit him in Europe and said his “door is always open.”
The Ridgway Area School District has done a great job celebrating the Class of 2020 despite not being able to have a formal ceremony. Kranz expressed his gratitude for how he was treated here.
“I’m not getting a diploma but I might get some kind of certificate for going to RAHS. No matter even if I don’t get anything I’m just so pleased and happy with how well all the teachers treated me and how nice of an environment it was during my time at [at the school]. I want to give a big thanks to everyone there,” Kranz said. Years from now when the Class of 2020 reminisces on their sports and school careers and how Covid-19 became a part of their lives I’m sure they’ll fondly recall their friend, classmate, and teammate – “Wally”
We wish you the best young man.