Tidy Island residents die in 6-vehicle crash in Florida's panhandle

jdeleon@bradenton.comJune 15, 2013 

MANATEE -- A local community is mourning the loss of a couple that dedicated their time to the community and its children, while a brother mourns the man who saved his life.

Kurt Graetzer, 66, and Pamela Graetzer, 63, died while stuck in traffic on a road trip Thursday afternoon in Mary Esther, a town near Fort Walton Beach in the Florida Panhandle.

Anthony Graetzer tearfully recalls the greatest gift his brother ever gave him.

"Three years ago I had liver disease and Kurt donated 60 percent of his liver," Graetzer said. "If it wasn't for him I wouldn't be here right now."

The couple were killed June 13 in a six-vehicle crash on U.S. Highway 98 near the main gate of Eglin Air Force Base.

The couple were sitting in their Honda Element in traffic at about 1:25 p.m. when a box truck hit them from behind, causing a chain reaction that ended fatally for the Graetzers.

The westbound lanes of the highway were closed for about five hours as FHP investigated the scene that left six others injured.

The couple are remembered for their dedication to community and big hearts. Both also had successful careers before moving to Tidy Island full-time last year.

Kurt Graetzer was the CEO of the National Fluid Milk Processor Education Program and directed the "Got Milk" campaign known for it's images of celebrities boasting milk mustaches.

Pamela ran her own public relations agency Graetzer Communications for many years before getting into real estate, which she later continued in Bradenton working with Keller Williams.

Anthony Graetzer, who owns a home in Bradenton, said his brother and sister-in-law were very kind and community-oriented people who were totally immersed in the Children's Academy of Southwest Florida.

"Pam's whole energy and focus was Children's Academy," Graetzer said. "Kurt also got very involved."

The couple will be missed by staff and fellow board members at the Children's Academy who greeted each other somberly Friday.

They both served as longtime board members at the United Way. Pamela Graetzer had been the current secretary and a past president of the board and Kurt Graetzer

as the current vice chair of the board

Current board President Mall Chaney fondly remembered her friend who was responsible for bringing her on the board.

"Pam was very enthusiastic about the academy and very passionate with the children," Chaney said. "She had a big heart for them."

Chaney said that in recent years she had taken over fundraising for the academy. Her biggest project was organizing the annual Island Run on Anna Maria Island.

"For me it was such a shock this morning, losing two members of our board that were vital," Chaney said.

Kurt Graetzer was also involved with the Guardian Ad litem program which advocates for children who have been abused, neglected and abandoned.

"They came from a world of means but nothing was beneath them," said. "It's such a tremendous loss."

The couple is survived by his brothers Peter Graetzer, 69, of Ridgewood, N.J.; Eric Graetzer, 63, of Richmond, Va; Anthony Graetzer, 58, and her son Jesse Pennant, 36, of Ringwood, N.J.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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