When Blaine Krauss was asked to pick one teacher to travel with him to the White House later this month, he chose his go-to person.
"Mr. Renken and I connected immediately. His support was very enormous for me," said Krauss, 18. "As an artist you have plateaus and roadblocks you go through. He's the first person I go to."
"It's always important to me to keep the student-teacher relationship, but I would say the instant he graduates he is going to be one of my closest friends," said Keven Renken, chair of the theater department at Gibbs High School
A 20-year teaching veteran, Renken inspires fierce loyalty from his students, some of whom have gone on to perform on Broadway. One of his most famous graduates is Michael Lynche, who recently made the list of finalists on American Idol.
Parents also are inspired by Renken, praising him as a natural mentor.
Scott Crawford, 54, who has two sons in Gibbs' PCCA program, said he was impressed that Renken invited his younger son, Austin, 16, to perform with him on stage for a recent performance at the Back Door Theatre in Gulfport. Austin was the only student actor in the company.
Renken also organized a group of students, including Crawford's older son Jackson and Krauss, to raise $46,000 so they could travel to Scotland for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2009. They performed on many nights and weekends to raise the money.
"He knew what it would mean for the kids," Crawford said. "They just think he's fabulous."
Krauss' mother says Renken, who has been acting for 30 years, bonds with his students because he goes out of his way to bring out the best in them.
"I love him. He is the most awesome person," said Denise Wilson, 36. "He can see, easily, each child's strengths and weaknesses, and he pushes them in that direction. There is nothing he won't do for those kids."
For Renken, the trip to Washington includes a teacher recognition award from the U.S. Department of Education. He hopes that isn't the last kudo he gets from Krauss.
"I keep telling him," Renken said, "if you win the Tony Award, you've got to mention me."