Talented. Stylish. Graceful. Sophisticated. These are a few of the words one might use to describe Mieke Cras. This dedicated wife and mother of three comes from a small town in Belgium, and although uprooted from her homeland, she has successfully settled in and made a home for her family in Kingwood. Cras first visited the United States in 1987, on what would become one of many trips to visit with her future husband, Philippe. Philippe was then running First International Timber Sales on Stonehollow Drive in Kingwood. His family was in the timber business, so it was a natural fit for him. The couple was married in 1988 and spent the next nine years traveling back and forth between the U.S. and Belgium. They had three daughters during that time. "Philippe felt that it was important for them to be born here," said Cras. So she came back to the states for the birth of each daughter. She wears a beautiful pin on her blouse and when complimented, says, "That's my Nathalie, explaining that her husband had given her a similar gift for the birth of each of their children. Local residents may know Cras from seeing her at Homewood Suites by Hilton. The Crases own the hotel and surrounding property, located off U.S. Highway 59, just north of Kingwood Drive. The family has homes in both Kingwood and in Belgium, and Cras travels back every few months to visit with family and let her girls get reacquainted with their schoolmates. Cras grew up in a close-knit family. Her father was an attorney, in a specialty that she says does not translate well. He was an advisor, or counselor, in all matters of family law, a "notaris" to the people. The position, she explained, was one that required a nomination from the King of Belgium. He was well-respected by the townspeople and Cras said that the position came with certain expectations. "We had to set an example," she said. She recalled an occasion when she was sent to spend some time with a French family, to learn to speak French more fluently. Belgium is linguistically divided, with some primarily speaking Dutch, or Flemish as they call it, and others speaking French. There is also a smaller, German community. Cras speaks all three languages, as well as English and Spanish. She loved helping her mother in the kitchen and also her father in his office, which was attached to their home. "When I was small, I got a little, white stove with two burners," she said. "I stood at my little table in the kitchen with my mother and I made meatballs and potatoes." When her mother made the announcement that lunch was ready, Cras and her brothers would eat what she had prepared, and her parents would eat what her mother prepared. Cooking is still one of her passions. Her family sits down together at dinner almost every evening, and they also have breakfast together, before Philippe drives the girls to school downtown. Nathalie, 17, Evelyne, 15, and Pauline, 13, attend a private school in Houston. They all went to St. Martha's Catholic School until the oldest was too old to go there any longer. "It's a good match for us," said Cras, of private school. She explained that since they had all spent time at school in Belgium before coming to the U.S. permanently, the girls were accustomed to a small school. The coursework they have is demanding, but the overall setting is closer to what they are comfortable with. Education is very important to her for her children, but not just the traditional kind. She explained that experiencing new places, different people and various cultures is as important as what can be learned from a book. Although there are times when they feel they don't quite fit in with their peers, the girls have adjusted very well. Cras first met her husband when they were both serving in Rotaract, a Rotary-sponsored service club for young men and women ages 18 to 30. "I became president of a club like that and Philippe was president of his club. That is how we met." They knew each other as friends for quite a while before dating. She said that since they had that friendship first, with no expectations or worries about what to say or how they looked to each other, it made the next step easy. "We had that friendship first ... working together, organizing. It worked out really well." She attended school and college in Belgium, studying in Ghent, near her home town of Lovendegem. She followed in her father's footsteps and became an attorney in the same field. "I practiced law in Belgium for four years, until the day I was married." Cras said that she felt strongly that she could not handle a family with two careers. She does spend a couple of days a week at the hotel with her husband, helping with some of the paperwork. She did all of the decorating for the hotel and imports Belgian chocolates, which along with their famous Texas-shaped Belgian waffles, bring an international flair to the warm and welcoming hotel. Cras is also vice president of the International Ladies Club and is a member of the Kingwood Garden Club, a French club, a French book club, Women of Rotary-Humble and several Houston museums. Philippe is still involved in business in Belgium and helps his father with the family business when he returns home. "Coming here has opened a whole, new world for me," said Cras. "There are so many people from other countries ... you see things differently and become much more tolerant. People here are more friendly." She feels that she was privileged to have had the kind of childhood she knew, but that with privilege comes responsibility. As for what she and her husband want to pass down to their children, her response was simple. "Our goal is to keep what our parents have given us and even make it better." Photo of Mieke Cras by Kathy Parks

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