Broadwell's Bismarck beginnings: Woman at heart of CIA scandal was overachiever from early age

Paula Broadwell left an indelible stamp on her hometown, where she is remembered for drive, ambition and achievement. She was a sports standout and a Latin Club member. The valedictorian of her class, she was voted homecoming queen and played bot...

Paula (Kranz) Broadwell
Paula (Kranz) Broadwell

Paula Broadwell left an indelible stamp on her hometown, where she is remembered for drive, ambition and achievement.

She was a sports standout and a Latin Club member. The valedictorian of her class, she was voted homecoming queen and played both an elf in the Christmas pageant and violin in the school orchestra.

But her childhood also was marked by her parents' fractious divorce, a contentious split that resulted in a decade of squabbles over money, personal belongings and child support issues.

Broadwell, now of Charlotte, N.C., was voted "most likely to be remembered" by classmates at Century High School, where she graduated in 1991 - two decades before her affair with CIA Director David Petraeus led to his resignation.

Reconciling the woman in the news with the highly accomplished teen she knew is not difficult for Nancy Otterson, of Fargo, wife of former Century Principal Larry Otterson. She remembers Broadwell as an extraordinary personality destined for big things, though not of the brand connected to the Petraeus situation.


"I don't think there is a bad Paula," she said. "There's maybe one who has made some decisions that we wouldn't have wanted her to make."

Otterson's opinion appears to be widely shared by those who knew Broadwell and her family. Those willing to talk to an outsider about Broadwell focus on her accomplishments.

Since the scandal broke nine days ago, reporters from far and wide have shuffled through Bismarck searching for Broadwell's backstory, occasionally overstepping the town's gentility.

Last Monday was a school holiday, though Century High School was open for student meetings. Authorities were surprised and unpleased when they found that reporters had come in to wander, snapping pictures of the portrait of Broadwell's championship basketball squad that hangs over the portal, said Vice Principal Lee Ziegler.

National attention focused on one of Bismarck's native daughters who rose so high only to fall so fast.

Family ties

Paul and Nadene Kranz were married on Aug. 6, 1965, in Williston, N.D., and had their first child, Stephen, on Christmas Eve of the following year. Son Michael followed in 1968 and daughter Paula in 1972.

Paul Kranz coached basketball at Bismarck High School, and his wife was active in the city's arts community. They lived in a middle-class neighborhood on the banks of the Missouri River, and their home was one block from the Dakota Zoo.


Acquaintances describe both Paul and Nadene Kranz as strong-willed. Four days before Paula's ninth birthday in 1981, the Kranzes were granted a divorce, citing irreconcilable differences.

She got the house and the camper. He got their small farm and its cattle.

They settled on joint custody, with the children living primarily with their mother. Paul Kranz was to pay $500 a month in child support.

Though the divorce was uncontested, documents at the Burleigh County Courthouse show the Kranzes battled over issues for the next 10 years, finally settling after Paula turned 18 and left for West Point.

Paul Kranz reduced his child support payments when his son Michael moved into his house in 1984. Nadene Kranz wanted to hold him to the original amount and went to court to get the rest of the money. She eventually got a judge to take the child support payments out of his paycheck.

A dispute over $500 she said he owed her began in September 1984 and wasn't resolved until December 1991.

Paul Kranz had his complaints, too. He began writing the court in November 1982 to say that his wife wouldn't return personal property of his. Among the items were a family heirloom sausage maker, his accordion from childhood and his golf gear.

Burleigh County District Court Judge Benny Graff finally issued an order that the oldest son, Michael, should look in the attic, under the steps and in the garage for the items and take them to his father.


Paula moved on

If her parents' testy relations weighed on her, Paula didn't show it. She spoke well of both parents. Her mother made scrapbooks chronicling her accomplishments, and Paula worked hard in basketball, following in her father's strides.

Julie Stavn, who coached her in track and cross-country, said she didn't think the divorce had a negative impact on Paula.

"She was a remarkable young lady," Stavn said. "She was so strong and confident and athletically gifted."

Paula Broadwell's mother has moved from Bismarck to Boise, Idaho. Her father is visiting Florida, a man answering the door at his house said Friday.

Broadwell declined to be interviewed for this story.

Excelling at school

Paula entered Century High School in the fall of 1988 with a poofy perm that was the style of the day. She was elected president of her class that year and the next. She had a prom date every year and was elected homecoming queen as a senior.


"As a high school friend, classmate and teammate, Paula was a leader: respectful to others, inspiring, and hard-working in her roles as student, citizen, class leader and athlete," said Shelly Johnson, who now lives in Boston.

Paula played violin in the school orchestra and was elected president of the North Dakota State Student Council, an annual gathering of high achievers from across the state.

By the end of her senior year, she'd held nine leadership positions at Century and had been involved in 24 extracurricular community activities.

"She was determined to leave things better than she found them. And she did," said Kristen Tjaden, who now lives in Atlanta.

If there was a storybook moment in her teen years, it came her senior year when Century went to the state girls' basketball tournament in Jamestown, in the equivalent of a wild-card berth.

In the first two games, Paula rained in 55 points, setting a school record of 34 in a single game. In the third and deciding game against St. Mary's High School on Nov. 17, 1990, she was sidelined late in the game by foul trouble.

"It was left to some teammates to step forward," the Bismarck Tribune reported the next day. "And step forward they did."

With 14 seconds remaining, Linda Davis hit a two-pointer and Century won the title, 53-51. Paula was named by the media to the all-tournament team.


Did she miss out?

Century High School has its own hall of fame. Of the thousands of students the school has graduated since it opened in 1975, 13 are honored there, including Broadwell.

She was in the first group inducted when it was established in 2006, and her father presented her at the ceremony. "Passion. Intensity. Vision," says the headline on her portrait.

In the 1991 edition of the Century "Spirit" yearbook, Paula got a full-page profile, the only student getting such attention.

It noted that she was so busy with activities that "her schoolwork and friendships suffered a little from the lack of time she was able to put into them."

And the article posed the question: Was Paula so busy that she missed out on being a teenager?

"I don't think I missed out on being a teenager," Paula replied. "But through the many opportunities I've been given, I've lived life to the fullest - giving the best that I had so the best would come back."

This article originates from the Charlotte Observer and is being republished here with permission.


Reporter Mark Washburn can be reached at . Researcher Marion Paynter contributed to the report.

Have a comment to share about a story? Letters to the editor should include author's name, address and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words. All letters are subject to editing. Send a letter to the editor.

What To Read Next
Get Local