Michael J. Kraus
Linda, Marty and Jane, Linda and Richard, Tammy and Todd, Josh, Travis and Cassidy, friends and colleagues of Mike, in the stunned disbelieve of these last several days each of us has recalled stories and moments, insights and comments, travels and meals and music with Mike. His 47 years were packed full, stuffed like a suitcase on the way back from England.
It would be impossible to list the highlights of his life because one would have to name thousands of moments of full engagement at concerts, films, family gatherings, museums, baseball games, and celebrations of friendship. It would be impossible to list the accomplishments of his career because one would have to name the titles of some 50 different courses he taught over the years, and the 16 papers he delivered. One would have to capture the insights and suggestions and corrections scribbled on editions of journals for the Wisconsin Institute, Academic Bulletin and North Central Accreditation drafts, and literally reams of student papers. One would have to name the thousands of students in whom he sparked an understanding of language and an appreciation of literature—but even more a recognition of their own value as human beings and thinkers and writers, students who learned to believe in themselves, to be confident in their own voices because of the way Mike praised and listened, challenged and cared. I cannot begin to name all of the interwoven threads of such a creative, vibrant, generous life. But for me, there is one golden thread woven everywhere that speaks the central theme of Mike’s life and knits together the diverse activities, interests and explorations. To speak that golden connecting thread, I turn to Parker Palmer’s words in his recent book, Let Your Life Speak. Parker says:
Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as ‘the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.’
My experience of Mike Kraus was always one of authentic selfhood. There was no façade, no mask, no putting on airs. You always got the real goods. He said what he believed, directly; often with evidence, reasons and citations, and also humbly. He told you what he thought. He was sometimes insightfully irreverent and creative in circumventing red tape, administrative approvals and things that were from his perspective distractions from the real point or the real work. He acted on his passions and interests. He went after his dreams. He cheered for and cursed the Cincinnati Reds because they were his team.
He lived truly—his authentic self. It took him a few years to fit together the pieces of his unique genius. There were days when Marty and Jane weren’t sure he’d make it through the Springs—clashes with the football coach, rearranging classrooms after midnight, a fire in the elevator, starting an underground newspaper—but he was learning about his own dedication to justice and how to couple it with strong reason and argument. He was learning how to express his trickster self—the humor that flashed out of him in that dry, delightful way.
Mike Kraus found himself as teacher and lived authentically his passion for language and literature, but the real passion was for students, especially for anyone who struggled to make it, the student with “hidden” gifts or seemingly insurmountable odds. Mike had a special connection with them. He created and loved to teach the remedial composition course. Over the last several days, we have heard students repeat again and again the proper refrain for the music of Mike’s teaching, “He made me see that I could do it; he changed my life.”
Mike Kraus found himself as writer and researcher and lived authentically his creative propensity for exploring with sharp insight the art of rock music, business in American literature, literature and baseball, the interconnections of aesthetics, values and culture. He regularly created his own hybrid disciplines and brought together whole fields of learning and life.
Mike Kraus found himself as friend and lived authentically the rare friendships that connected him with ties of interest, exploration, humor and fun with world-acclaimed musicians, nationally-recognized authors, high school buddies, and professional colleagues.
He found himself as son, and lived authentically his devotion to his parents, attentive, sometimes worried about their health, and very grateful. He found himself as brother, and left his sister Linda doing the dishes alone as often as he could get away with it. He found himself as father and grandfather and uncle, and lived authentically his rich relationships with Tammy and Todd, godson Travis, niece Cassidy and special joy in his life, Josh. Nothing delighted him more than sharing a trip to England with Josh, or pouring over Lewis and Clarke documents (yet another passion) with him at the St. Louis museum, or enjoying a day with family on the rides at Great America or Universal Studios.
He found himself as husband and lived authentically an amazing shared life with Linda—together driving across Wisconsin to another MAAP class, together driving across the United States to another concert, together flying across continents for another visit to England, together enjoying life—filling it to brimming over with friendships and singular moments shared deeply, simply the stuff of love…the kind of relationship symbolized in his last Christmas gift—a new spray bottle for ironing and a ticket for a cruise.
You know he wouldn’t want us to get mushy about this. Michael Kraus, thank you for teaching us how to live authentically, to live with wild passion, to live with joy as servant to others. Thank you for teaching us how to live with an open, loving heart.