Reflections of Jerry Burns:
I feel very honored but humble in being asked to give a personal reflection. Mike Kraus over the years has been wonderful with collaborative projects, joint efforts, and special partnerships, and I am aware of at least a dozen people who have worked closely with him as a partner over the years.
The many people who have partnered with Mike over the years—with the Kinks, with the Honors Program, with the Harlaxton program, with Faculty Senate—know that it becomes much more than two people working together. Mike can always be counted on to do more than his fair share, but he also inspires others to do more as well, so the net effect is more than just “double coverage” (which his beloved Kentucky basketball team was so good at). The whole ends up being more than the sum of the parts, so in that division of labor there is a great multiplying effect.
One of the things Mike and I had in common was that we both spent a lot of time ON THE ROAD, with me commuting to Fond du Lac and Mike driving thousands of miles each year to our outreach sites in Madison, Janesville, Beloit—in Bemidji for all I know. Is it any wonder that one of his favorite novels was Jack Kerouac’s On the Road? (I’m holding up a copy priced at 95 cents, so you can tell I’ve been hanging on to it for a while as well.) Or, with all those hours behind the wheel, is it surprising that that when his old Dodge retired it had 260,000 miles on it? (As in most things, Mike outdistanced me—my old clunker had 80,000 fewer miles on it when it gave up the ghost.) He also drove for pleasure as well as business, going out on rural roads at night to be able to pull in WLEW, 700 AM, the Voice of the Cincinnati Reds. (How many of you have a Cincinnati station as a pre-set on your car radio?)
When someone drives as much as the two of us, there are going to be some lonesome highway sounds, and Mike and I—at different times and in different vehicles—experienced one of the lonesomest of highway sounds: the thump of rubber against the road. No, I don’t mean the sound of tires against asphalt, but the syncopated rhythm of the hose from the pre-pay gas station thumping on the expressway as you drive away with a full tank of gas—AND the hose and nozzle. It’s no consolation knowing there will be a welcome party waiting for you when you go back to pay the $42 late-return fee on the nozzle. When two people know that kind of thing about one another, it forms a special kind of bond!
Given our various shared experiences—both illustrious and ignominious—it is not surprising that on a few occasions I have even been mistaken for Mike. One night about five years ago I was working late at the college and was very tired, when a man walked up to me in the hallway. “Are you the English prof that teaches Literary Genres in the MAAP program in Milwaukee?” he asked. I admitted that I did teach there, and he proceeded to regale me with all the admiring comments he had heard about the teaching. He rhapsodized for about five minutes, heaping on accolades while my ego swelled and I became less and less tired. Finally, he indicated that he had to go. “But it was great to meet you, MR. KRAUS!” he said.
It’s a strange thing receiving a really great compliment intended for someone else. It’s a little like having someone deposit money in your checking account by mistake. You gotta give it back, you know—but it’s hard to let go. I finally did return the compliment to its rightful owner—three years later. By that time, it had accrued a little psychic interest for me, with the onset of forgetfulness.
But ever since then, I have resisted being mistaken for Mike Kraus, or even being compared to him.
- After all, what English teacher would want to be compared with someone who managed to read 700 books in one year, as Mike did in the year 2000? I don’t think I could manage that feat even if I were in solitary confinement—I’d find too many distractions. When I asked him how he did it, he said, “You got to be ruthless about it!” (Can you think of anyone to whom the word “ruthless” less applies than to Mike Kraus?)
- And what lover of England would want to be compared with someone who has traveled there 25 times? Recently, he and Linda scooted off to England for a weekend trip to see Ray Davies, with evidently no more duress and exertion than I would experience planning a trip to Beloit.
- And who would want to be compared with a teacher who several times received teacher evals of 5.0 out of 5.0?. (If you want to see my evals, you’ll have to subpoena the sealed court documents.)
- And who would want to be compared with someone who has been a regular topic of discussion by people asking, “What drives him to do what he does? What makes him function at such an incredibly passionate level?” We might like to think that people are asking that question about us as we approach them at the water cooler. They’re not. I know they’re not asking it about me. But I think there are whole schools of thought on what caused Mike to approach everything—not JUST the Kinks—with so much passion.
I hadn’t known at the beginning of the semester that I would be team-teaching two courses with Mike—in the tag-team format if you want to be technical about it. This was the first time he taught Literature and Film, which I inherited from him, but his list of goals and objectives numbers 24 items. I don’t know about you, but I’d have a hard time coming up with 24 goals and objectives for my whole life. And if I did, number 24 would probably be something very ho-hum and pedestrian like “Check dryer for lint before each use” or “Change furnace filter annually.” But Mike’s Number 24 is “to have fun while learning.”
In conclusion, I think this sums up Mike Kraus pretty well: to have 23 or so other things you’re doing—passionately, and somehow without getting frazzled (although, if you’ve seen his office lately you’d know he had every right to feel frazzled)—while having as your last (and lasting) goal “To have fun while learning.”
Mike, we love you and you will be missed for a long long time.
April 30, 2003