Author: Tom Kitts
Professor and Author Mike Kraus of Marian College Dies

Michael J. Kraus, Associate Professor of English and co-chair of the English Department at Marian College and renowned rock music authority, suffered a fatal heart attack in a Memphis, Tennessee hospital this past Thursday. Kraus, 47, was returning from New Orleans, this year’s site of the joint conference of the Popular Culture and American Culture Associations where he had presented a paper entitled “London, London: The Magical World of Ray and Dave Davies.” He is survived by his wife Linda, his parents Martin E. and Jane Ditter Kraus, a sister Linda and brother-in-law Richard Schrage, godson Travis and niece Cassidy, and step-children Tammy and Todd Thornton, Todd’s fiancé Janice Cole, and step-grandson Joshua.

Kraus, a graduate of St. Mary Spring High School and Marian College, had become a regular presenter at the joint pop culture conference, which attracts thousands of scholars from around the world. Over the last half dozen years, Kraus had presented some 16 papers at various conferences around the United States and in Europe. He is particularly known for his work on the English rock group The Kinks. He explained his fascination with the band: “One listen to The Kinks (this was in 1976) and I was hooked; I had found the band I was looking for: literate (many Kinks fans are English professors/majors), adventurous conceptually and stylistically, great sense of humor and compassion, truly ‘not like everybody else,’ as one of their songs goes.” He was scheduled to discuss the work of The Kinks this August in Ireland at Trinity College, Dublin.

Last fall, Kraus co-edited Living on a Thin Line: Crossing Aesthetic Borders with The Kinks, a collection of new essays and interviews that celebrated the enduring boldness and authority of The Kinks’ art. The book, which featured two essays by Kraus and six interviews which he conducted with members of the band, brought together scholars, journalists, and fans from across the United States and Europe. One critic said that Living on a Thin Line makes “an invaluable and essential contribution to the study of The Kinks, a contribution that both respects the group’s work and is not afraid to examine it critically.”

Dr. Thomas Kitts, co-editor of the book with Kraus and professor of English at St. John's University, NY, responded to Professor Kraus’s passing: “Mike made an extraordinarily contribution to the study of rock music, especially The Kinks. His work on The Kinks is seminal. Scholars will build on it for years to come and apply some of his methodologies to other pop musicians as well. But, in addition to his writings, I hope Mike is remembered as a first-rate editor – and I don’t just mean that he knew where to put the commas or what the appropriate word was. Mike knew how to work with authors and how to make suggestions for revisions without offending the writer. This is more difficult than can be imagined. Mike knew just what to say and what tone to assume. I saw well-established authors work hard to please Mike, not from fear of criticism or rejection, but because they wanted to reward the trust he placed in them.”

Doug Hinman, publisher of Rock ’n’ Roll Research Press, issued the following statement: “Mike was a tremendously kind-hearted man and I admired his unbending love of The Kinks and the enthusiasm that he brought to Living on a Thin Line. He had an amazing ability to pass his love of his subject on to others. He will be deeply missed.”

More locally, Professor Kraus’s dedication and contribution to Marian College was exemplary. After graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where at the time of his death he was a Ph.D. candidate, Kraus returned to his alma mater in 1986 as an adjunct professor and director of Marian’s Writing/Research Lab. He became a part-time associate professor in 1988, a full-time associate professor in 1990, and later co-chair of the English Department. “Mike Kraus was a gift to this Marian College community for 15 years,” said Richard I. Ridenour, M.D., President of Marian. “Mike Kraus touched the lives of everybody he met, and certainly everybody who experienced even a part of Marian College. By his life, he defined our core values long before we figured them out. It was clear that he went above and beyond for everyone.”

The College’s deep trust and admiration for Professor Kraus and his dedication to Marian are evident by the important service positions that he was offered and accepted. He twice was president and vice president of Faculty Senate. He was a member of the Curriculum and Educational Standards Committee, the Human Resources Committee, the Office of Student Life Sudden Death/Suicide Steering Committee, the Values Task Force, the Arts and Humanities Division Mission Statement and Values Curriculum Committee, the Communications Major Committee, the Faculty Development Committee, and the Planning and Budgeting Council.

Professor Kraus constantly sought ways to develop Marian campus life as well. He merged his love for the College and his passion for The Kinks when he invited Dave Davies, lead guitarist and co-founder of The Kinks, to perform at Marian’s Common Grounds Coffee House in 1999. The event marked the first and still only solo performance of Davies without any band accompaniment. The evening was preserved on Davies’s cd, Solo Live, on which Kraus opens the album with his introduction. Kraus helped to bring Davies and his band back to Fond du Lac in May 2002 for a performance at the Bravo Performing Arts Center. Upon hearing news of Professor Kraus’s passing, Dave Davies posted the following message on his website: “This is a terrible shock. I am so devastated by this tragedy. Mike was such a kind, sensitive, thoughtful, intelligent, wise person; and always a perfect gentleman. My thoughts and prayers are with Linda, Mike, his family and friends on this sad, sad day.” In addition, Kraus was instrumental in bringing authors to campus, most recently, acclaimed poet and author Gary Gildner.

“Mike has been an honored and revered member of the Marian community since 1986,” says Sheryl Ayala, the College’s vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty. “He has touched the lives of all who knew him with his energy, his intellect, his innovation, his love for life, and his love for his students. We have all learned from Mike, and he will continue to touch us all. We will miss him dearly.”

Perhaps above all his professional activities, however, Professor Kraus enjoyed the time he spent with his students – in and out of the classroom. Kraus taught a variety of traditional college English selections, but was always seeking ways to engage and challenge students. He developed courses on the literature of rock music and, at his death, was preparing to offer a new course on literature and baseball. Students responded enthusiastically to Kraus’s gentle wit and dry sense of humor, his passion for learning and mentoring, and his generosity. Clearly, students wanted to be around Professor Kraus. As a result, they recruited Kraus to be their faculty advisor for several activities, including the Student Senate’s Arts and Humanities Society, The Sabre (the student newspaper), and 45 South (the campus literary magazine). Additionally, he led several study abroad groups to Harlaxton College, England. It came as no surprise when in 1994 he was awarded the Underkofler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award, the College’s highest teaching honor.

“Mike and I had many conversations about teaching,” says his Kinks collaborator Tom Kitts. “He approached teaching the way he approached music, writing, and baseball – with a deep passion and enthusiasm. We had many long-distance phone discussions that went well beyond what we expected whenever any of those topics came up. But Mike was tremendously informed about a wide range of things. I learned a lot from him, especially about how to retain passion and how to work with people. Mike brought out the best in those that worked with him. I never felt less than absolutely comfortable with Mike. He never used his fine and spirited intellect to intimidate anyone.” Kitts also reported that within hours of Mike’s passing that he had received many expressions of condolences from pop music scholars and rock musicians from around the United States, Canada, England, and Germany.

Or, as Sr. Marie Scott, Marian’s campus minister and a member of the Arts & Humanities faculty with Kraus, put it, “Everyone dies, but not everyone lives, and Mike Kraus lived. He lived in his own gentle, quaint way. Most of us live wanting to get it right, and Mike in his short time with us did get it right.”

With all his professional commitments, Professor Kraus always made time for his family. He and Linda, his wife of almost twelve years, spent extensive time traveling throughout the United States and Europe, especially England. A frequent companion with the couple was Kraus’s step-grandson Joshua, with whom Kraus was especially close. For three seasons Kraus coached Josh’s Fond du Lac little league team and for one season his basketball team. In so many ways, Professor Kraus will be profoundly missed.

Viewing is scheduled for this Tuesday from 4:00 – 9:00 p.m. at the Stayer Center on the campus of Marian College. The funeral Mass will held in the same location on Wednesday, 11:00 a.m. Donations for a scholarship fund in honor of Professor Kraus can be sent to his family or Marian College, 45 S. National Avenue, Fond du Lac, WI 54935.