INTERVIEW WITH EDWARD KROLAK (’54)

By: Camellia Mukherjee (’12)

Ed Krolak (’54) talks with English major Charlene Becicka (’13) at 2011 English Homecoming Breakfast.

Edward Krolak, a teacher, military conscript, and sometime journalist, is a well-rounded Loras alum. Since graduating from Loras, Ed has done graduate work at UCLA, the University of Nevada-Reno, Indiana State University, Illinois State University, Northern Illinois University, and the University of Maine-Orono. Ed and his wife Pat celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in August 2011. Their three children, a son and two daughters, are respectively a geologist, a nurse, and a social worker. In 1987, he lived and taught in Norfolk, England, participating in the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program. His insights add a colorful perspective to Loras experience, especially bringing out the contrast between Loras College in 1954 and the Loras we are familiar with in 2011. Here, he talks about how the study of literature, writing, and theater as well as his experience with English culture has shaped him as a person. He taught in high schools and community college for 38 years before retiring in 1994. Pat and Ed have four grandchildren, one of whom is a junior at Loras and a Breitbach scholar--Patrick O’Grady. 


Camellia:
You emphasized the importance of drama in your College days. How did your involvement with the Loras Theater help shape your career as a teacher, and also as a reporter?

Ed: I have been blessed with three gifts: an appreciation of language and some ability to use it; an understanding of the power of detail; a memory born of random facts, figures, persons, places and their connectedness with the past and present; and a sense of humor which makes me pleasant to others, if a bit shallow in depth, but not narrow in breadth.

My experience on the stage at Loras and Clarke proved to myself that there is something useful I could be good at. An English teacher in my freshman year in high school insisted we memorize a hundred lines or so from Julius Caesar. That started it, and the development and expansion of my three gifts, like Topsy, "just growed." The plays I acted in while in college all had good scripts (from Shakespeare to Arthur Miller), memorable characters, and "relevant" (I don't like that word) themes. My interests in academic work were captured by the liberal arts subjects to which Loras is dedicated.  I think I know my limitations: profound science, math beyond long division, most things mechanical, and the anatomy of business. I do, however, have a healthy respect for persons accomplished beyond my limitations, but I remain suspicious of specialization overkill.

Most people have vicarious experiences.  I am a frustrated athlete, but I know about athletics from stud poker to cricket. My competence in that knowledge combined with my three gifts made sports and news reporting easy... My mentor in journalism was the Reverend Robert H. McKillip (RIP) who was a year ahead of my class and was the student leader in the Loras News Bureau of our time there.

I worked on the Lorian, read the Telegraph-Herald and The Witness and the Des Moines Register, and kept informed. I even ended up as a part-time reporter for our local newspaper and wrote over 100 columns for the Senior Lifestyle of that paper, which was the perfect platform for the three gifts mentioned earlier. (What oft was thought but ne'er so well expressed, I hope.)

So Loras College, my first foray from Pulaski Street in Peru, Illinois, was the right choice.

Camellia: What were the most memorable and challenging experiences of your teaching career?

Ed: I think "memorable" and "challenging," if not brothers, are at least first cousins. Above the main entrance to the LaSalle-Peru Township High School (11 years there) etched in stone are two thoughts:

Socrates: The Unexamined Life is not worth living.

Francis Bacon: The Sovereignty of Man lieth hid in Knowledge.

When a young teacher, it didn't take long for me to discover the importance of those thoughts.  From Socrates evolved having to remind students that certainly "Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but one opinion is not necessarily as good as another." From Bacon arises a corollary:  Knowledge, like Virtue, is its own reward.” A necessary distinction that all properly educated people discover is that making a living is only a secondary segment of living itself.  Involved in both is their relationship to Truth, but that is another, more complicated, goal. 

I used to tell my students that what I had to teach them might not make them a dime, but it would help them begin to respond to the question, "What in the world is Life all about, especially when it becomes troublesome and/or confusing? I think there is little doubt that making a living is pretty much uppermost in the minds of today's students. Only a dope would deny the need to "make a  living" (read "money"), but a colleague of mine who knew something about making money once told  me that in this country if you want to make money you can do so, but perhaps that is all you will do. Let's go back to Socrates and Bacon and think about what they said. Few people will entirely understand their statements, but that's because human beings are not perfectible. But if you ignore the statements completely you are probably headed for a train wreck.

As for composition and literature, the double entrees of digesting "English," here are two examples of the kind of thing to study and examine carefully to begin seeing what Socrates and Bacon have in mind. Consider, if you will, a pair of sonnets, one by Edgar Allan Poe, "Sonnet: To Science" and another by William Wordsworth beginning, "The world is too much with us...."

Perhaps the most memorable experience resulting from my teaching occurred one Sunday afternoon a few years ago when my wife and I met one of my former students in a public recreation area. This young woman was accompanied by a friend of hers whom we did not know.   She introduced her companion to us and then told her, referring to me: "This man changed my life."

O Frabjous Day! I did not pursue her comment, not risking my elation.  One day I might ask her about exactly what she meant. I only hope her meaning reflected something beneficial from Socrates and Bacon. It must have, right?

Camellia: You participated in the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program in 1987-88 academic year. How did teaching in England compare with teaching in the U.S.?

Ed: The Fulbright program is a swap. A teacher abroad swaps positions with an American teacher. It is not unusual for participants to swap housing as well. Teachers are paid by their home institutions with insurance coverage provided by the host school.

I exchanged positions with a lady who taught Communications in the General Studies department of the Great Yarmouth Further Education College in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. Elizabeth Mackenzie from GYC took classes in the English department at Illinois Valley Community College. The curriculum of FE colleges roughly parallels that of an American community college

The principle differences between the two are the number of terminal vocational courses (There are more of these in England than here). FE colleges also provide courses in preparation for degrees in British higher education in pretty much the same way as community colleges here do in "transfer" course work.

The biggest difference was in the testing for satisfactory achievement. We all know the grading power of American teachers. In Britain, however, a final comprehensive exam for the subject is prepared by an outside accrediting agency.  British students pretty much sank or swam on the results of that final exam.

Some modifications in student evaluation began in the time I was in Norfolk. I am not entirely familiar with all the modifications (I came home) but I understand that a portfolio of student achievement in their classrooms is now included with the results of that final exam in the overall assessment of student success, or lack of it.

Teaching itself there was not at all significantly different from what it is here. Still, I found myself teaching communication skills to a range of students whose goal is certification as a motor vehicle mechanic or a food service (Catering) "qualification." (Their term). I really do not know what the final student "grade" was because of that outside final exam, but I did not receive any complaints from the administration on how my students were prepared. Actually, I got along famously with almost every member of the staff that I met, largely because I had prepared for living in British society by familiarizing myself with life there during my own education here. Almost anyone can get along with Brits as long as you don't insist that Americans do things better so that we deserve to be the Leader of the Free World.

In all, the teacher exchange was one of the most enjoyable segments in my thirty-eight years in the classroom. Elizabeth Mackenzie had an equally enjoyable time in my slot. I am grateful for the opportunity.

Camellia: You have visited Loras during Homecoming over the years. What are the major changes that you have you noticed? What has remained constant over the years?

Ed: The biggest change since my degree year, 1954, is in a class by itself. Women, students, and faculty. I do not know all the reasons for their admission, but I trust all those who made it, and the Duhawks, have not complained. Besides, women are students, too, I am told. More about them later.

The Loras physical plant has nearly doubled over the years. The newest building during my campus days is Rohlman Hall. The subsequent additions of the science building, the Wahlert Building, the Learning Resource Center, Binz and Beckman Halls, the Alumni Center complex, San Jose Pool, the art facilities at the former Visitation Academy are all obviously helpful to the current students. The swimming pool would not have been necessary for me. I do not swim, but it's ok since I am told that Michael Jordan doesn't either, although I never perfected a jump shot.

The largely lay faculty, brought about by a priest shortage and broadening of the vision for the college I see as a source of stability in an increasingly complex world.

But for all these changes, the atmosphere, the spirit of the college is much deeper. The welcoming to the returning alumni on the part of current students and faculty is refreshingly important. There remain the ride up Loras Boulevard past old St. Joseph Hall and the welcoming figure of Bishop Loras which enable us to say, "I know this place," and we do.

I suppose the presence of the women students has deepened the joy of the place and appropriately softened its atmosphere.  Even Jesus had a mother at home.

Camellia: Is there anything from the modern Loras Experience that would have been beneficial when you were a student? If you could choose one thing from your college days to be incorporated in to the modern Loras College Experience, what would it be?

Ed: First, the availability of activities outside the classroom is much wider now than it was at mid-twentieth century. An issue of the Loras Magazine reveals student activity far beyond what we had both on campus and in the community. About the only Duhawks studying abroad were seminarians in Belgium or Rome who had already taken undergraduate degrees. Suffice to say that the ambience in our daily lives lay somewhere on a plane between restraint and confinement.  Details are discoverable in a copy of our student handbook, a golden color cover with pages about the size of a deck of cards. A copy must be available in the college archives along with back issues of the Lorian and the Spokesman, our literary magazine.

You might also seek out in the library a copy of Where My Hat Is and Other Stories of Loras College, written by the late Msgr. George Schulte, who, some say, invented chemistry and brought it fully operative into Hennessy Hall.

To temper the modern Loras experience toward my own days I would like the women students and faculty removed for about a week along with all mechanical devices powered by batteries or electricity with the exception of light bulbs and the organ in Christ the King Chapel. Everyone would then read the aforementioned  handbook followed by a prayer of thanksgiving honoring the date of its recession, whenever.

I think the whole experience would illustrate the progress that the College has made.

Pro Deo et Patria

Camellia: Do you have any suggestions for the current and future English majors looking to pursue a teaching career?

Ed: I will give you some suggestions that I found useful during my own time in the classroom. Circumstances may modify or alter some of these, but I think all of them would be helpful.

For undergraduates I think it is a good idea to prepare yourself for composition and literature teaching to be rather more broad than deep. Stout survey courses in English and American literature are a sound foundation.  These may include coursework in major writers like Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Milton, and, in American lit, writers like Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Emerson, Poe, on up to contemporary authors like Faulkner, and Hemingway. Count on faculty members for help in these choices. If you plan to teach, be familiar with certification requirements in your states.

For electives outside English inquire into humanities courses such as history, philosophy, a foreign language, and literary criticism. I think a sound familiarity with classical mythology (Greek and Roman) is especially helpful. With respect to combining courses in contemporary and "older" writers, I think it was Alexander Pope who advised "Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside."

In short, aim for at least an acquaintance with the "greats." Trust advice from the faculty. And inform the students in your classes that what you teach them will be less concerned with making a living than it will be with living itself. Human nature is not much different now than it was when we came out of the caves. Loras College hones it nicely.

 

 

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