News & Events

Herr Kramer, Renaissance Man

Spring 2016 Mhm CoverFrom the Spring 2016 issue of Mars Hill: The Magazine of Mars Hill University .

Article and introduction by Dr. Keith Kramer ’88 and the Rev. Kris Kramer ’88

During his 45 years on the faculty of Mars Hill College, so many people knew and referred to our dad with this endearment. The title he proudly used in his German language and culture classes connected him with his German scholarship as well as his own family heritage.

Our father, Bob Kramer, passed away quietly in September 2015, with our family at his side. We will always miss him, but we are proud of the unique man he was. It is a rare individual whose interests include a passionate blend of academics, athletics, and the arts, but that was our father.

We were blessed to call him father, and we were blessed to share him with the Mars Hill College community. We were pleased to be asked by Mars Hill, the Magazine to write an article about Dad. Now, we’d like to share a bit of his story.

Robert Kramer spent his formative years in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, the only son of a fireman and seamstress. He became the first member of his family to attend college and he quickly discovered a talent and interest in modern foreign languages, especially German, as he studied at Mississippi State University. He completed his undergraduate and graduate work there, fell in love with Connie Beth Noblin and married. Bob, Connie, and their 10-month-old son, Keith, arrived in Mars Hill in the summer of 1965 as Herr Kramer would begin his faculty position at Mars Hill College in modern foreign languages.

The Kramers lived in a rental house adjacent to Moore Auditorium for several years before ultimately building a home in Mars Hill. Living on campus afforded Bob, Connie, and their two boys the opportunity to interact with college students in a more personal way via sports and in the use of campus facilities.

Bob’s faculty tenure spanned over four decades and four changes of administration. He served under presidents Dr. Hoyt Blackwell, Dr. Fred Bentley, Dr. Max Lennon, and Dr. Dan Lunsford.

During his time as a faculty member, Herr Kramer was asked to be an assistant football coach by MHC coaches Dal Shealy and Don Henderson. He coached the JV team for a period and continued his association with the football team for approximately 30 years. Perhaps his proudest chapter with the Lions was coaching the defensive linemen in 1985 known as “the nasty bunch” as they won the SAC-8 championship and continued to play in the post season.

"He believed in us and so we believed in ourselves” said a former defensive lineman, Mike Cross. Herr Kramer was so fond of his players and students, engaging in conversations about their studies and other interests. He was even the best man in one of his students’ weddings many years ago. Bob and Connie would host the position players he coached at their home for supper each fall for what Connie referred to as “hee-man cheeseburgers.” He played a major part in helping hundreds of players complete their college degrees and he spent many evenings conducting study halls for those students who needed extra help. He frequented many athletic events during every season and was one of Mars Hill’s greatest fans, cheering for the Lions year round.

Herr Kramer also cultivated his relationships with the theatre department. He was known for taking roles in plays like “South Pacific,” and in C. Robert Jones’ beautiful “Mandy Lou” in which he played Uncle Oscar. He was especially proud of his starring role as the coach in “That Championship Season.” And, if he wasn’t in a show he was watching it.

Perhaps his greatest legacy related to the Mars Hill campus and community was his involvement in the development of the Visiting Artists and Lecturers Series. Under his leadership and direction, the college hosted an annual series of seven to ten events each year, bringing some of the most prestigious talent to Moore Auditorium that the campus has ever had.

He spent countless hours identifying talent, negotiating contracts, booking groups, and attracting them to the Mars Hill community. The Visiting Artists and Lecturers Series was arguably one the highest quality series of artistic performances at any small college in the country at that time. Acts included PDQ Bach, the Vienna Choir Boys, Peking Acrobats, Broadway shows, and the Atlanta Symphony, in addition to others.

In 1968, Herr Kramer and Ed Howard, a local businessman, traveled to the home of Bascom Lamar Lunsford with the proposal of a music festival on the campus of Mars Hill College, bearing Lunsford’s name. The Bascom Lamar Lunsford festival continues to this day on the campus, celebrating the mountain heritage of music and culture.

Another of Herr Kramer’s passions was film production and development. His interest in film led him to obtain more formal education in the film industry in Los Angeles. Later, he developed a popular course on campus, entitled “Film as an Art Form,” which allowed him to share his love of movies with students. He enjoyed the structure of this class because he saw the educational value in encouraging students to willingly and openly express themselves about film.

Herr Kramer loved to travel and truly had a passion for seeing the world. He was a firm believer that experiences elsewhere improved one’s perspective and worldview. He received an impressive three Fulbright scholarships for academic study. He spent extended time in Germany studying Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. He also led other group tours to Europe and the Far East. He was with a Mars Hill group outside the Forbidden City in Tiananmen Square, China, the day before the student uprising there in 1989. He longed to see the world and in so many somewhat subtle but wonderful ways, he brought the world back to Mars Hill.

Herr Kramer hosted several exchange students from France and Germany and he worked to develop a strong modern foreign language faculty that could offer language skills to music and business majors. These skills, he felt, would enhance the students’ global awareness. He initiated the installation of a dish on the roof of Cornwell Hall to enable the recording of international television to be used as part of the curriculum. He worked to create and modernize a language lab to insure the offerings for students were among the best in the state.

Through the years while Bob taught at Mars Hill, Connie taught elementary school in Madison County. Keith and Kris attended Mars Hill College, participated on athletic teams at the college and, coincidentally, both graduated in 1988.

Keith went on to attend medical school and currently is a cardiologist. He and his family live in Kingsport, TN. Kris pursued seminary post-graduate education and he became an ordained priest in the Church of England. He and his family live in Jacksonville, FL, where he is a chaplain.

Herr Kramer had a strong faith and he was always proud of his association with football coaches who he referred to as “fine Christian men.” He loved southern gospel music, especially a deep bass vocal. He enjoyed his affiliation with a Christian campus and the ability to participate in the journey of faith in young persons.

Retirement was gradual for Herr Kramer, who continued teaching as long as he could. Those who knew him well knew that he really did not want to stop teaching. It was hard to say goodbye and harder still to vacate his office in Cornwell Hall after so many years of dedicated service.

Once fully retired, Herr Kramer devoted himself fully to his remaining passions, namely sailing the world and spending time with his seven beloved grandchildren. He also seemed to have a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the place he made his home so many years earlier and he was fond of taking rides with Connie in Madison County.

From his two journeys to the South Pacific to his several trips to the fjords in Norway, Herr Kramer loved to watch the world float by from the deck ofa ship with Connie. It was on a ship off the coast of Norway, surrounded by grandchildren, that they would celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary with a toast of wine from Cana of Galilee.

His health declined rather suddenly and his mobility became an issue that would ultimately prevent Herr Kramer from being able to walk. He would still hold audience in his wheel chair at home football games with old players and students stopping by. His pain and discomfort led to major surgery and an extended time of convalescence. His strength would never return but he was able to come home for a few short days before his peaceful passing at Mission Hospital with his wife and sons at his side.

Our dad, Herr Kramer, was one of a kind. Dad was a true renaissance man. He inspired us by his constant desire for adventure. His internal diversity of art, sport, and travel served as our foundation growing up. Dad was very proud of us. He loved our children and our spouses. The spirit of adventure and his balance in his interests have remained a constant influence not only in our lives but also in the lives of our children. He will be missed but he will be easily remembered.