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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 11, 2006

BOB KRAUSS | 1924-2006
Krauss told Hawai'i's stories for 55 years

His final column revealed an undying spirit
A tribute to Bob Krauss
KHNL News 8's video of Bob Krauss
Bob Krauss photo gallery
 •  Krauss' tales sailed on Pacific breezes
 •  55 years of Isle news, in Bob's words
 •  'Scribbler of stories' loved Island ways
 •  The many achievements of Bob Krauss

By Beverly Creamer and Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writers

Bob Krauss hung on to his candlestick telephone 40 years after he got it.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | June 27, 2006

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Krauss and fellow Advertiser journalist Esme Infante Nii celebrated the paper's 150th anniversary in July.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | 2006

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Krauss said his stories often began with a phone call.

ADVERTISER LIBRARY PHOTO | 1967

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Bob Krauss, the irrepressible optimist who for nearly 55 years has been one of the enduring voices of The Honolulu Advertiser, died yesterday from complications of triple bypass heart surgery.

Krauss, who joined The Advertiser in 1951, greeted each day as a new adventure and carried his readers along with him. He faced life with enthusiasm and high spirits from the battlefields of Vietnam, to the surf-swept decks of the Hokule'a, and most recently an operating room at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center.

"This is a story about my next adventure. It's called open-heart surgery," he wrote in his final column on Aug. 27. "If it works, I'll come back in about three months. Wish me luck. It's what keeps me going. Goodbye for now."

He had no plans to retire.

Even the home he completed four years ago on the Big Island wasn't going to have a full-time occupant anytime soon, said his daughter, Ginger Krauss.

"He said in about 20 years he was going to move there," she said yesterday. "But he'd come over for vacations whenever he could and we'd do Thanksgiving and Christmas. He really liked it over there."

Krauss told the story of modern Hawai'i through the eyes of its people and their cultures, filling his years with adventures for himself and his readers.

Home-grown escapades in his early days included launching a raft Kon-Tiki style down the Ala Wai in 1954. He tromped the lava fields of the Big Island, tracing the steps of missionaries. He explored Pacific culture through the work of archaeologist Yoshi Sinoto and Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug.

He wrote and published more than a dozen books that have sold well more than 150,000 copies and was working on a new manuscript at the time of his death.

Advertiser President and Publisher Mike Fisch called Krauss a "dynamo, and one of the warmest and nicest guys I've ever worked with," saying his love of Hawai'i's people and their stories had been reflected in his columns for more than half a century.

"His enthusiasm for life and our profession was infectious. In 1999 just before the dawn of the new millennium, he came to see me to talk about what plans I had for the newspaper for the next 50 years! He was animated as always, telling me all the things he thought I should consider, and he was on target with most of his comments."

Fisch said Krauss had also explained his need for bypass surgery.

"He told me he wanted to live his life as he had been at full throttle," Fisch said. "We're saddened that it wasn't successful and that he won't be there to tell us when his favorite birds are back or some other great story of an ordinary person doing extraordinary things."

When Krauss turned 65, he and Advertiser editors came to an unspoken agreement. It was a story her dad loved to tell, says his daughter.

"He went in to the editor's office, and he thought he was going to be asked to retire," she recalls. "After a lot of hemming and hawing on both sides, Dad wasn't sure how to tell them he wasn't going to retire and the other fellow didn't know how to tell him they didn't want him to retire."

MINISTER'S SON

The son of a Lutheran minister, Krauss was born Jan. 14, 1924 in Plainview, Neb., and attended schools in Kansas. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943, serving three years as a radio operator on a landing ship tank in the Pacific. Krauss arrived in Hawai'i in 1951 with a journalism degree from the University of Minnesota and a hankering to uncover the yarns of Hawai'i.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Oswald Stender called Krauss' passing a "a great loss."

"He was such a great person and a bank of information. He knew everything about everybody, and I don't know if there'll ever be another reporter like him who talked about a wide range of issues and knew everything there was to know about Hawai'i and the people."

Bill Morris, whom Krauss met back in those early days, remembers Krauss asking him about the early beach boys.

"He was interested in all the different beach boys like Chick Daniels, who ran the beach at the Royal, and Turkey Love and Curly," says Morris. "I told him a story about Panama Dave who would say things like, 'You know that Einstein he's a mathamadigal genius.' He loved to hear stories about them and just thought they were comical. In his really early columns you'll find all those stories."

Morris, a former chairman of the board of Bishop Museum, also remembers the dashing figure Krauss cut as he strode down Bishop Street in pursuit of some off-beat story or another.

"He wore white socks and those white pants and white shorts a lot of times. He was always walking up and down Bishop Street, and we'd run into each other all the time."

DeSoto Brown, Bishop Museum archivist, called Krauss "a very passionate person about what he believed in and loved.

"He was also irascible and increasingly cantankerous, too, as he got older, and he admitted it," said Brown, who said he and Krauss shared the same historical and cultural interests.

"I would like to say, though, that he didn't argue with me or treat me badly. I felt that he acknowledged what I had to offer, and didn't talk down to me. I knew that Bob wasn't going to be difficult with me or cause me any trouble. And I knew he could, so that's why I was grateful."

Working with Krauss was like getting to know a "mythic character," said Brown, who had read Krauss columns all his life before his association with the columnist began about a decade ago. The two collaborated on several projects, such as Krauss' book on the Falls of Clyde, the last book Krauss saw published.

Krauss had a special passion for the four-masted square-rigger and campaigned to keep it from being sunk as a breakwater off Vancouver Island in 1963. From writing about it to devoting thousands of dollars to its restoration, his energy kept the old sailing ship alive as a museum anchored in Honolulu Harbor.

Blair Collis, vice president for public operations for the Bishop Museum, who oversees the Maritime Center for the museum, said the community has lost a great friend.

"We're deeply saddened by his passing," said Collis, speaking for staff at the museum and the center. "He was such a great friend to the museum, the Hawai'i Maritime Center and the Falls of Clyde, having championed bringing the Falls of Clyde back to Hawai'i, and having put a lot of his blood, sweat and tears into bringing that ship the last four-masted, steel-hulled ship in the world back to life."

The Hawai'i Maritime Center, which offers educational, historical and cultural exhibits and programs and oversees the Falls of Clyde, was able to hold a mortgage-burning ceremony in 2005 to mark the end of a campaign to eliminate the center's $1.4 million debt thanks in large part to Krauss' $100,000 donation.

Collis said the two spoke recently about having a roast in Bob's honor. The roast had to be rescheduled because of the surgery, but Collis said Krauss was excited about the prospect.

"We were going to do a frying of Bob Krauss," said Collis. "He had the perfect personality for it. He was all eager to do it. He was laughing his head off when I suggested it to him. That's the kind of guy he was willing to do anything for the center."

INSPIRATION TO ALL

First and foremost, Krauss was a journalist.

"After nearly 55 years on the job, he still got excited about every story he pursued," said Mark Platte, Advertiser Vice President/Editor. "He displayed a curiosity about the world and his craft that was inspirational to everyone who worked around him. You couldn't help but get caught up in his enthusiasm when he told you about something he was planning for his next column."

Platte called Krauss "one of a kind."

Ron Jacobs, who worked at KGU Radio in the 1950s when the station was located atop The Honolulu Advertiser building, remembered the "skinny Mainland kid who banged out stories on his Royal manual typewriter" as the first journalist in Honolulu to make a name for himself by doing any stunt imaginable to write about.

"He was the first print guy in Hawai'i who ever made any kinds of moves," said Jacobs. "He walked around the whole island of O'ahu once without a wallet. Another time he and KGMB-TV personality Kini Popo launched a raft of strapped-together flotsam and jetsam and beer cans on the Ala Wai Canal, and it floated down the Ala Wai at slow speed while people on both sides of the bank cheered."

Another time, Krauss donned scuba gear and interviewed a man at the bottom of the Tahitian Lanai swimming pool, Jacobs said.

Mike Middlesworth, who served as managing editor at The Advertiser through the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s, said he remembers being welcomed warmly by Krauss when he arrived in 1973, and how Krauss' understanding of Hawai'i and its people were a key element to his own understanding of the state.

"Over the years he gave me a lot of insights," said Middlesworth from his Big Island home. "He was a master at finding interesting stories about ordinary people and had friends in all walks of life, from bank presidents to homeless people."

Former Advertiser columnist Eddie Sherman, who started at the paper in 1955, just a few years after Krauss, said he was shocked to learn Krauss had died.

"He's irreplaceable," said Sherman. "He was one of a kind. I always admired his keen interest in people."

Sherman said although he and Krauss worked side by side for years, Krauss was in truth a private person.

"He could be gregarious, but he was kind of a loner in a way. We were friends and colleagues, but I never got close to him. He didn't socialize. To my way of thinking, it was like he was in his own world. He had a propensity for living in another era."

Sherman said he enjoyed working with Krauss, who jumped at every opportunity to cover an unusual story.

"We covered some stuff together," said Sherman. "He and I both covered the arrival of Elvis in Hawai'i. Another time, back in the '60s I think, Bob and I went to the opening of a hotel in Dallas, and Duke Kahanamoku was along. And one of the bits we did was a 'man in the street.' We'd stop passersby and tell them we were from Hawai'i and ask them what they knew about Hawai'i like what we used for money, and they'd say coconut shells and things like that. We got a very funny story out of it."

Advertiser reporter Mike Leidemann, who spoke with Krauss Saturday morning, said he was groggy but upbeat even though he'd had a second surgery after his bypass Thursday.

"He said there had been some bleeding, and that he had been operated on again and was back in intensive care," Leidemann said. "He said he was looking forward to getting out of ICU and having visitors in his room next week. I'm sure he was looking forward to getting out of the hospital and back to writing his column."

Krauss always relished a funny story.

Yesterday morning, just a few hours before he died, Krauss entertained one of his nurses with the story of his high school band Cannibal Krauss and the Congo Kittens for which he played trumpet but badly, he admitted.

A friend, John Verbinski from Volcano, created a nature walk through ferns in front of his house, and Krauss often joined Verbinski in mapping old trails on the Big Island, said his daughter. "Dad walked two or three miles a day up until he went into the hospital, and he'd talk about how people would stop him and say, 'Good luck with the surgery.' We have a stack of letters from well-wishers that we haven't opened yet that he was going to read when he got home."

'BONDS OF ALOHA'

Nona Beamer remembers meeting Krauss on a beach in Kawai'ahae almost a half a century ago when her sons were toddlers.

"He was trying to see Hawai'i and mingle with the people," Beamer remembers, "and we were sitting on the beach and he just happened upon us and we've been life-long friends."

Just in the past few months Krauss contributed $500 to a scholarship at Kamehameha Schools that Beamer launched more than 30 years ago for graduating seniors to pursue an interest in the culture.

"He was the type of person who believed in helping people," she said. "His whole life was built on human relationships and getting to know people and feeling bonds of aloha with people."

Beamer had been the one to dedicate Krauss' home on the Big Island, and he had quizzed her about the fire goddess, Pele, as he pondered what to name his new home.

"He had wanted it to be a name in the Pele family, and we were in the process of thinking about how tumultuous that might be because she might show up in his backyard," she said.

Despite his delight in those kinds of stories, Krauss' heart was deeply embedded in the cultural life of the Pacific. He revered the work of Sinoto and Kenneth Emory and wrote about their observations and discoveries in a seminal book about Emory and as part of the fabric of daily journalism at The Advertiser.

As Hawai'i changed through the last half of the last century, so did Krauss. An unapologetic cheerleader of growth and tourism in his early days, he gradually came to believe that uncontrolled development would ruin the place he had come to love and call home.

What never changed, however, was his unabashed enthusiasm for every new day.

"What's fun is not knowing what's going to happen," he once told a friend, describing his outlook each morning. "For years I'd look in the mirror and say, 'I wonder who the hell you're going to be today?' "

In addition to his daughter, Ginger, Krauss is survived by his sons, Buck Mickelsen of Maui and Robbin Mickelsen of Florida; four grandsons, Dillon Dean, and Ryan, Adam and Peter Mickelsen; two sisters, Marie Vogel of Kansas and Gertrude Onstad of California; and two brothers, Eugene Krauss of Iowa and Karl Krauss.

Funeral services are pending.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com and Will Hoover at whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.