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Eugene DeGruson Memorial Service
(June 22, 1997)

Return to the Eugene DeGruson Collection.
Program notes | Eulogy by Charles Cagle
Comments by John Darling | Graveside remarks | Other Memorials


For Mark, Wylie, and Tom

Edging through the snow
head to wind
my brother's three small sons
dog after him.
The pond they seek still beds
an eight-pound bullhead
my father is said
to have stocked there
the year before his death.

On such a day as this
(although I sense it cannot be)
dreams should become reality.
They chop through ice
this morning not for thirsting cows
but for a glimpse of cat
mud-deep in his season's sleep,
their believing breaths
breaking shorter and shorter
in the icy air.

In Memory of

Eugene H. DeGruson

Age 64 Years
Born - October 10, 1932
Girard, Kansas
Entered Rest - June 18, 1997
Joplin, Missouri


2 P.M. Sunday June 22, 1997
McCray Recital Hall
Pittsburg State University
Eulogy - Charles Cagle
Remarks - Dr. John Darling
Little Balkans Players
Jan O'Connor, Steve Meats, Janice DeChicchio Saket,
Alex Barde, Delma Smith, J.T. Knoll
Organist - Susan Marchant
Southeast Kansas String Quartet
Paul Carlson, Bruce Daniel, Carol Hoyt, Martha Baxter
Tom DeGruson - Don DeGruson
Wylie DeGruson - Mark DeGruson
Eric DeGruson - Darin DeGruson
Final Resting Place
Union Cemetery
A life celebration of Gene DeGruson at
the Hotel Stilwell following the
Graveside Service
Services by
Brenner Mortuary - Pittsburg, Kansas


Delivered by Charles Cagle in McCray Hall,
Pittsburg State University, Sunday, June 22,1997

A rather astonishing thing has happened since Gene left us--a sort of phenomenon that has occurred all over the University campus, the city of Pittsburg, and almost certainly in many places in the state of Kansas. People have bumped into each other and blurted out to each other the same thing: "It's terrible--I've just lost one of my best friends." But that's not really the phenomenon I mean--the phenomenon is that there is no hyperbole in those remarks, that indeed many people feel exactly this way: that the death of one man has produced such a depth of personal loss in so many. And, I confess, I am one of them. I have lost a friend of 36 years, and it would be impossible for me--as well as for many of you listening--to count the priceless memories we have of this remarkable individual.

He was a teacher, an actor, a musician, a poet, a scholar, an historian, a political and social activist, and an accomplished after-dinner speaker. In fact, Gene would give you a before-dinner speech if that was what you wanted. He was like that, selfless and giving, always ready to accommodate himself to the needs of others. It is for this reason he was always answering his phone in his office with these words: "Hello, this is Gene DeGruson--what may I do for you?"

As a teacher he served as many of his university colleagues have not, in one of the more difficult trenches of Academe: high school. From 1954 to 1958 he taught speech and drama in Topeka's largest high school, Highland Park, working summers on a master's degree here at what then was Kansas State College of Pittsburg. In 1960 he joined the English Department faculty here, then in 1963 joined the library staff where, in 1967, he was asked to establish a Southeast Kansas Collection. A less dedicated person would have done only that--but "less dedicated" is an alien phrase when describing Gene. He threw himself into the work and that combined with his keen scholarship produced a stellar example of archival treasures, drawing authors and scholars and researches from coast to coast to the third floor of Axe Library.

As an actor, he was dedicated to the theatre from his college student years. He both directed and acted in numerous Tent-by-the-Lake theatre productions here at PSU, and for the 1961 season he directed a production of Moliere's The Imaginary Invalid, using his own translation front the French. In 1975 he adapted Harold Bell Wright's first novel, That Printer of Udell's, into a melodrama, which he directed for the Pittsburg Centennial celebration. In the 1970s he formed a reader's theatre, musical group known as The Little Balkans Players who, under Gene's great energy and enthusiasm, romped its way for well over a decade through southeast Kansas.

That was the lighter side of Gene DeGruson, but there was deeper side. Behind that infectious laugh of his and merry wit, there was a very serious scholar indeed. He was a bibliographer of the first rank, a historian who never weighed history by facts alone but who transfused archival information with folklore and the rich color of human nature. He especially loved the culture of southeast Kansas, and he mined it as deeply as his father and others had mined the same land for coal. He took great personal satisfaction in telling the world about the history and heritage of The Little Balkans--and preserving as much of it as he could in the special collections of the university library. It would be tempting to say that now Gene himself belongs to his archives--and he does, of course--but as long as all of us who knew him and loved him and valued his friendship and rare personality--as long as all of us continue with our lives, Gene will have personal immortality--and that alone would have satisfied him. I often called him a prince of the Little Balkans--a prince who lived in a castle--a man made up of equal parts of generosity, kindness, artistic and intellectual integrity, and the kind of personal modesty that is as rare as any of the beautiful antiques, paintings, and books Gene loved to collect.

On the evening of February 21, 1977 in downtown Pittsburg the very first performance by The Little Balkans Players was presented. It was Gene's creation. He did all the script preparation, the research, and the directing. Those of us who belonged to the group--and its members changed through the years--felt privileged to be a part of Gene's energy and drive. Besides, it was fun. We performed everywhere--Gene always found it difficult to say no--and so we would sing for our supper and often sing without our supper. There are six members of the group on the stage today who want to read for you from Gene's southeast-Kansas oriented book of poems, Goat's House. And they wish to dedicate their reading to the immediate family of Gene DeGruson: to his brother Walter and his wife Rita, and their three sons --Wilie, Tom and his wife Melinda and their son, Taylor; and Mark and his wife Rae Lea; and to Gene's other brother Jim and his wife, Doris, and their two children, Eric and Katheryn.

The Little Balkans players are Jan O'Connor, Steve Meats, Janice DeChicchio Saket, Alex Barde, Delma Smith, Bonnie Poulis Martin, and J.T. Knoll


One of Gene's oldest and dearest friends, going back to his Highland Park high school days, was Zula Bennington Greene, better known to her readers as Peg of the Flint Hills. For 50 years she wrote a daily column for the Topeka Capital Journal, and in 1987, a few years before her death, she published a collection of her best work entitled Skimming the Cream. Now and then she would include one of her poems in a column, and I want to include one because I know Gene would want me to. It's called " Burning Leaves":


Zula Bennington Greene

There's orange and gold and scarlet on the fields,
Beside the somber black of earth new-plowed;
A woman burning red and yellow leaves,
The pale blue spiral twisting to a cloud.

One afternoon like this we walked alone
Through orchards and beneath a bent old oak,
The spice of ripened apples mingling with
The faint and stirring pungency of smoke.

No need of words to mar that perfect hour
Which hangs star-bright against the midnight blue
Of other days. A whole eternity
Is etched in poignant silences anew.

These many years! Again the flowing flame
Of scarlet oak. Again the autumn sheaves.
Love, laughter, pain and parting, life and death
Are blended in the smell of burning leaves.

Comments at Gene DeGruson Memorial Service
President John R. Darling, Pittsburg State University

The explorer and naturalist George Dawson once said, "A great library contains the diary of the human race."

Assuming this to be true, then Gene DeGruson spent most of the past 37 years compiling the diary of our university and this very special corner of Kansas that we call home.

When Gene joined the library staff, the area known as special collections was Little more than a collection of diverse items from the university's past that didn't seem to fit anywhere else. Gene turned the archives into a rich depository of local history. Today the archives are bursting at the seams and scholars from all over the country come to Pittsburg, Kansas, to do research on E. Haldeman Julius, and particularly the series known as Little Blue Books.

No one had a greater appreciation for our rich and colorful past than did Gene. Who can forget the way his eyes would light up and sparkle when he told the familiar story of the founding of the university? And when he discovered that history and legend did not agree, Gene revealed the centuryold errors with almost boyish enthusiasm, giving the story even more charm than it had before. One of Gene's special gifts was the way he combined a passion for local history with a sense for the theatrical spoken with a voice as smooth as I'm sure most of us have heard. It made him a storyteller of the first order.

Great institutions need people like Gene DeGruson. They are our institutional memory. They remind us of who we were so we can better understand who we have become and have a clearer vision of where we are going.

Today, we celebrate Gene and his contributions to the life of PSU. Today we add his name to that growing list of men and women who over the past century have built this institution into the great university it is today.

Perhaps the greatest accolade that can be paid to Gene DeGruson is that he made a difference in the understanding and quality of life for all of us. Those of us who knew him well can rejoice and be thankful for having had the honor and privilege of sharing part of life's journey with him.

Cagle continues:

Gene was enormous Interested in the history of socialism connected with southeast Kansas, especially the work of J.A. Wayland and the socialist newspaper, The Appeal to Reason, published in Girard, Kansas. One of his many unfinished projects was a biography of Wayland which he was co-authoring with another historian, Dr. Sharon Neet front the University of Minnesota, who is with us today to mourn the loss of Gene. The unionization of coal miners was a major socialist aim in Kansas, and it was Gene's own devotion to the principles of union practices that led him to include a number of union songs in scripts prepared for The Little Balkans Players. One of his favorites was "Solidarity Forever," and if you ever saw and heard Gene lead the players in this song, you well knew his sincerity and enthusiasm. We Little Balkans Players will conclude this memorial to our dear friend and director by singing the song. I think it can have a double meaning: all of us who knew Gene are solidly joined forever in a union of love and respect for him that can never be broken. We hope you will feel free to join in on the chorus.

This is for you, Gene.


When the Union's inspiration through the workers' blood shall run
There can be no power greater anywhere beneath the sun.
Yet what force on earth is weaker than the feeble strength of one?
But the union makes us strong.

Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
Solidarity forever,
For the union makes us strong.

In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold;
Greater than the might of armies magnified a thousand fold,
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old,
For the Union makes us strong.


Graveside Remarks


Edna St.Viricent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts
in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time
out of mind:
into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.
Crowned with lilies and with laurel they go; but
I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains-- but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the
laughter, the love,--
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses.
Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I
do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the
roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.


From The Prophet

Kahlil Gibran

When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that
which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence.

And so we must say good-bye to Gene DeGruson and leave him here in this tranquil place. But let us all leave with a part of him in our hearts for as long as we ourselves shall live.

On the Death of Gene DeGruson, 6-18-97

by Olive Sullivan

The wise man at the top of the library stairs is gone --
No more stories of arcane Little Balkans lore,
No more tales of history and no more
Personal glimpses into lives as far apart as
Liz Taylor's glamour and the great Ginsberg's grunge,
No more quiet, unprepossessing impish grin,
Fading now from living color to a sepia-toned ghost
In the archives of our brains, no more comfort and
Support from a mentor and a muse, and dare I
Call him friend? No more answers, no questions,
No more, no more, no more.
And although we're each as irreplaceable as stars,
This death leaves us facing a great darkness,
A catch of the breath when we reach for the phone,
A sudden sorrow when we check out a book of poems,
A great, gaping hole in the heart of the country,
In the hearts of all Of us.

© 1997 - Olive Sullivan

Last Modified: May 22, 2006 - 14:20

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