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Newspaper articles & obituaries, June 1997

Return to the Eugene DeGruson Collection.

Morning Sun article and obituary (Wednesday, June 18, 1997)
Joplin Globe article (Tuesday, June 24, 1997)

 'Gene DeGruson 1932 - 1997' Headstone photograph taken by Martha Baxter

A southeast Kansas treasure lost

DeGruson lauded for lifetime of preserving history

Morning Sun Family Living Editor

Morning Sun file photo/Robert Poole

Morning Sun file photo/Robert Poole
Gene DeGruson, noted poet, publisher and historian,
died Wednesday at St. John's Regional Medical Center
In Joplin. DeGruson devoted his life to preserving
the history and culture of southeast Kansas.

Gene DeGruson, described as a "southeast Kansas treasure," died at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 18, 1997, at St. John's Regional Medical Center, Joplin.

He served as curator of special collections and archivist at Pittsburg State University, and PSU president John Darling said DeGruson's death was "a great blow to the university. He was a great asset to Pittsburg State, the community and the region."

DeGruson was also known throughout the nation as a specialist in the history of Kansas, and was serving on the board of the Kansas State Historical Society.

"This is a great loss to the entire state of Kansas," said Dr. Ramon Powers, society executive director. "He was an encyclopedia on the history and culture of the state."

DeGruson often worked with Jennie Chinn, the society's director of education and outreach. "He worked with our Folk Art Apprenticeship Program, and was involved with ethnic celebrations throughout the state," she said. "He was also active with our preservation department, library and archives. Gene was an integral part of what the Historical Society did."

His last project with the society, Chinn said, involved the late Eva Jessye, a Coffeyville native who founded an African-American choir and worked with composer George Gershwin on his opera "Porgy and Bess."

"We just finished an African-American heritage of the state in curriculum form, and Gene helped with the chapter on Eva Jessye," Chinn said.

The son of a French immigrant turned coalminer, DeGruson grew up in Camp 50 and Weir, and was particularly noted for his knowledge of the history of southeast Kansas. He frequently shared that knowledge in speeches to area clubs, organizations and schools.

"Whenever the Historical Society was doing any educational program on southeast Kansas, Gene was our first contact," Chinn said.

"He almost singlehandedly kept the history of southeast Kansas alive, because he was one of the few who thought it was important," added Jan O'Connor, who with her husband, Roger, owns Mostly Books.

DeGruson joined the PSU faculty in 1960 as an instructor in the English department, and in 1968 was asked to establish a southeast Kansas collection at PSU. He told friends and colleagues that the job might take a year or two.

Instead, it became a labor of love that occupied the rest of his life -- and occasionally his own money as well. "At one time, any books added to special collections came out of my own pocket," DeGruson said during an 1988 interview. The Special Collections area at Axe Library now comprises an enormous range of information on both notable and notorious figures of area history. Included are works by Margaret [sic] and Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, publishers of the Little Blue Books series, business records for the Appeal to Reason socialist newspaper and information on Jane Grant, co-founder of The New Yorker, who was born in Girard.

One of his more publicized finds was the original manuscript for Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," which had been published in the Appeal to Reason. Later editions of the novel, about horrible conditions in the Chicago meat-packing industry, were greatly changed from the original.

DeGruson's publication of the original novel, by Peachtree Publishers in 1988, brought him national attention and an appearance on "The Today Show."

He was also active in local activities as well. He was a vital player in the successful effort to save the historic Hotel Stilwell, according to Laura Carlson of the Stilwell Heritage and Educational Foundation.

"The Stilwell was a high priority for Gene, and he was one of four charter members of the Stilwell board," she said. "He researched the hotel's history and was able to get it listed on the Register of Historic Sites, which bought us time in our battle to save the Stilwell. Personally, I considered Gene a southeast Kansas treasure."

For the Pittsburg Centennial celebration in 1976, DeGruson adapted and directed a stage production of Harold Bell Wright's first novel, "That Printer of Udell's," which had been written in Pittsburg.

He was also a noted author in his own right. His book of poems, titled "Goat's House," drew from regional and family history, telling of life in the mining camps of southeast Kansas. It was published by Woodley Press, Washburn University, Topeka, in 1986.

He also served as editor and publisher of the Little Balkans Review, a magazine of regional art, history and literature. It was hailed as one of the three best regional magazines by the Christian Science Monitor.

DeGruson's love of poetry and folklore was reflected in his own talent as a performer. "He had a natural storytelling ability that made his annual retelling of the founding of PSU an Apple Day tradition," noted Darling.

He appeared in numerous local stage productions, including "Under Milkwood," "Androcles and the Lion" and "The Robber Bridegroom."

He also founded the Little Balkans Players, which performed throughout the area several years ago.

DeGruson's passion for history extended into his personal life. He restored and lived in "Graham's Castle," a house designed and built by Staneart Graham, brilliant but eccentric early-day Pittsburg attorney. He cherished recipes from his family's French heritage, and was known for his talents as a cook and host.

"He personified so much of what is good about Kansas, and was so proud of being a Kansan," Chinn said. "He was always upbeat. If he had bad days, he never showed it."

DeGruson's efforts had brought him honors and awards, including the Governor's Medal. "But he never wore the medal or even talked about it," said Charles Cagle, his friend and PSU colleague. "Gene was so modest."

DeGruson had continued to work on numerous projects, including a biography and bibliography of E. Haldeman-Julius, a biography of Girard publisher J.A. Wayland, the reminiscences of Zula Bennington Greene, a columnist known as "Peggy of the Flint Hills," and a bibliography of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate, a PSU alumnus.

"He was within two pages of finishing the Tate bibliography, and it was due soon at the publisher," Cagle said.

"Gene had too many things going on -- another speech to give, and another researcher coming that he was going to work with," O'Connor added. "He was just too busy too die. The world just doesn't seem quite right now."

Services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday in McCray Auditorium, with the Brenner Mortuary in charge of arrangements. Cagle, who is coordinating the service, said it would include readings of DeGruson's poems by members of the Little Balkans Players.

© - Pittsburg Morning Sun. Used with permission.

Eugene H. DeGruson

Eugene H. DeGruson, 64, 601 Grandview Heights Terrace, Pittsburg, died at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, June 18, 1997, at St. John's Regional Medical Center, Joplin. He was admitted to the medical center on Sunday after suffering a ruptured brain aneurysm.

He was born Oct. 10, 1932, in Girard to Henry and Clemence Merciez DeGruson. He attended Polk School in Camp 50 and Helmick School in Weir, and graduated from Crawford County High School in 1949. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in education from Pittsburg State University, and did post-graduate work at Iowa State University.

Mr. DeGruson taught for a time at Highland Park High School, Topeka, before joining the PSU faculty as an instructor in the English Department in 1960. He joined the library staff in 1968 and took over responsibility for the library's special collections. He also was named University archivist in 1987.

He was known across the state and nation as a historian, scholar and poet, and participated in many local and state activities, most recently serving on the board of Directors of the Stilwell Heritage and Educational Foundation.

He was the author of numerous scholarly articles and books, including a bibliography, "Kansas Authors of Best Sellers" and "Bibliography of American Literature." In 1975 he adapted Harold Bell Wright's first novel, "That Printer of Udell's," into a melodrama and directed it for the Pittsburg Centennial celebration.

Mr. DeGruson's book of poems, "Goat's House," won the Robert E. Gross Memorial Manuscript Competition and was published by the Woodley Press in 1986. In 1988 he rose to national attention when he edited and published the so-called "lost first edition" of Upton Sinclair's novel, "The Jungle."

He was working on numerous projects at the time of his death, including a bibliography of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet James Tate.

He served as president of the Pittsburg State University Faculty Senate from 1985 to 1987, and was parliamentarian from 1992 to 1994. He was president of the Little Balkans Foundation from 1987 to 1990. Mr. DeGruson had served on the board of directors of the Little Balkans Heritage Preservation Guild since 1980, and had been secretary from 1970 to 1978, and again since 1994. He was Bookman's Lecture chairman of the Kansas Library Association in 1969 and 1973. He had served on the board of the William Inge National Advisory Committee since 1981. He had been secretary of the Crawford County Historical Society from 1965 to 1968 and from 1970 to 1974.

He served on the board of the Kansas Folklife Committee of the Kansas State Historical Society from 1976 to 1988, and was currently a member of the society's Cultural Diversity Advisory Committee. He had been a board member of the Kansas Center for the Book since 1988, and president of Little Balkans Press Inc., since 1980. He had been an executive board member of the Woodley Press since 1987.

He also held memberships in the Bibliographical Society of America, the Kansas Authors Club, Theta Alpha Phi national honorary drama fraternity, Sigma Tau Delta national English honorary fraternity and Phi Kappa Phi national honor society.

Mr. DeGruson served as editor of the "Library Bulletin" from 1968 to 1974, and editor of the "Little Balkans Review" from 1980 to 1986.

Survivors include two brothers, Walter DeGruson, 50 Camp, and Jim DeGruson, Carl Junction, Mo.; four nephews, one niece and a great-nephew. He was preceded in death by his parents and a brother, Henry DeGruson Jr., who died in infancy.

Funeral services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at McCray Recital Hall on the PSU campus with Charles Cagle officiating. Burial will be in the Union Cemetery, northwest of Pittsburg. The family will receive friends from 7 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Brenner Chapel. Friends may call after 10 a.m. Saturday at the chapel. Arrangements are under the direction of the Brenner Mortuary, 114 E. Fourth.

© - Pittsburg Morning Sun. Used with permission.


His death is Kansas' loss

The obituary was a matter of fact. Gene DeGruson was an author, poet, teacher and historian, curator of special collections and archivist at Pittsburg State University, and a member of the Kansas Historical Society Board.

But, in reality, Gene DeGruson was a state and regional treasure, a living encyclopedia on Kansas' history and culture and a writer of scholarly books and articles that added greatly to the collective knowledge about the Sunflower State and its people.

Kansas has
suffered an enor-
mous loss . . .

DeGruson came to national attention in 1988 when he edited and published the lost, first edition of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," a novel that forced change on the unregulated meatpacking industry and led to the creation of the US. Food and Drug Administration.

DeGruson sorted through the author's rewrites as well as stacks of decaying memos, business records, letters and other documents of the Appeal to Reason, a Socialist Party newspaper published in Girard in which Sinclair's novel first appeared in serialized form. The result was what Sinclair had originally intended for publication.

Another of DeGruson's important "finds" was E. Haldeman-Julius, who had purchased the Appeal to Reason and produced the popular Little Blue Book series containing works by H.G. Wells, Clarence Darrow, Sinclair, James Thurber and Will Durant, among others.

DeGruson's love of Kansas and its heritage had another outlet, the Little Balkans Review. This magazine, of which he was editor and publisher, focused on regional art, history and literature. Gene DeGruson, teacher, historian, poet and author, died at the age of 64.

Kansas has suffered an enormous loss of a good and valuable friend.

© - Joplin Globe. Used with permission

Last Modified: Jan 12, 2007 - 09:58

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