Dr. Robert Kragalott – Eulogy by Dr. Richard Spall
ROBERT KRAGALOTT, our friend and colleague for more than 40 years, died on June 16th, 2006 at the age of 79. Bob liked to recall that in the summer of 1949, he turned down a pitching contract with the Cleveland Indians to pursue instead a graduate degree in history, and thus began a distinguished career as a teaching scholar that spanned four decades. The son of Serbian immigrants, Robert Kragalott graduated from Canton McKinley High School in 1944 and, after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, took advantage of the G.I. Bill to earn a bachelor’s degree in history, with honors, at Findlay College in only three years.
At Findlay College, Kragalott became thoroughly imbued with the Liberal Arts tradition. In 1950 he began graduate study at the American University, where he earned his M.A. in modern and Eastern European history.
Bob Kragalott set off for the University of Belgrade as a Fulbright Scholar in the fall of 1952 and studied Tsarist Russian and Byzantine-Rus relations under the internationally renowned Professor Georgi Ostrogorski. At Belgrade, he researched modern European history and Slavic history under Professor Vaso Chubrilovich. Students of history will remember that Chubrilovich was in his youth a member of the Serbian nationalist group, the Black Hand, and was one of the five active participants in the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo in June of 1914, providing the spark that set off the First World War. Kragalott received grants from the Eli Lilly Foundation and the U.S. Department of State to work in several Eastern European and Soviet centers of Slavic Studies, including archives in Belgrade, Zagreb, Moscow, and Leningrad.
In the chilly and often tense atmosphere of the Cold War, Kragalott was repeatedly threatened with expulsion from Tito’s Yugoslavia for his outspoken opposition to the Yugoslav Communist government. He was saved from such a fate by the American ambassador, who not only made Kragalott tutor to his own son and allowed him to live the embassy, but helped clear the way for his marriage to Jasna, which the regime attempted to block. These formidable personal and professional obstacles were overcome, and the Kragalotts returned to the U.S. in 1957 with both Ph.D. and marriage certificate in hand.
Professor Kragalott’s scholarly interests focused on Russian and Yugoslavian history, and he researched and published on the Treaty of Versailles. His publications and conference papers ranged from history of the Balkans to democratic socialism in both Europe and Asia.
It was however as a teacher that Bob Kragalott perhaps will best be remembered. After initial teaching experience at several distinguished liberal arts colleges in the Midwest and California, Kragalott returned to his native Ohio to teach at The Ohio State University in 1962, but wanted desperately to return to the setting of the liberal arts environment, which he valued so much. He joined the Department of History at Ohio Wesleyan in 1965 and soon earned a reputation as a demanding and popular professor. In addition to survey courses on modern European history, Kragalott taught courses on socialism, communism, Soviet and Tsarist Russia, and Nazi Germany. Bob Kragalott detested totalitarianism, and when he really did not like something whether in national policy, personal interaction, or campus politics he condemned it as “fascist,” and then he flashed that disarming squinty smile.
Kragalott was for many years active in the Ohio Wesleyan governance system. Early on, for example, he was instrumental in helping to bring the TIAA-CREF retirement system to the university, a contribution of which he was proud and from which we all will someday benefit. Generations of Ohio Wesleyan alumni will remember his engaging and dramatic lectures, encouraging students to develop what he called in his words, “suspensive judgment, reasoning on the basis of carefully ascertained facts, and respectful consideration of cultures and ideas which differ from one’s own.”
But Robert Kragalott never had an appetite for platitudes and with characteristic humor challenged class after class to examine their own values and reject, what he would brand “fascist, imperialist, banditry” where ever it may be found.
Bob’s concern for values, especially timely internationalist values, and liberal education led him to help found the Ohio Wesleyan Forum in 1967, a forerunner of National Colloquium, and twice to direct that program. In 1969, he led an around-the-world study tour for Harvard’s International Honors Program and lectured his way across four continents and dozens of nations. At Ohio Wesleyan, his classes were filled with students who wanted to be challenged, and he engaged them with stimulating lectures, lively discussion, and exposure to brilliant books. His course syllabi sometimes exceeded 60 pages, outlining his lectures and providing at least a dozen suggested readings for each one. His eight- hour final examinations were famous, as was teaching at 11:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m. so that classes could go longer than the allotted time without the registrar knowing about it. Over the years, Dr. Kragalott earned a well- deserved reputation for precision and excellence, and today there is an army of loyal and highly successful alumni who attribute their progress and success to what happened in his classroom, at his seminar table, and across from his desk.
Bob was a devoted husband, and is survived by his cherished wife of 49 years, Jasna, who just this week took his ashes to Sarajevo to rest in the little church in which they were married. He was a caring and supportive father to his son, Mark, and his daughter, Arden. We will miss the supportive way he said, “Uh huh,” when he approved, his unfailing encouragement, those big Slavic bear hugs, and that familiar squinty-eyed smile that always betrayed his affability and his friendship from across the room. He was a good friend to his Ohio Wesleyan colleagues, whom he showed how maintain both high standards and high enrollments, how to live with dignity and treat others with respect, and how to face declining health and advancing years with both courage and steadfast cheerfulness.
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