Barry McNamara  |  Published June 16, 2021

Back to the Great Outdoors

Biology professor Ken Cramer’s retirement plan after 28 years at Monmouth College includes being outside even more.

MONMOUTH, Ill.Ken Cramer’s pursuit of biology came, well, naturally.

“I spent a lot of time outside as a kid. It was a refuge for me,” said Cramer, who grew up in St. Joseph, Missouri, and recently announced his retirement after 28 years on Monmouth’s faculty. “So just being able to stay outside was the original plan behind studying biology. I always felt comfortable outside, looking at cool critters.”

KEN CRAMER: Biology professor taught at Monmouth for 28 years and brought on board three other de... KEN CRAMER: Biology professor taught at Monmouth for 28 years and brought on board three other department members who taught together for two decades.For a career, Cramer said he’d been interested in “conservation biology since about seventh grade.”

“I was looking to go to college in-state, and the only school that had that program was the University of Missouri, so I had to go there,” he said. “That’s how subtle my college decision process was.”

Following Mizzou, Cramer received a master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma, and he earned a doctorate at Utah State University.

“Some of my interest in being outside and studying biology was also an avoidance of people, but as you mature, you change,” he said. “In grad school, I had to teach to earn my way, and that’s where full-time teaching became a possibility. I thought it could still go either way” between conservation and teaching.

“I spent a lot of time outside as a kid. It was a refuge for me. So just being able to stay outside was the original plan behind studying biology. I always felt comfortable outside, looking at cool critters.” Ken Cramer

Teaching won out, with Cramer holding a visiting professor position at Central Missouri State University for three years before coming to Monmouth in 1993.

Critters are still important to Cramer, but people have grown on him. He met his wife of now 20 years, communication studies professor Trudi Peterson, on the faculty, and took her to Costa Rica recently to celebrate their milestone anniversary.

“It was my fourth time there and her first,” he said. “I don’t think I can convince her to retire there, though.”

Cramer helped hire several biology faculty members over the past three decades. In 1999, Kevin Baldwin joined the department, and James Godde and Tim Tibbetts were hired in 2001. The quartet was together for 20 years.

“Tim has grown into a really important friend and ally in the department,” said Cramer of his frequent opponent in tennis. “All the time Tim’s put in at LeSuer Nature Preserve really took a load off of me.”

And then there are Monmouth’s students, several of whom have worked with Cramer on his main research project for the past several years, the study of brown recluse spiders.

“It’s been a lot of fun working with a lot of different students,” he said. “I’m still Facebook friends with a lot of them.”

Among the students who stand out to him are Dr. Deb Jackowniak Scarlett ’95 “from the early days,” Joni Nelson ’07 and Dusty Sanor Spurgeon ’10.

“It’s been a lot of fun working with a lot of different students. I’m still Facebook friends with a lot of them.” Ken Cramer

He’s also enjoyed leading or being part of student trips to locations such as Hawaii, the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, as well as the Galapagos Islands.

Cramer also did extensive work on the College’s curriculum, coordinating two parts of the four-year integrated studies program – “Introduction to Liberal Arts” and “Reflections.” He worked closely with several faculty members on those projects and he listed two former colleagues – the late Richard “Doc” Kieft and Craig Watson – as “good mentors to have.”

Interviewed a few weeks into his retirement, Cramer leaned back in his chair and said: “It’s nice to have nothing to do. I’m enjoying it so far. I’m working in the yard and taking care of the pond (Hamilton’s Pond, just north of campus). I’m going to learn how to play the guitar and read more, plus do plenty of cycling and tennis, which I do anyway. I’m going to do more bird watching and more vacations, hopefully – more wilderness hikes.”

In other words, being outside will still be a major part of Cramer’s life, just as it’s been since his childhood.

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