We regret to report the death of one more long-time HiPPo faculty member: historian Kevin Cragg, whose long struggle with Parkinson’s disease ended peacefully over the weekend.

Kevin as he looked when he came to Bethel in 1980 – Bethel University Digital Library

A native of Minnesota, Kevin graduated in 1967 from Wheaton College, where he met his wife Carole. After Kevin completed his master’s degree at the University of Chicago, he and Carole moved to a Native American reservation in Montana, where Kevin taught middle-school social studies before resuming his graduate studies at the University of Michigan. After finishing his doctorate in ancient history, Kevin taught college courses at what’s now Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, where Carole worked as reference librarian. The Craggs started at Bethel in 1980 and worked here for over thirty years, Kevin in the history department and Carole in the college library.

In addition to teaching upper-level history courses like Roman Civilization and Medieval Europe, Kevin also introduced Bethel’s distinctive environmental history class, History and the Human Environment, and even taught Minnesota history. (Possessed of seemingly boundless intellectual curiosity, Kevin struck his colleague Jim Johnson as “the only one I know who seems to know something about everything.”) But perhaps Kevin’s most enduring academic legacy at Bethel has been Christianity and Western Culture. Developed in 1985 by Kevin and fellow historian Neil Lettinga with Mike Holmes of BTS and Dan Taylor of English, CWC remains a foundational course in Bethel’s general education curriculum.

CWC's four founders, January 1985

Outside of the classroom, Kevin collaborated on two books with former Bethel colleague Paul Spickard: an edited collection of World History by the World’s Historians and a survey of Christian history, originally entitled God’s People. Reissued in 2001 as A Global History of Christians, the latter book sought not so much to survey church doctrine or institutional change as to tell the story of “how everyday believers experienced their world.” That focus hearkens back to Kevin’s introduction to the Bethel community, a 1980 Clarion article in which he told the student reporter that he was “more interested in the common man than the big shots….” And the book embodies our department’s commitment to cultivating empathy in students, helping them to see multiple perspectives on complicated issues and events. History, Kevin and Prof. Spickard wrote, “requires us to put ourselves in the shoes of long-dead folk, struggling to understand the emotions and thoughts they might have experience.”

Kevin “believed strongly in fairness and equality, and had a special concern for the the poor and the working class, our natural world, and Native Americans,” according to his son Luke, who encouraged Facebook friends to honor his father’s memory by striving for those causes. A memorial service will be held at a date yet to be determined; we will update you with details as they take shape. [UPDATE: a celebration of life service will be held Saturday, April 9, 2022, 11am at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, MN. All details, including how you can make a memorial gift to Bethel in honor of Kevin, can be found here.]

Peace be to Kevin’s memory.

Kevin Cragg

As we did over the weekend with Bill Johnson, we’ll encourage you to leave memories and reflections in the comments section or on our social media. To get things started, here’s what some of Kevin’s former colleagues (two of them also former students) had to say about their friend.

Kevin Cragg was a dear friend and a great colleague. Both Virginia and I owe him a great debt of gratitude for his friendship and encouragement! He cultivated collegiality as a department chair and as a CWC team leader. Each time someone fresh joined the department or team he would gather us into a circle amongst the paper-piles in his office to listen to one another share highlights of their faith and academic journey. Kevin’s high regard for shaping the present with a sense of our own past was a great way to let a historical bent leak into everyday life!

Kevin was a wonderful story-teller with a memory for details — be it the impact of the horse-collar on agricultural technology,  the life cycle of the gnats in the Bethel lawn, or common faculty complaints from the 3rd century BC. (Very similar to those in the late 20th century!) In the days before the internet made it easy to ask google obscure questions, Kevin was the person to ask. If he didn’t know the answer, he knew who would.  Faculty lounge lunchtime was always lively and interesting with Kevin in the room!

Dr. Neil Lettinga, Bethel History faculty, 1984-2003
The Bethel History faculty in 1988, from left to right: Jim Johnson, Kevin Cragg, G.W. Carlson, and Neil Lettinga

The passing of Dr. Kevin Cragg marks the loss of another giant from the Department of History. For me this is especially poignant, as Kevin is my third mentor from the department to pass away in five years (Dr. G.W. Carlson in 2016 and Dr. James E. Johnson in 2019). Their impact on the department and on me is immeasurable.

My first semester freshman year at Bethel I was enrolled in Western Civilization, taught by Dr. Cragg. The course was exactly how I imagined in high school that a “real” history course would be: rigorous, engaging, full of amazing stories, and taught by a gentle professor who effortlessly managed an enormous amount of content. I was enthralled. Second semester of freshman year I asked Dr. Cragg if I could be in his Roman Civilization course, an upper level course designed for junior and senior history majors. When he signed the waiver, I accepted this as an act of confidence in my ability to hold my own in a challenging course full of upperclassmen. As I reflect on my history with Kevin, he provided this kind of support repeatedly across the years; first when I was an undergraduate, then a graduate student, a colleague for 20 years, and finally, a personal family friend. In tangible ways he expressed confidence in my abilities and encouraged me to grow in our shared profession. And as far as I can tell, he did this for all his
departmental colleagues and beyond. He was committed to daily checking in with colleagues: inquiring about a class, imparting some current event news, sharing a new historical finding, or asking about a family member. We shared a mutual enthusiasm for Minnesota history, geography, and environmental history. He was always intellectually curious and modeled an infectious enthusiasm for learning and good writing.

One cannot remember Kevin without Carole, his dear wife, and longtime Bethel reference librarian. Together they were hosts and learners extraordinaire, indelibly shaping the way I aspire to show hospitality and engage in life-long learning.

Dr. Diana Davis Magnuson ’88, Bethel History faculty, 1994-2021

Kevin Cragg was one of the most important teachers that I have ever had.  He was the perfect image of a history professor — brilliant, curious, goofy, and humble. He was such an entertaining teacher. In Kevin’s classroom, everything was a story. His Roman Civilization class was one long story that stretched from the first day of the semester to the last — from the founding of the city to the fall of the empire. Kevin always managed to weave together political and military history effortlessly with religious and social history. He was interested in everything and everyone. And as his student, he showed you how to be interested as well.

As a colleague he was completely generous, especially to new faculty.  He welcomed us in.  He wanted to know what you thought about things.  He wanted to see you in positions where you could shine as a teacher.  He enjoyed being part of a team, and he taught us all how to see the possibilities in team meetings.  With Kevin, meetings ended up being far less about the specific items on the agenda, and far more about having a group of interesting and interested people in a room together to talk and share ideas.

Kevin was a deeply wise man and a truly kind friend.  I think about him a lot and miss him dearly.  He is the model to me of what is great about Bethel.  Remembering him makes me want to be a better teacher and a better person. 

Prof. Sam Mulberry ’99, assistant professor of history and co-director of Bethel’s Academic Enrichment and Support Center

3 thoughts on “Kevin Cragg (1945-2021)

  1. Kevin Cragg was my first history Professor (Medieval Europe in 2004 I want to say). I think I had 3 other classes with him, many conversations, he shaped so much of my learning and understanding of the world in which we live and the way in which our faith is interwoven in it. He was a great man and I am a better person for knowing and learning from him.

  2. All of the history courses I took at Bethel were special, but I took as many of Jim Johnson‘s and Kevin Craig’s courses as possible. They just made history come alive, no matter what they were teaching. It was a real treat to know you had one of their classes on your schedule that day. They were the reason that I became a history major.

    My senior year I served as a TA for Professor Cragg. I couldn’t help but be impressed by his intellect and his knowledge of ancient history. But most of all, he was a good and decent person.

    My passion for history has never waned since graduation and I believe Professors Johnson and Cragg were a big part of that. I’m genuinely thankful for my experience at Bethel as a history major in the mid-80’s, and I know Professors Johnson and Cragg are truly missed.

  3. So many good memories of Dr. Cragg. My favorite classes with him were the Minnesota History class and the History and the Human Environment, I think they were set apart because they weren’t what people would usually think of when it comes to college history classes. They were informative and fun and thought provoking.

    I also have fond memories when he and Carole opened their home one evening for member of a class I was in, it was smaller, so perhaps Near Eastern and Greek Civ, it was a warm, welcoming evening that helped draw this introvert out of his shell.

    Memory Eternal!

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