The Life and Legacy of Dr. Ethan Krase: “A Duet of Wonder and Grief”


Contributed by Dr. Ann-Marie Dunbar

On Jan. 31, 2023, beloved Winona State University faculty member Ethan Krase passed away from lung cancer. Krase worked in the English Department and served as chair for nine years. A celebration-of-life service was held on Feb. 11, 2023 in the Kryzsko Solarium family, friends, and community members. Pictured left is Dr. April Herndon and right is Dr. Ethan Krase.

Heidi Hanson, Features Editor

Many communities in the Winona area were left mourning a significant loss when Ethan Krase, 50 and of Winona, passed away on Jan. 31, 2023 due to lung cancer. Krase was known to be a significant light in a countless number of people’s lives and has made an impact in each and every one of them along the way. 

A celebration-of-life service was held on Feb. 11, 2023 in the new Kryzsko Solarium, where a large group of Krase’s friends, family, colleagues and students gathered to celebrate his life, which ended too soon but was wonderfully fulfilled. Stories, music and poetry were shared within the hour-and-a-half service, and time was allowed for people of all places and all ages to share how Krase changed their lives in one way or another. 

One sector of Krase’s life who shared their stories at the service were his colleagues, other professors in the English Department. Krase, being in the department since 2003 and spending nine years as department chair within that time was known as a diligent, incredibly intelligent and sometimes outright goofy human being. Ann-Marie Dunbar, the current chair of the English Department, described Dr. Krase as a “tough act to follow.”

Dr. Christine Buttram, a previous English professor at Winona State who retired just recently, explained that Krase was “more than just a colleague” to her and many other professors and faculty in and out of the department. 

“He changed the definition of work for me, and that was great,” Buttram said.

Krase’s work in the English department was especially notable through his work as chair for nine years and in the TESOL department. He was also involved as the Writing Center director, and he brought the TESOL department to life shortly after arriving at Winona State in 2004, even writing a book with Dr. J. Paul Johnson called “Theory and Practice of Writing Tutors”. 

His willingness to connect with students in the English department was prevalent to not only the students themselves, but the professors around him as well. Krase stood out among other professors as able to put in the extra effort for his students. 

“He was really good at finding students who would do well in English and pointing that out to them. It was special,” Dunbar stated. “It was curiosity and generosity [combined].”

Andrew Higl, another professor in the English department, explained that when he joined Winona State, he was inspired by Krase’s mentoring qualities, imaginative moments and ability to take the most mundane moments and make them fun, witty and playful.

“That first meeting is a major reason I’m here today,” Higl said. “I’ve spent the last 13 years approaching so many professional situations asking myself ‘what would Ethan Krase do?’”

One of the classes that Dr. Krase taught during his time as an English professor was the class every English or English-related major feared: Syntax. Syntax, or ENG 328, is known for its sometimes near-impossible diagrams, identifications and endless rules; Dr. Krase, however, made this monster of a class not only enjoyable, but a class many students actively looked forward to. 

Sydney Porter, a third-year communication arts and literature teaching (CALT) major, expressed how Dr. Krase excelled at making a very loathsome class lovable and exciting. 

“His constant humor and engaging manner had me and every other student loving syntax more than most of our other classes,” Porter said. “Most professors would find this a daunting task to engage those students, but Dr. Krase had every single student looking forward to class time by week two.”

“Fishing with some people can sometimes be quite quiet. Two or three people silently casting into the murky water. Not with Ethan. He had stories from the past or he’d create elaborate hypothetical scenarios and ask what you would do. He’d create intricate narratives about the underwater life of personified bass and northern pike. It was so much fun.” -Andrew Higl (Contributed by Dr. Andrew Higl)

Brenna Knutson, also a third-year CALT major, echoed this sentiment by explaining her own experience in Dr. Krase’s syntax class.

“Every class, he would share funny anecdotes with us, often following along the two characters whom we had created a storyline around as a class,” Knutson said. 

Dr. Krase was not only proficient in teaching difficult subjects in accessible ways, but also showed his fun-loving, goofy demeanor to liven up his classes. Many students of his relate stories of skits, long-winded and elaborate stories and the laughter that was constantly shared in his classes.

“Whether he was showing us old movie trailers or telling us about the birds in his yard or trying to throw chalk through a small hole in a podium, Dr. Krase was always keeping everyone smiling.” Porter said. “He made sure all of us walked out of that classroom a better version of ourselves than when we walked in.”

Knutson shared a story of Dr. Krase reading a poem titled “Ode to Syntax” to one of his classes, and, of course, it was dramatized and made into a performance many students remember to this day. 

“He read us the poem, complete with background instrumental music that definitely contained a few bird chirps,” Knutson said. “There are very few people who could’ve affected students as quickly and as profoundly as Dr. Krase.”

I myself experienced Dr. Krase’s ability to make students feel welcome in the English department and the university in general. Although I was only in a half-semester class of his, Dr. Krase took the time to point me to the right major, give me extra resources for the future of my career, and was the first professor to tell me that I was in the right place. His ability to make such an impact in such a short time was remarkable, and I’m sure many other students have said and would say the same. 

Fisher, hunter, NYT crossworder, professor, mentor, movie and music lover, incredible public-speaker and even body-pump instructor at the YMCA in Winona, Krase put his real and authentic self into every activity, classroom, story and even the smallest shared moments. 

“One of the things that made him such a good fit for Winona State was he was really good at connecting with the community at large.” Dr. James Armstrong, a professor in the English Department, said. “There were so many circles he interacted with; he was incredibly curious about people, and that meant that he made a lot of friends in a lot of different [places].”

Krase’s presence will be forever missed in the English Department and the various other spaces he left his unforgettable mark on. His memory will continue to live on through reminders of his intelligence, goofiness and wonder.

“I’ll miss him. I already miss him,” Higl stated. “I’ve walked past his office these last few weeks thinking about all the past times I’d turn to his office to run something by him to get his feedback, and then we’d turn our attention to plotting our next adventure, whether that was a new fishing spot or silly team names for trivia; I’ll miss those moments.”

Through his classes, times with his colleagues and successes in academics, Krase showed his wonderful ability to make a difference in the places and people around him. Dr. April Herndon, a professor in the English Department since 2006, expressed Krase’s remarkable presence in any one of his many communities.

“More than anyone I’ve ever known, Dr. Krase worked to make people feel accepted and valued. He always saw the best in everyone, including me,” Herndon said. “He had a special way of being in the world that made everyone around him believe in themselves.”

Overall, Dr. Ethan Krase was extraordinary in his work, friendships, family-life and the exceptional impacts he made on everyone around him. When asked if there was anything else she wanted to say, Dr. Buttram put it plainly and simply.

“We miss him,” Buttram said. 

Rather than bringing flowers to the service on the 11th, the family requested that people donate to the Ethan W. Krase Memorial fund through the WSU Foundation. His obituary, beautifully written by his brother, Ben, and his wife, Jill, was printed on bookmarks at his celebration of life and relates his legacy wonderfully.

“Solidly grounded and dedicated to serious things, yet effortlessly light and drawn to the silly, the offbeat, Ethan infused moments with a rare, delightful, and deepening energy,” It reads. “He would have loved to stay right here for longer.”