A little bit of Jonathan Krueger goes a long way… and that’s a good thing


Kentucky Kernel Photo Editor Jonathan Krueger at Rupp Arena as Kentucky hosted Vanderbilt University, Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015 in Lexington. Photo by Jonathan Palmer

May May Barton

Four years ago, on April 17, 2015, around 7 a.m., I answered a phone call from my boss. It was earlier than normal to hear from him, and I wondered why he couldn’t wait an hour or so. I was in the kitchen with my two children, who were eating breakfast and getting ready for school. After the third attempted phone call, I reluctantly answered the phone.

I was stunned, speechless and grief-stricken to hear the unbelievable news that Jonathan Krueger had been murdered earlier that morning. I had just seen him the previous afternoon at the Kentucky Kernel, where he was the photo editor in the newsroom and wrapping up his junior year of study. He was filling out paperwork for a required fall internship he was to do with me through his Integrated Strategic Communication (ISC) major. We were going to meet again that morning to go over details and expectations.

My meeting with Jonathan never happened. Instead of a normal Friday at the Kernel, our offices in the Grehan Journalism Building turned into a safety zone for students, faculty and staff to gather, embrace, grieve, awkwardly laugh, sit silently and just cry.

‘His smile’

The last words Jonathan said to me as he rushed out on that late Thursday afternoon were, “Yes ma’am! Thank you! Be here in the morning.”

That is one nice kid, I thought.

Jonathan’s mom, Mary Krueger, and family friends, can’t quite pinpoint why he wanted to go to UK, but suspect the strength of the basketball program had something to do with his desire to visit the campus.

“I remember our drive down, pointing out all the colleges and universities we were passing on our way from northern Ohio to Lexington. That did not phase him one bit,” Mary said. “We were both struck by the beauty of the campus, the city of Lexington and most importantly by the people we met.”

Jonathan came to the Kernel as a freshman and got involved with the photo desk.

Jonathan joined the brotherhood of Beta Theta Pi fraternity, was completing a marketing internship with Red Bull and had worked his way up at the Kernel, eventually earning the title of photo editor by his junior year.

You can ask anyone who knew Jonathan about what type of person he was.

Will Wright, editor-in-chief of the Kentucky Kernel in 2015-16, remembers Krueger as a hard worker and the life of the newsroom.

“It feels not that long ago that I was sitting in the Kernel office, pulling my hair out over the next day’s paper,” Wright said. “Then, on cue, Krueger would strut through the door and lay three or four Red Bulls on my desk.”

Wright said Jonathan was a positive force in the newsroom.

“His smile could change the mood of a room in an instant. No matter how stressed we were at the Kernel, or how tired we were, Krueger’s enthusiasm and his lead-by-example attitude always gave us that shot in the arm we needed,” Wright said. “I’m sure he got stressed, too, but if he did, he overcame it by encouraging others. That’s an admirable quality for a guy to have, and I remember being so grateful to have him even before he was gone. He was a true leader in that way.”

The bright light

Four years later, the Kernel has moved to a new (old) building on campus and is now a weekly paper. The names and faces of students have changed, but Jonathan’s spirit remains very much alive in the Kernel newsroom — there is always the listener, the driven reporter, the “bright light” at any moment, the motivator, the clown, and the leader. I also see the compassionate, the genuine, the mischievous and the sarcastic in the staff.

And there is always a sincerely kind student, one who always wears a smile, and the rare one who always says “Yes ma’am.”

“He was a vibrant individual, with a contagious personality, in a positive way. He made the newsroom a happier place,” said David Stephenson, Kentucky Kernel photo adviser.

I’m in the Kernel newsroom daily and I have had the pleasure and opportunity of getting to know the staff(s) very well from year to year. Although the Kernel students who knew and worked with Jonathan are now gone, Jonathan’s legacy continues to live on through the Jonathan Krueger Memorial Scholarship, awarded to a Kernel student who exemplifies his character and an individual who demonstrates promise in the area of photojournalism and multimedia.

In late August 2018, photo editor Jordan Prather became the fourth recipient of the scholarship.

“It is truly an honor to be a recipient of the Jonathan Krueger Memorial Scholarship and continue the job where he left off. He meant a lot several people at the Kernel, in the field of photojournalism, and elsewhere, and that is still obvious today,” Prather said. “I hope that I can honor his memory in the work that I do each day and that future recipients for many years to come will do the same.”

Always with us

It’s always around this time of year that I think of Jonathan Krueger. And it’s very easy (and I’ve learned that it’s OK) to be emotional about his death. This is the time of year students sign up for fall class internships, finalize summer plans or jobs, and generally seem happy about spring and the semester wrapping up. Generally, it’s a happy time.

I miss Jonathan.

Life was an adventure for Jonathan and he lived it to the fullest. With his tremendous potential and zest for life, he will never be replaced.

I wish you had had the chance to meet Jonathan. He would have been an amazing friend to you and would do anything for anyone without hesitation. I feel blessed that I was able to spend time with him.

Knowing Jonathan, he’d be happy that I get to witness his character and spirit in the diversified, dedicated, hardworking, passionate, hilarious, troublemaking, (generally) always smiling and happy crew that gather at the Kentucky Kernel every day.

RIP, JKru.