Family reunites in wake of tragedy

avid Kalan

On Aug. 29 Adam Kraus’ cell phone stopped working.

Kraus’ number is still based in his hometown of New Orleans. As America watched the destruction of one of its great bastions of culture, Kraus tried in vain to reach his parents and his sister, a sophomore at Tulane.

“Those first few days after the hurricane were pretty hard,” Kraus said. “I had no idea where my parents were. I couldn’t get through to them and they couldn’t get through to me.”

Michigan’s season opener against Northern Illinois was just four days after Hurricane Katrina made landfall. While he thought constantly of his family, the 6’6″ 311 pound offensive lineman prepared for his first start in his three years with the Woverines. Those hours of practice on the gridiron served as a diversion for Kraus, who had more important things on his mind than blocking schemes.

“I just look at football as an escape,” Kraus said. “It’s been like a blessing.”

As Kraus would find out just before the game, his family had evacuated to Jackson, Miss., staying at a camp for displaced Jewish families. But when it became clear his parents and sister could not return to their home, which sits only a few blocks from Lake Pontchartrain, they decided to stay with friends in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The reunion was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise difficult experience.

“I got to spend some time with my dad and my mom that normally I would never get,” said Kraus, whose sister is now enrolled at Michigan. “We’re only a year apart so we hang out all the time, its good to have her up here.”

In a tumultuous season, Kraus has been a mark of consistency for Michigan and its injury-riddled offensive line.

With his family looking on, Kraus has started at both center and guard for the Wolverines, drawing praise from coach Lloyd Carr.

“(Kraus) has given us some stability at a position where we’ve had a lot of things going on, so he’s done a great job,” Carr said. “I think it really was a great help to him, knowing that they were personally OK and that they were with him.”

Back home the news was less joyful. The Kraus family found its home had been flooded with five feet of water during the storm. The first floor was destroyed and heavy winds tore a large hole through the roof of the house, which had been built by Kraus’ grandfather.

The first floor is now gutted as the family awaits news from its insurance company before it can put its home back together, but the destruction has put things in perspective for Kraus, who is more sentimental for his family’s memories than its television.

“You see what is really important in life,” Kraus said. “Your family, your friends, that’s what’s most important.

“You look at the important things, like pictures. That’s what I consider important, and we were able to salvage those.”

Kraus’ cell phone works now. His parents have returned and are staying with friends in New Orleans after three weeks in Ann Arbor. Kraus’ mother goes to Baton Rouge, La., once or twice a week, where she is a nursing professor at Louisiana State. His father is back at his job as a pathologist at a hospital outside the city, where business is slow.

Kraus has already bought a plane ticket back to New Orleans for Thanksgiving, when he will start helping his family repair its home.

Until then, he is going to focus on the gridiron. Michigan has watched Rose Bowl hopes slip away with close losses to Wisconsin and Minnesota, but after wins against Iowa and Big Ten-leading Penn State, its hunt for a conference title is still alive.

“Our goals are still reachable,” Kraus said. “We have overcome a lot of that adversity and we’re still having fun.

“Every game is for the Big Ten championship in our minds.”

The goals that lay ahead for the Wolverines pale in comparison, however, to those for Kraus, his family and its ravaged home city.

Kraus will spend the season helping Michigan rebuild its offensive line, but once it is January the Wolverines will be looking toward next year.

But for Adam Kraus, the rebuilding continues.

Reach David Kalan at [email protected]