About five years ago, Greg Rhodes approached the Rev. Eugene Kutsch, former Loras College dean of men, with tears in his eyes.
Rhodes handed Kutsch a plaque that honored him for his work at Loras and his fairness to students of every race.
Then, the Black man looked up at Kutsch, who had been fired after serving in the dean’s role from 1956 to 1969, and asked, “Was it worth it?”
“Kutsch is such a magnificent person,” Rhodes said. “I have not met many people like him who would give up a career, but he never complained.”
This fall, the Loras Class of 1969 alumnus will be among those unveiling a bust of Kutsch to honor him for his work.
“His support to all students, but particularly to those of color, during his time as the dean of students is something that will be and should be forever honored,” stated George Wilson and Kevin Malone, both also of the Class of 1969, in a letter to classmates, according to a press release.
The Class of 1969 and other graduates raised more than $10,000 for the bust, which will “be placed this fall at a high-profile location on campus,” the release states.
“Father Kutsch embodies all the attributes one would expect to find in a great priest,” said Loras President Jim Collins in the release. “He is humble, kind and faithful. He has always advocated for peace, justice and inclusion. ... For Loras, this offers us the long-overdue opportunity to offer well-deserved recognition for Father Kutsch, especially as he stood with our students of color during a very tumultuous time.”
Rhodes recalls the time he spent studying psychology and theology at Loras as some of the worst years of his life.
While he was walking through campus, people driving by sometimes would roll down their windows to shout racist insults at him and his Black classmates. Once or twice, things were even thrown at him, Rhodes recalled.
At the end of Rhodes’ junior year at Loras in 1968, he and other Black students approached Kutsch and asked for permission to live on the fourth floor of the student dorms together.
But Rhodes was apprehensive. He wasn’t sure if the request would be granted.
“I didn’t know much of where he was going to land racially,” said Rhodes. “But he agreed.”
Throughout his time at Loras, Rhodes said he had many terrible experiences with white students, but when he needed support, he was able to find it in Kutsch.
“We had a meeting with Father Kutsch and a group called the ‘Bigots,’” Rhodes said. “He realized that we were not the cause of the fights. He basically guided us. I am not sure if any of us would have graduated without Father Kutsch.”
Akin to Rhodes’ struggles during the 1960s, Wilson also recalls a time where he was walking back to Loras College and was chased by a group of white students.
“Because of some of the things that were happening, a lot of Black students did not feel very comfortable on campus,” Wilson said. “We expressed our feelings to Father Kutsch.”
Kutsch allowed the Black students and a few white students to live together on the fourth floor in solidarity. But it was because of what Kutsch did to help Black students and others who felt unwelcome that he was fired from the school in 1969, Wilson said.
“He gave up his career because of backing students, especially Black students,” Wilson said. “He championed social justice. He gave up his career for his beliefs. He was the catalyst of a lot of changes at Loras College.”
When Kutsch, 92, thinks back to his 13 years at Loras, he remembers the students like Wilson and Rhodes who were becoming conscious of their identities as Black men, he said.
One day, he passed by a student’s doorway and read a sign. It said: “Black is beautiful. To be beautiful is to be Black.”
”I recall some of the students took offense to that, but I think it was very important for students to learn to be proud of the color that they are,” he said. “I think that was reflective of what was happening in the late ‘60s at Loras College and the colleges around the country.”
Kutsch said his termination came as a surprise to him, and he agreed that his stance on civil rights played a part in his dismissal.
According to a Telegraph Herald article published on July 13, 1969, a Loras faculty spokesman said “the replacement of Father Kutsch by the administration was not a question of academic or intellectual freedom.”
But later that month, about 60 Loras College faculty signed a statement criticizing the college’s decision to fire Kutsch.
“Father Kutsch was a very decent person that I could trust,” Wilson said. “He was there if I needed him.”
That trust was mutual, Kutsch said. All he wanted was for students, Black or white, to be treated with fairness.
“I think, generally, I was very concerned about treating students with respect and being fair in my dealings with them,” he said. “I did not have to prove myself to them. They knew I was concerned about them.”
Later this year, Rhodes plans to attend the ceremony to honor Kutsch once again. But this time, he already knows the answer to his question.
“He did the right thing because of us,” Rhodes said.