Friends and family say they will remember Jon Krueger, GS ’12, for bringing people together with his compassion and inspiring them with his kindness and intelligence.
Krueger was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and died on June 20, five days before what would have been his 37th birthday. His brother, Thomas Krueger, said that even near the end, Krueger was always warm and concerned about how others were doing.
“We lost a really, really good person. He was a courageous, selfless, good guy, a great brother and best friend,” he said. “He understood what it meant to take care of people.”
Krueger found his way to Columbia after working as a crew member and artist on movies including “Magnolia” and “Boogie Nights.” He double-majored in economics and mathematics, graduating magna cum laude and joining the GS Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa despite his illness.
“He told me last summer that he wanted to complete his Columbia degree,” said former GS dean of students Scott Halvorson, who was Krueger’s academic advisor. “And he somehow found the strength to do it, with honors, under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.”
Brian Mackus, GS ’12 and a close friend of Krueger, emphasized Krueger’s ability to bring people together. Krueger volunteered as a GS orientation leader every year and often hosted parties for his friends.
“One of the remarkable things about him was that it [his cancer] made him more passionate,” Mackus said. “Some people end up stopping or closing up when they get sick, but it made him become more of who he was, even more socially outgoing and friendly.”
Halvorson also said he would remember Krueger for his sense of humor.
“Jon's defining characteristic was his incredible, piercing intelligence, matched with a self-deprecating sense of humor. He was so, so bright, but didn't take himself too seriously,” Halvorson said.
Krueger focused on studying math, but he was also passionate about movies, art, and cooking. He often spent his free time restoring classic cars and building furniture.
Another close friend, Stephanie Bates, GS ’12, described him as “caring and loving and brilliant and insightful.”
“We had wonderful conversations about anything. Even if we were just analyzing 'Vampire Diaries,' it would still be a poignant conversation,” she said.
Bates and Ben Totushek, a dual-degree student at GS and the School of International and Public Affairs, met Krueger in one of their first classes at Columbia—University Writing. Totushek remembers being impressed by Krueger’s first essay, which dealt with his life and how he came to Columbia.
“He was able to talk lucidly and intelligently about anything,” Totushek said. “He taught me to question every view that I hold, and to be more curious than driven by some knowledge that I want to put into practice.”
Totushek said that while Krueger didn’t have much background in mathematics before coming to Columbia, that only made him more eager to learn.
“He’s proof that if you’re patient and diligently put hard work into something, you can accomplish anything,” Totushek said. “It sounds cliché, but he really did it.”
Mathematics professor Toti Daskalopoulos echoed that sentiment. Daskalopoulos said that she got to know Krueger in January, when he sought her advice about taking extra math classes during his last semester.
“He had to tell me this very sad news, and another student was waiting outside my office to talk to me, and he was so considerate of the other student’s time,” Daskalopoulos said.
“He loved mathematics and he wanted to learn, and he was excited about this up to the very end,” she added.
During his last few months, Krueger began thanking people who had made a difference in his life, GS dean Peter Awn said.
“He sent this extraordinary note sort of thanking me and describing what his education at Columbia meant to him,” Awn said. “You can’t measure a loss like this—not only for our community, but what he could have done for his own community.”
Totushek called Krueger “the best person I ever knew.”
"He was really in a lot of pain near the end, but he never let that get in the way of making sure other people were OK,” Thomas Krueger said. “I hope that I could be that way.”