Arlene Crescenzi Allen ’64 had a most unforgettable teacher at Montclair State College: Dr. Russell Krauss, brilliant professor of English literature and a classic absent-minded professor. One day while teaching and reading from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in a first-floor classroom, he approached a window, leaned out, lost his balance, and fell out in mid-sentence! Returning a few minutes later, uninjured and minus his glasses but still clutching the book, to the delight of his astonished students, Dr. Krauss picked up reading exactly where he had left off without missing a beat.
“It took a while for me to fully appreciate what he had given me,” Arlene says. “Not until I was teaching, did I realize the full extent of it.” A former Rhodes Scholar at Oxford and proficient in Old, Middle, and Elizabethan English, Dr. Krauss “had a special way of making classic literature current in any generation, taking you back in time and making it come alive for this students.” A demanding teacher, Krauss raced through a novel a week with his students. “To get a B from him was like an A+ anywhere else,” says Arlene, an English major who arranged her school schedule around classes with Dr. Krauss. His challenging test questions were legendary: “How many kisses were there in Pride and Prejudice?” “Name all of the women in Beowulf.” “If you got through his class, you knew that nothing would stump you in the classroom,” Arlene says. “He worked us to the bone.”
Arlene went on to teach English and literature for 37 years, including 27 years at Governor Livingston Regional High School in Clark, NJ. She retired in 2001 from Arthur L. Johnson High School, also in Clark. “I had a long, wonderful career,” Arlene says. “Teaching for me was like a vacation. I couldn’t wait to get to school. I always wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl.” She always remembered Dr. Krauss, whose voice continued to inspire her teaching of Beowulf and many other works throughout her teaching years.
Wanting to do something special at her alma mater to honor her beloved professor for the difference he had made in her life, Arlene made the lead gift to establish the Dr. Russell Krauss Classroom in Montclair State’s University Hall. The room was dedicated on September 24, 2008, at a special reception, attended by Arlene’s husband Craig Allen; her mother, Rose Crescenzi; Professor Krauss’s sister Nancy and his son Russell; alumni and faculty; and former Krauss colleagues who shared humorous memories of Dr. Krauss as well as noting his special influence in their lives.
Arlene greatly values her personally and professionally enriching educational experience. “Montclair State prepared you for anything as a teacher, and they’re still doing it today,” Arlene says proudly. “Montclair students are professionals with little need for guidance by their practicum teacher, ready right from the start — I saw that myself as a teacher. They have an immediate rapport with their students.” A senior during the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis, she and her fellow teacher education students had to attend weekly lectures and pass an exam to be certified as Civil Defense wardens that spring. “They literally prepared us for every eventuality,” Arlene says proudly. “It made you smarter and more confident. You knew you could fall back on your skills for anything that came up in the classroom.”
Arlene and her husband Craig also have established an endowed scholarship for teacher education majors. It helps support students during their student teaching experience, when they must focus on their student teaching and classroom preparation and are unable to work outside the classroom. “It’s important to give back,” says Arlene, who has been a member of the Montclair State University Alumni Association Board since 2009. “I had a scholarship at Montclair State. If it hadn’t been for that, I would not have been able to go to college. I know that scholarships are important to give students a chance.”
A fellow teacher, Kurt Epps ’69, also studied with Dr. Krauss. “I taught with Arlene Allen for many years, beginning back in 1971,” he shares. “We were academic and cultural contemporaries, having grown up in an era with values embedded in us by our parents — members of the Greatest Generation. We were generally in awe of those we called our teachers, and we attended Montclair State because it was a teachers’ college. Because of the good teachers we had — including legends like Dr. Krauss — we were committed to becoming as good as they were. Becoming a teacher was not only noble, it was, to people like Arlene and me, practically holy. While we definitely had different teaching styles, Arlene reminded me of the teachers I had growing up — knowledgeable, committed to excellence and totally dedicated to the cause. She is the type of teacher every child should have had, just to see what real excellence looked like in a classroom. In fact, her picture should be next to the word ‘teacher’ in the dictionary.”