Professor Robert Linder: Former mayor, baseball player, crocodile wrestler

Robert D. Linder, University Distinguished Professor, lectures in Manhattan, Kan. on April, 21, 2011. (Courtesy Image | K-State Communications and Marketing)

After walking into room 117 B in Calvin Hall, it becomes evident that the tenant of that space is no ordinary professor. Before the door can even be opened, it is near impossible to miss the sign dubbing the room’s resident as “Crocodile Bob.” While he usually tries to save his stories for students in his classes, the resident of room 117 B in Calvin Hall did offer out that his nickname is a result of wrestling a crocodile in Australia.

While it may be expected that waiting on the other side of the door is a room devoted wild adventures and exotic animals, the room is actually filled to the brim with books upon books about baseball, history, politics and religion. One look at these books, and one has a glimpse into the mind of one of the longest tenured professors in the Department of History at Kansas State, distinguished professor Robert Linder.

Linder was born and raised in Salina. As to when Linder was born, it is a riddle in of itself and the subject of one of Linder’s many jokes.

“I was born in Salina, Kansas, many years ago, before the Dead Sea was dead,” Linder said.

Growing up in Salina provided Linder with opportunities and experiences that eventually lead to him becoming interested in history, politics and baseball. One such opportunity was perusing a local bookstore for what seem like a bargain today.

“I used to walk past a used bookstore in Salina, and I would go in there and look through their five and 10 cent books,” Linder said. “A lot of them were about politics, and I would save my pennies and eventually buy them and read them.”

He said another opportunity came in the form joining his father in volunteering for a local political campaign by nailing up signs, which Linder said is an extinct practice.

“They don’t do that anymore, but they did then,” Linder said.

Aside from reading about politics and volunteering for political campaigns, Linder said he was also a huge fan of “America’s pastime” growing up.

“Well I don’t play anymore, but I played between the ages of 10 and 73 some form of baseball,” Linder said. “It’s just the greatest game in the history of the world.”

Baseball turned out to be more than just an interest for Linder. Just out of high school, Linder joined up with the Miami Owls, who were at the time a minor league baseball team in Oklahoma.

After his one year in minor league baseball, Linder attended Emporia State University, where he also played baseball. It was in his time there that Linder discovered an interest in Christianity. Linder then decided to attend Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

While Linder’s interest in religion held up in his time at the seminary, his desire to become a pastor did not, as he desired to study and critique religion without being under pressure from a congregation.

After a short stint with the Army following seminary school, Linder attended the University of Iowa, where he received his master’s degree and Ph.D in history.

After attending the University of Iowa, Linder went back to school, but this time as a teacher at William Jewell College. After making the move from William Jewell College to Kansas State University, the rest is history.

“I’ve been teaching at K-State for fifty years, so that will give you some idea,” Linder said.

Linder has built a reputation in the world of academics through historical research, particularly in the fields of religion and politics, and through touching the lives of his students and colleagues.

One testament to Linder’s ability to affect the lives of his students is the Robert D. Linder History Scholarship. Created in 1987, the effort to create the scholarship was put forth by some of Linder’s former students.

Michael Krysko, associate professor of history, commented on Linder’s ability to support his colleagues.

“My daughter was in an accident four years ago, and it was challenging,” Krysko said. “A couple of colleagues rallied to try to get us some help, and I remember there was one morning and the doorbell rings. It was like nine in the morning, which was odd … and so I see through the window a Kansas City Royals hat, and there [Linder] was, standing there with groceries.”

Linder was able to make an impact on a community-wide level through being elected to the Manhattan city commission in the 1970s, becoming mayor at one time.

In addition to his deep knowledge of history and compassion for others, Linder likes to have a laugh now and then.

“He usually has some kind of a joke,” Melissa Janulis, Department of History office manager, said. “He kind of has a dry sense of humor.”

Today, Linder can be still be seen walking the paths and hallways of K-State. Whether he is on his way to history class about religion, baseball or politics, one can be sure that he will be wearing his Kansas City Royals baseball cap.