The Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center is mourning the loss of one of its long-time volunteers, Kent Kroneman, who passed away on Sept. 15 at the age of 88.
Kroneman and his wife, Ruth, had been long-time residents of Brian Head, Utah, an area where they were quite content to live. But that contentment came to an end on a vacation stopover in Newport, where an encounter with the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s octopus changed Ruth’s life. She was profoundly struck by the majesty, mystery and intelligence of such a unique animal.
They moved to Newport the next year and became volunteers at the HMSC Visitor Center in 1998. Ruth worked as a husbandry volunteer and interpreter, sharing her passion for the animals and the ocean with hundreds of thousands of visitors. Kent, who never expressed any jealousy over his wife’s love affair with an octopus, joined her as a volunteer.
Kroneman’s years of experience as a master electrician for the University of Utah’s public access TV station, high-speed cinematographer for the military, and inventor of the first color photo printer meant there wasn’t a problem at the visitor center he couldn’t solve. He was instrumental in the design and construction of almost every exhibit in the center, and he was part of the team that created the Octocam, the nation’s first steaming web cam feed from inside an octopus enclosure.
He helped education researchers design the visitor center’s wave tank exhibits and install the observation equipment through the center that enabled researchers from all around the world to study how people learn.
But his involvement with the people in his life went well beyond technical support. He had a life experience that led him to being deeply compassionate, and his years working for a university had given him a unique understanding of how things worked inside a bureaucracy. Everyone at Hatfield who fell within his sphere of concern would benefit from his wisdom. He wouldn’t hesitate to corner a university president, a visiting senator or a NOAA administrator to sing the praises of the staff and scientists who he cared about.
And Kroneman would share his insights on why a place like the visitor center was so valuable to capturing up the imaginations and care of the visiting public. He’d say, “I know it’s easy to forget the important things when you’ve spent so long behind a desk, but you have to remember, the only way the world is going to change is to give people a chance to fall in love with the ocean.” He’d pause and point to his wife across the room, “Just like my Ruthie fell in love with that octopus. It changed our lives.” She’d smile at him from across the room, shake her head and say, “Oh Kent, these important people don’t want to hear what we think.”
As his VIP audience would begin to break away from the conversation, he’d hold them for one last comment: “And I hope all you young people have someone to love and adore in your lives like Ruthie and I do. Life isn’t worth living if you don’t have someone to love.”
Kroneman supported everyone with a look, a kind word or an anecdote. He paid attention, and he supported good people. If he cared about you, you knew it. Sometimes HMSC staff would shake their heads and wave off his accolades, but their protests never made a difference to him. He was forever a fan.
Kent and Ruth were a familiar sight to those who lived in Newport. They would walk everywhere — he would be decked out with his walking stick, a backpack and his volunteer uniform. If there were event flyers to put up or rack cards to be restocked around town, Kroneman would volunteer for the duty. He had personal relationships with every business in town and was a consummate promoter of the visitor center and its mission.
When someone from Hatfield would see them walking on a particularly nasty day, they’d come up beside them, roll the window down and ask, “Do you two want a ride?” Their reply was always the same: “Once you stop moving you start dying! No thank you!”
As Kroneman advanced in years, he often responded to a casual inquiry, “How are you doing Kent?,” with a pause and a serious look and then, “I’ve never been 83 before. It’s not for wimps!”
Even in his declining health, he and Ruth showed up for their shifts. Sometimes all he could do was sit by the front door and greet visitors, which gave him great delight. He always had a story, some advice, and a kind word of encouragement for people.
Weeks before he passed away, Kroneman was admitted to the ICU. The doctors told him that all the repairs made to his heart over the years were finally failing, and there was nothing more they could do. He received the news pragmatically and said in reply, “Well then, I probably shouldn’t be spending any more of my time here.” He checked himself out and walked home.
A memorial service for Kroneman will be held at 10 a.m. on Oct. 24, at First Presbyterian Church in Newport.