Alumni Profiles

Spoiled Dogs, Pinot Noir and Black Angus

Jack and Karen Krug have escaped to a world of their own. Tucked away in the woods of Whidbey Island, Washington on a small pristine farm, they are enjoying an
early retirement that seems as far removed as it could be from their high-flying careers in the oil industry. Jack ’70, MS ’71, PhD ’77, a petroleum engineer, and
Karen ’84, a petroleum engineer and lawyer, now refer to themselves as vintner/farmers, growing pinot noir grapes, making wine and raising Black Angus.

Karen explains: When they moved to Washington from Golden in 2004, both were looking for a rural life, but Jack was interested in farming and she wanted to make wine. So they compromised and began the work of planting vines and preparing pastureland. Jack enrolled in a six-month livestock advisor course at Washington State University to determine the most sustainable farming techniques for their land—a strong focus of their entire operation—while Karen joined the board of the Whidbey Island Conservation District (which she subsequently chaired). They also received assistance from scientists at a WSU grape-growing research program and a nearby vintner specialist.

More than five years into their new life, the Krugs are very happy. “There is a natural progression to what we do, depending on the weather and the crop or livestock needs,” says Karen. “It’s a healthy life, with lots of exercise and good-eating homegrown veggies. We are almost completely self-sustained,” she adds. They
especially enjoy running Spoiled Dog Winery, named after their Australian Shepherds, Blue and Carmie. Jack says, “It’s a lot of fun. Think of it being an applied chemistry
class—but not 101.”

However, Jack is used to complexity. He enjoyed a long and successful career in the oil and gas industry, most recently as owner/partner of Golden-based Questa Engineering. Previously he headed up several companies in Russia and Kazakhstan, and was president of Chaparral Resources. Today, he still enjoys the odd short spell as an on-site rig supervisor, as it helps pay for winery and farm equipment and keeps his knowledge fresh.

When he isn’t working on an oil rig or on the farm, Jack enjoys woodworking and furniture making. He recently built a bathhouse, complete with a Japanese soaking tub and sauna, which was featured on the back cover of the Fall/Winter 2008 edition of Fine Homebuilding magazine (see Web Extras for some spectacular photos of the structure).

After graduating with her degree in petroleum engineering from Mines, Karen complemented it with a law degree from Lewis & Clark College of Law and developed a career as a petroleum negotiator, specializing in Central Asia. Today she continues to work part-time for a London-based law firm, primarily on projects in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In April, she completes a one-year term as president of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators, a position that will have taken her to five continents to lead workshops and conferences. Now, with the end in sight, she’s looking forward to devoting more time to selling wine.

The Krugs called Golden their home for 40 years, so when they uprooted and moved away in 2004, they had to leave a great deal behind: friends, family and close proximity to their alma mater. Their involvement with Mines over the years has been considerable; Karen was the school’s first alumna trustee (1996-2004) and she founded the Sister to Sister Scholarship to support female students at Mines.

They haven’t ruled out returning someday. But for now, they are busy building a new life and livelihood together (“retirement” really isn’t apt). And they encourage others to do the same: “The bottom line—find a passion to keep yourself entertained through retirement,” says Karen.

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NASA Flight Controller Prepares for the Worst

At space camp in high school, James Johnson ’03 was disappointed that he wasn’t selected to be an astronaut. Instead, he was put on mission control. He had a blast (pun intended).

“It was kind of foreshadowing, I guess,” says Johnson, who today is a flight controller for the space shuttle program at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

As a specialist in electrical, environmental and consumables management (EECOM), it is Johnson’s job to help maintain the crew’s life support systems during flight. For those who recall the actual events or the 1995 film, it was largely the ingenuity of the EECOM team that brought the crew of Apollo 13 safely back to Earth after the famous line, “Houston, we have a problem,” was transmitted from the stricken spaceship.

“Our mantra is train, plan, fly,” says Johnson, who estimates that his team spends 80 percent of its time training. In between their roughly four flights per year, they run practice simulations—about three per week. “Our practice sessions are like a miniature Apollo 13 disaster. Over the course of eight hours, all hell breaks loose, and then we try to take care of the scenario,” he says.

Johnson tells a story that’s often repeated in the flight control world: As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were descending toward Earth after their first lunar landing, they received an alarm that the system was overloading. Prior to the mission, the simulation team had worked on this exact failure, so they were able to immediately provide the solution.

Though he admits they are stressful, Johnson enjoys the marathon simulations, and when you talk to him, you understand why. The son of a United Airlines pilot, Johnson grew up with an interest in flight and space. He recalls wearing out his parents’ VCR watching the movie, Return to Flight, about the first space shuttle mission following
the Challenger disaster. By high school he was researching what made aircraft fly. “That’s when I realized engineering was for me,” he says.

After his high school space camp experience and during his first few years at Mines, Johnson says, “I thought flight control was really cool, though it still seemed a little bit out of reach.” But during his sophomore year, Johnson found out that Mines’ Cooperative Education program would allow him to work at Mission Control, while continuing to work toward his degree. Over the next three years, he rotated around different divisions within NASA’s mission operations directorate, including two tours with the EECOM group.

Johnson says that the multidisciplinary aspect of his education has helped him the most. “Mines had me look at multiple aspects within engineering and work with
students from other disciplines,” he says, explaining that he never knows from day to day what engineering specialists he’ll need to work with. His work now ties in with numerous specialties. “With every flight, we always have something that breaks or fails or creates a challenge. Not all of it makes the news—the average layperson doesn’t really care about it. But you can rest assured, it’s keeping us on our toes around the clock.”

And there, on his toes, is exactly where Johnson loves to be.

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