Domer Diaries

My Domer Diary: Bob Kruse

The '74 Duster Returns to ND

Editor’s Note: Domer Diaries is the newest storytelling series from the Alumni Association where members of the Notre Dame family tell their stories in their own words. This week’s Domer Diaries entry comes from Bob Kruse ’78, a former Naval and airline pilot who recently restored a 1974 Plymouth Duster as a near replica of the car he drove while a Notre Dame senior. He recently returned from an 11-day, 4,540-mile road trip from his home in Minneapolis through Notre Dame and several of his duty stations in Florida and Texas.

Name: Bob Kruse
Class year: 1978
Residence Hall: Alumni Hall for all four years, and I loved it.
Major: Business Administration with a concentration in Management
Student Activities: Navy ROTC
Occupation: U.S. Navy pilot and then airline pilot for Northwest and Delta Airlines
Location: Various duty stations in Florida, Texas, and Maryland, then the entirety of my airline career in my hometown of Minneapolis

Share a short update about yourself and your life changes since graduating. 

After being rejected by the Naval Academy, Notre Dame became my first choice as my dad and seven of my eight siblings went there. I joined the NROTC battalion at Notre Dame and after graduation and commissioning in the Navy went to pilot training in Pensacola, Florida, and Corpus Christi, Texas. Upon completion of my flight training I flew the TACAMO mission EC-130 aircraft at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland. I then spent my final year in the Navy as a flight instructor at Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Florida training student naval aviators. I left active duty in 1984 and was hired by Northwest Airlines one month later. I worked as a pilot for Northwest and Delta for more than 36 years and retired in September of 2020. Airline pilots are not allowed to fly beyond age 65, so there was no opportunity for me to work later than that. Got married to a wonderful gal (Cathy ’82SMC) in 1986 and have two grown kids. Michael is 29 and is engaged to be married next year. He works for a private equity firm in Chicago after graduating from Washington University in St. Louis in 2015. Emily ’16 is a physician doing her residency at Brown University in Providence after graduating from the University of Minnesota Medical School.

What sparked your interest in recreating the car you drove at Notre Dame? Describe the restoration process and your planned road trip this fall.

In the summer of 1977 before my senior year at Notre Dame, I bought my first car. It was a brown 1974 Plymouth Duster, which I brought to school with me. I parked it in lot D-2, which was in the middle of where DeBartolo Quad is now. As required by the campus police department, I displayed my parking sticker in the left rear quarter window of the car. After graduation and commissioning into the U.S. Navy, I took the Duster with me to my first two duty stations, then traded it in for a new car. I never saw the Duster again after that. 

Fast forward to 2019. Knowing that I’d be retiring in 2020, I hatched the idea of recreating my original car as a retirement project, and then driving it on a two-week road trip visiting my duty stations in the Navy. My first stop along the way would be South Bend, of course, which was where my Navy career started. I scanned the antique car websites for several months, then found a Duster for sale in Portland, Oregon, which was remarkably similar to my original car. I flew out to buy it, then spent the next two years restoring it to appear exactly like my first original college Duster. 

My car represents a simpler time in the seventies when life was easier and people were calmer. The restoration process involved refurbishing and renewing all of the car’s mechanical systems, then cosmetically improving the interior and exterior. It was a very simple car to work on, and you can get parts anywhere. The road trip planning took me through South Bend and then nearly all of my duty stations, to include Naval Air Station Cecil Field FL, NAS Pensacola FL, NAS Whiting Field FL, and NAS Corpus Christi TX. I met an amazing diversity of people along the way at my fuel stops. Many shared their Duster stories and commented on how much they liked the car. The Navy is vastly different, some good and some bad. The bases have changed a lot and are not nearly as active or busy as back in the day.

What was a formative moment in your time at Notre Dame that continues to influence you today?

That had to be my involvement in NROTC. I always wanted to be a pilot in the Navy, but had to fall back on Plan B after the Naval Academy rejected me. After getting into ND, I joined NROTC and went on to have a disastrous first semester in aerospace engineering (1.8 GPA — ouch!). I eventually landed in the business school, which was fine by me. I thought the NROTC program was excellent, and superbly prepared us midshipmen to become officers in the Navy after graduating. They get hold of you at a very impressionable point in your life and train you in core values, which I keep to this very day. It was a pleasure and honor to serve with these guys. We started with 52 in my NROTC class in the fall of 1974 and commissioned 25 four years later. We went on to many amazing experiences in the Navy, and it was all unforgettable. I served with many great shipmates, many still alive and some killed in the line of duty. I treasure all these friendships