NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - She was a Jewish girl from the Upper West Side.
He was a Midwestern minister’s son.
So, what drew 19-year-old Lisa Schur and 18-year-old Doug Kruse together as Harvard undergrads?
“She saw my inherent charm and charisma,” Kruse joked.
Not exactly, counters Schur. Especially since Kruse, a budding economist, was gushing about a statistics class to the sociology student.
“Actually, I thought he was kind of boring when I first met him,” she said with a laugh.
That playful banter underscores what the Rutgers researchers said makes their 31-year-marriage work: shared sense of humor.
“I think that’s tremendously important in the relationship,” said Kruse, a distinguished professor with Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR), whose work in the areas of employee ownership, profit sharing and disability research is cited internationally. “Having the same sense of humor says a lot about your perspective on the world.”
Ultimately, it was a shared disappointment – the results of the 1980 presidential election – that bonded the two romantically, after a year of platonic socializing as part of a student dining cooperative.
“We took a long walk that night, talked a lot and after all those shared meals, something shifted,” said Schur, who chairs Rutgers’ SMLR’s Department of Labor Studies and Employment Relations and is a sought-after expert in the area of disability research.
“I guess you could say Reagan brought us together,” said Kruse.
It would take another eight years, a combined six academic degrees and long stretches living thousands of miles apart before the two would say “I do” on June 12, 1988. Memories of those years of maintaining a long-distance relationship make them appreciate that they both landed at Rutgers – Kruse in 1988 and Schur in 1998.
After tying the knot, Kruse settled into his new role as an economics professor at Rutgers, while Schur was finishing up her Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley, where she was working on a dissertation about women and unions. Then, just a few days shy of their second anniversary, the couple was involved in an accident that forever altered their personal and professional lives. While traveling from a friend’s wedding to Kruse’s parent’s home in Omaha, Nebraska, their car was struck by a drunk driver. Kruse was thrown from the vehicle and suffered near fatal injuries that left him paralyzed from the chest down.
“Divorce rates shoot up three times in the first few years following a spinal cord injury,” said Kruse. “You can understand that because there are a lot of stressors that a medical disability puts on our lives.”
But rather than tearing them apart, the couple said Kruse’s injury deepened their commitment to one another. The accident also opened their eyes to a largely unexplored area of research that they could mine together: the political and economic challenges facing people living with disabilities.
Shortly after the accident and within weeks of George H.W. Bush signing the Americans with Disabilities Act, Schur changed her thesis to focus on disability issues in political participation and employment. As far as they know, Schur and Kruse are the only married professors in the country working together on disability research in relation to law, economics and politics. Together, they wrote the book "People with Disabilities: Sidelined or Mainstreamed?" in 2013 and coauthor reports on voter turnout among those with disabilities.
Sharing a home, workplace and field of study could be stifling for some couples, but not for Schur and Kruse.
“We know how to work together and what each other’s strengths are,” said Schur. “Sometimes we spend all our time talking about work and we need to go to a movie or do something else. But I’m kind of amazed. We never run out of things to talk about. We are just interested in so many of the same things.”