Before I Was: Professor dug graves after undergrad

WKU journalism professor Mac McKerral has held a number of jobs, from working in a spaghetti factory to digging graves, before landing at WKU.

Liz Geiman

The phrase “six feet under” is not accurate, and Mac McKerral can attest to it.

McKerral, the coordinator of the news/editorial journalism program and associate professor at WKU, has held many odd jobs, including a grave digger.

“Four feet, 11 and three-fourths inches is Illinois state law,” McKerral said of the depth of a grave.

He worked at the Illinois cemetery the fall after he graduated college during what he calls his “transition periods.”

He said the work was quiet and peaceful. Despite the dark nature of working in a graveyard, McKerral made light of the job.

When asked what he did in the cemetery, he said he had “more than 3,000 people under him.”

This light-hearted attitude carried over to his job at a spaghetti factory in Chicago Heights, Ill. He cleaned pasta machines and stood at the end of a production line placing freshly made spaghetti on trays to dry.

Most of the workers at the factory and the foreman, Columbo, were Italian and had limited English skills. And McKerral didn’t speak any Italian.

Columbo, who was a “true Italian, with a sandwich always in his tennis racket-sized hands,” gave orders through body language. He motioned when the machines needed more flour.

“He would hit his shoulder, which meant I needed to carry a 100-pound bag of flour over and pour it in,” McKerral said.

The professor also held positions that were relevant to his personal interests. In high school, McKerral and a friend worked as bookies taking bets on college and professional football games.

With the money they earned, McKerral went to his first Kentucky Derby in 1970, a race he has never missed since.

His interest in horse racing led him to work as a racehorse groom, a race track maintenance crew member and a front-end loader operator at Hialeah Park Race Course in Florida.

Harry Allen, a friend of McKerral’s and retired WKU professor, recalled a story about McKerral at the race track where he “somehow ending up riding a motor scooter,” he said in an email. “But he didn’t know how to operate it and rode through a hedge.”

McKerral has also been a construction laborer, recreational volleyball league referee and worked nearly every job in the news industry. While working these jobs, he met people from different walks of life.

“The more you expose yourself to the ways people have to live, you get an understanding,” he said. “It makes it easier for me to connect with people as an editor or as a reporter.”

Despite his odd jobs, McKerral said news is where he wants to be.

“There is no way I could pick between being in a classroom or a newsroom,” he said.

Although he wouldn’t mind getting back out to the graveyard.