Konrad Noben-Trauth was a molecular biologist who helped discover the genes that cause hearing loss and obesity. When he needed a new intellectual challenge, he pursued a law degree — graduating magna cum laude.
He also knit scarves and sweaters, played three instruments and could recite the scores of World Cup games. And every Saturday he baked a hazelnut Kirsch torte, a ritual that reminded him of his beloved home in Germany and of the times baking with his mother.
What couldn't he do?
"Drive a combine," said his wife, Nancy Noben-Trauth, as she reflected on their life together at her family's farmstead west of Detroit Lakes. Konrad died there on March 12 after being diagnosed with brain cancer just months after graduating from law school. He was 61.
Konrad was a shy kid from a village near the Rhine River in Herxheim, Germany. He was a church altar boy, helped his grandparents in their vineyard and learned to play chess on the train ride to school.
He chronicled all aspects of his life, starting with a journal his parents gave him for Christmas and ending with a blog (sevendeafmice.com) that detailed his career and four-year journey with cancer.
"He was good at documenting things, reflecting upon them and thinking deeply," said Nancy. "That helped him with his career and making decisions."
His time as a Jesuit novice at the Rupert-Mayer-Haus in Nuremberg had the biggest impact on his personal and professional life. "[The Jesuits] put an emphasis on self discovery and development," said Nancy. "It was a powerful transition for him."
Konrad worked as a nurse, studied genetics and microbiology at the Heidelberg University and became a Heidelberg scholar at the University of Kentucky.
In the Black Forest, at the Max Planck Institute in Freiburg, he received a doctorate in molecular biology and met and married Nancy Noben, who was there on a postdoctoral fellowship.
They changed both of their last names to Noben-Trauth and moved to Bar Harbor, Maine, where Konrad helped discover an obesity gene and received the first four U.S. patents at the Jackson Laboratory.
In Washington, D.C., he led an independent research laboratory at the National Institutes of Health where he used mice to discover the human disease genes that cause hearing loss.
Konrad wasn't known solely for his intellectual pursuits. In rural Lake Park, Minn., near Nancy's family homestead and a lake home they shared, locals were drawn by his German accent. And in St. Paul, where he lived while going to law school, he was a something of an exotic figure in his beret and Mephisto shoes. He rode his bicycle everywhere.
In his late 50s, inspired by American patent law and social justice issues, Konrad enrolled at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul and shortly after graduation landed a job as a law clerk at a downtown Minneapolis law firm.
A few months later, as he arrived for his new job at the IDS Center, a security guard thought he appeared disheveled and confused. He was taken by ambulance to a hospital and diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer.
Though Konrad thought he'd live only a year and a half or so, he lived four.
"The hardest part of the cancer diagnosis was coming to the terms with not being able to plan for the future, but to focus on every moment," said Nancy. "That was a challenge that he totally embraced."
In addition to his wife, he's survived by his family in Germany, including mother Elfriede; brothers, Franz and Bernhard; and sister, Susanne. Services have been held.