Janene Brengelman Kruis is one proud mama — and she has every right to be.
Her son, Ben Kruis, recently won two regional Emmys (Midwest Chapter) for his work as an associate video producer with Grotto Network based at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.
“I keep asking him to bring an Emmy home so I can duct tape it to my (truck) hood and ride around Blackshear!” she says with a laugh. “This is my boy. He did something!”
B. Kruis has always had a love for filmmaking, says his mother, but his work in the industry really took off four years ago when he joined the startup network, Grotto, where he makes mini-documentaries.
“He was always making movies,” J. Kruis says. “I was always telling him, ‘Put down that camera. That won’t make you any money.’ I’m glad he didn’t listen to me. He’s doing really well.”
B. Kruis earned a degree in digital media from Ball State University before going to work at perhaps the most well known Catholic university in the country, Notre Dame. Grotto’s mission aligns with that of the Catholic church, he says.
Grotto is an online, digital outreach designed to bring young adults in their 20s and 30s back to an active faith.
“We’re trying to bring positive content to help young adults navigate life, encouraging them to make an impact in their communities and helping them in their faith,” B. Kruis says. “The goal is to help bring them back to the fold.”
His films feature people doing inspiring things. Some are people of faith and some are not, but each film maintains a message of hope. Kruis has featured the lives of religious monks and told the story of several artists.
His award winning films include a mini-documentary on a tattoo shop owner who offers free cover ups for anyone with a racist tattoo or other offensive tat they no longer want to display. Kruis won another Emmy for his piece on a husband and wife duo band who traveled to every state in the U.S. and asked people to sign messages of hope and positivity on their car. They called it the Unity Van and then auctioned the van featuring thousands of signatures from people all over the world off. Then, they donated the proceeds to a children’s hospital with a program for music therapy.
B. Kruis loves telling people’s stories and “putting good” out in the world. He’s even formed friendships with many of those featured in his films.
“It’s like having a day in the life of someone. You really become friends,” B. Kruis says. “When you’re able to do a story on something positive and hopeful it feels like you’re able to … throw positivity in a sea of negativity. It makes you feel good, but also it’s good to know you’re a part of putting good into the world.”
B. Kruis isn’t sure what the future holds for his career in film, but he has no plans to leave the industry. He’s hooked.
“I know that I will be telling stories for the rest of my life,” he told The Times recently. “Will I be doing it through documentaries? I have no idea … I’m certainly open to it.”
B. Kruis didn’t grow up in his mother’s hometown, but they visited often when he was a child and he comes “home” twice a year now to visit his parents. J. Kruis and her husband, Quinton, moved back South in 2015 to retire.
“We haven’t regretted a day of it (moving to Blackshear)! I never could get used to the cold (in Indiana). It didn’t matter how many clothes I put on … I just didn’t like it at all,” says J. Kruis with a laugh.
J. Kruis graduated from Blackshear High School in the late 1970s. She earned a nursing degree from Ware Tech and worked in Statesboro briefly before moving to Indiana with her family.
B. Kruis’ films can be viewed at grottonetwork.com, on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram.