Here’s what turned out to be an award-winning photo of Dad at age 87 as he hoisted a dandy northern pike in the North Woods. He liked fishing but golf was his true passion for the past 40 years. —Photo By The Author
Here’s what turned out to be an award-winning photo of Dad at age 87 as he hoisted a dandy northern pike in the North Woods. He liked fishing but golf was his true passion for the past 40 years. —Photo By The Author
THE MAN who taught the scribbler about fishing, hunting, camping, waterskiing, golf, newspapering, faith and life in general breathed his last July 12. My dad died last week, at age 89.

Many have seen the face of Leland H. “Korny” Krueger on these pages in recent years because we had a decade-long stretch where he would give up chasing the little white ball for a couple of days each year to fish in the North Woods.

And without fail, we caught up, we caught fish and we reminisced about the good old days when a family of six spent countless weekends every summer fishing and boating in Three Lakes or Boulder Junction while growing up in central Wisconsin’s farm country.

As I’ve written so many times, there is really nothing that compares to a fishing trip with dear old dad. It’s a privilege that needs to be taken advantage of every chance you get, for someday, you’ll regret the opportunities to share boat space that were never acted upon.

We knew those moments together wouldn’t last forever so we kept it up through 2017, when my parents made a permanent move to their wintering place in Texas. But his health issues soon forced them back to Wisconsin, into assisted living and things spiraled downward from there.

It wasn’t too many years ago that he was stubborn enough to tell me that nobody ever died from smoking, because he was in denial on the whole subject of what causes cancer and other breathing ailments. But last year, he finally admitted that 73 years of smoking had ruined his lungs. In the end, he was on oxygen.

But to tell you the truth, he wouldn’t have been happy any other way. And he did make it almost nine decades. There were a couple of times that he quit smoking for several months and maybe even a year, but every time, my mom insisted that he resume because living with an angry, moody nonsmoker was no fun.

The North Woods was my second home growing up so it’s no big surprise that I landed here and stayed here during a career of newspapering. Like many of you, I fell in love with God’s country and pretty much decided that nobody was going to drag me away from this land of lakes and forests and wildlife.

Korny Krueger was a dear friend to many, but some saw this Navy veteran and product of a tough upbringing during the Great Depression as a little too stubborn, old-fashioned and somewhat antagonistic — possibly one of the qualities that made him a good newspaper publisher for almost two decades.

It’s not the easiest job in any community trying to deliver the news, because often the news is not good and publicizing it lets our readers know the truth. It’s not a job you can do without controversy, and quite often those affected want to beat up the messenger — as if it’s our fault for their wrong-doing.

Through all the trials and tribulations of life, Dad maintained a solid faith in God and he was never afraid to share his feelings, often challenging people to think about their own faith at what seemed to us like very awkward moments.

Looking back, I’m not sure that there is ever a perfect time to do what God asks of his believers — to witness to others.

Dad was quite the athlete, starting with boxing and basketball during his Navy years and then baseball and basketball when he returned to his native Marion. He was a city team baseball starter until age 47, when the Marion Meisters won the BABA Championship. Then he took up the game of golf and for never having swung a club previously, he did mighty well in that sport for 40 years.

Korny was a talker. He could strike up a conversation with just about anyone, anywhere. That sometimes got him in trouble with a wife and family that were holding dinner for him after work hours, because back in the day, families ate together on pretty much every night at pretty much the same time. And we didn’t eat without Dad.

It was fitting that I learned of his death just hours before the annual Kids Fishing Day in Eagle River would begin last Thursday, for there was hardly a better way to celebrate his life than by doing what he did for me — passing the torch on a great outdoor sport to another generation of anglers.

He grew up in poverty and had a tough home life, and that shaped him for life. It’s probably what sent him to the Navy at age 17, and we’re still trying to figure out how he snuck in before he was of proper age. He was a proud veteran, serving on the USS Taconic during the Korean Conflict.

Life on a ship gave him a love for boating, and the Krueger family always had a boat for fishing, cruising and skiing.

Dad was what they call a printer’s devil at age 11, working with hot type, cleaning duties and whatever it took at the Marion Advertiser. They bought that paper when I was 9, and I followed in his footsteps with a career in journalism.

We sold advertising specialties together for decades, even attending a national show together in Texas in our early years. It all happened after I stumbled into a way to go direct with manufacturers.

The tears are flowing heavily now as I author these final words about my dad. And the only appropriate way to end this is to steal his favorite words. For of all the gifts he provided, none is more important than the gift of faith.

We’ll meet again Dad, someday, Lord willing.