'Feels like yesterday': Family will not forget day Minnesota State Patrol Trooper Ray F. Krueger died while on duty
NISSWA—It was almost six decades ago, but the family of Ray F. Krueger will never forget the day their lives changed forever.
Krueger, a Minnesota State Patrol trooper, died Nov. 20, 1959, while on duty as a result of injuries in a crash along Highway 210, west of Brainerd. He was 47, leaving behind his wife to raise five children on a $120 a month pension.
The Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police and the Fraternal Order of Police Lakes Area Lodge No. 11 presented a medal, flag and shadow box to Krueger's family Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Nisswa American Legion.
Krueger's two sons, Brainerd residents John Krueger and Jeff Krueger, along with other family members, gathered at the Legion to accept the honor. Krueger's three daughters, Mary Renberg of Sleepy Eye, Caralyn Mayo of St. Peter and Jean Branum of Nisswa were unable to attend the event.
Ray Krueger started with the state patrol March 15, 1934. According to a Brainerd Dispatch story published after the 1959 fatal crash, Krueger drove more than 1 million miles without a crash in his years of patrolling state highways. Krueger was known as "the best driver on the state patrol by fellow officers." The driver of the second vehicle was apparently making a left turn in front of Krueger's squad when the vehicles collided.
"This is unbelievable," Jeff Krueger said after the presentation in an interview. "This is a real honor to have."
"It is an honor," John Krueger said as the two brothers sat together. "I'm glad I'm still alive when this is happening. When my dad was killed I was 17, Jeff was 15 and my youngest sister was 2."
Jeff Krueger said he remembers the day his dad was killed like it was yesterday.
"I was at the Franklin school and the principal called me down and said I was supposed to go home and I asked, 'Why,?'" Jeff Krueger said. "He said, 'I don't know why,' so I ran home."
John Krueger said, "My uncle was the sheriff here in Crow Wing County when it happened and he came to the high school and got me that morning. He came to tell me my dad was killed."
The brothers said every time they hear of a fallen law enforcement officer on the news, the tragic memory of their dad's death rushes back.
"I feel so bad for the families," Jeff Krueger said. "I know what they are going through."
"It always brings you back," John Krueger said. "I can't understand why people would want to go into that profession."
The Krueger family, however, has a long lineage in law enforcement. Ray Krueger's father, John, was a constable in Garrison. His brother, Paul, was a game warden and his other brother, Al, was Crow Wing County sheriff. Ray's son Jeff Krueger joined the military police in the Army and Jeff's daughter, Heidi Lenk, pursued a career in law enforcement. Lenk is the Aitkin County Sheriff's Office undersheriff. Lenk became an Aitkin County jailer/dispatcher in 1995 and a year later was hired as deputy sheriff. She has been with the sheriff's office for 22 years.
"When I was a little girl my dad talked about stories about his dad in law enforcement and my dad was in the military police and it always interested me," Lenk said. "I pursued that interest and chased that dream down."
Lenk said the family is grateful and honored for the Fraternal Order of Police's memorial to Ray Krueger.
"This night means more to my dad and uncle because it was their dad," Lenk said at the ceremony in an interview. "It means a lot to them because they didn't do a lot back then in the 1950s. It's such an honor in that it is 2019 and they are still honoring their father."
Presenting the honor to the family on behalf of the Fraternal Order of Police Lakes Area Lodge and the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police was Ruben Marichalar of the Minnesota State Patrol, who serves as the national trustee of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police, and Josef Garcia of the Breezy Point Police Department, who serves as the state's vice president.
"It's meaningful beyond belief," Garcia, who also is the president of the local lodge, said after the presentation. "In law enforcement, we are a pretty tight fraternity of brothers and sisters. Ray has a family in law enforcement and one of the biggest things we can do is honor those who have served before us, and to never forget, especially the ones who died in the line of duty. It's very important."
Marichalar said when the lodge started looking at the history on Krueger the number 59 came up often. Krueger was killed in 1959 and it was 59 years ago as of November 2018. It also was the Minnesota State Patrol's 59th class to go through its academy last year.
"Since last year's class was the 59th class to go through the academy we are calling them 'Krueger's 59,'" Marichaler said.
The flag displayed in the shadow box was flown over the U.S. Capitol on Nov. 20, 2018, the anniversary of Krueger's death, at the request of Congressman Erik Paulsen.
"We want to thank you for everything," Marichalar said during the presentation. "We thank you for his service and everything you have done.
"On behalf of the Minnesota State Lodge and the members who are here today, we want to present this to the family. It's a great huge loss for all of us. He knew what he was getting himself into, as we all do. None of us ever expect this to happen and to know he had the courage to do what he had to do and made the ultimate sacrifice.
"We are sorry for your loss."
On the Fraternal Order of Police Lakes Area Lodge board are Garcia as president, Mark Taylor as vice president, Brandon Rothwell as state trustee, Richelle Garcia as treasurer, Kate Petersen as secretary, Matt Jorgens as sergeant at arms and Luke Hamilton as chaplain.
"This honor and recognition of Trooper Ray Krueger is a testament to the character, courage and sacrifice of Ray and his family," Capt. Joseph Dwyer of the Minnesota State Patrol's Brainerd District, who was unable to attend the event, stated in an email. "After nearly 60 years, Trooper Krueger's tragic crash continues to serve as a reminder of the importance of our traffic safety mission. His legacy lives on through his family and the noble work being done by our troopers and traffic safety partners to save lives on Minnesota roads."
Lt. Keith Benz, who started with the state patrol in 1999, said it's nice for Krueger to be recognized after 59 years and for the state patrol to name the last class as "Krueger's 59."
"When we lose a trooper it takes a toll, and it affects all troopers," Benz said. "Not to take anything away from the immediate family of the death of Trooper Krueger, but as an agency, we lose a part of us everytime we lose a member. We consider ourselves family. It's difficult but nice to see him finally being recognized after 59 years."
A memorial is displayed in Krueger's honor is in the lobby of the Minnesota State Patrol Brainerd District in Baxter. Krueger's name is also etched on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The family continues to work on renaming a portion of Highway 210 in Cass County as State Trooper Ray Krueger Memorial Highway along the stretch where he lost his life. Lenk and her sister, Deb Lasher, proposed an idea to rename the portion of Highway 210 and state Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, authored the bill under the transportation committee last spring, but the legislation failed.
Lenk said this time the family is going to try to push a stand-alone bill to get it passed.
"The legislation just came into session so we are in the early processes to get this going again," Lenk said.