Obituary: Ben Krueger
June 23, 1935 – November 20, 2021
Ben was born to immigrant parents who came to the U.S. from Germany in 1925. They arrived during the depressed years at the end of World War I in Cicero, Illinois. At that time, Cicero was the biggest town in the country with 100,000 people, and a neighbor to Chicago.
Ben started caddying at the age of 10 with his older brother, Leo, at the private club in Riverside, Illinois. He often carried doubles (two bags, 18 holes) twice per day. He attended St. Mel’s high school in Chicago. His father passed away when Ben was 14, and with his brothers already out of the house he worked to help support the household. He delivered newspapers in the morning and worked at a grocery store, delivering groceries at age 15, driving a Chevy panel truck after school.
Ben loved the golf course environment. He caddied until 1950, then started working on the grounds crew at the Riverside Golf Club.
He attended the University of Massachusetts studying for an associate’s degree in horticulture during the winter of 1955. He was promoted to Assistant Superintendent a year later. He also took up Dale Carnegie courses and Toastmasters, finding a talent for setting any audience at ease.
Ben was drafted into the Army in May, 1958, between the Korean and Vietnam wars, and volunteered to join the paratroopers in the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He was selected as one of the outstanding field soldiers during exercise White Cloud conducted in October, 1958. The commanding officer reviewed Ben’s records and noticed he had done golf course work. The officer asked if he would be interested in special duty there at the Fort Campbell golf course to “whip it into shape”. General Westmoreland, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, stopped many times on the course to compliment Ben (“Red”) on the job he was doing and asked him to stay and re-up. However flattered by the offer, Ben’s experience and further study at Peay State College in Clarksville, Tennessee warned him of the trouble of managing a course in the transition zone for Northern and Southern grasses where both extreme hot and humid or cold and icy conditions prevail. Other opportunities were around the corner, or as it was- across the plains.
Ben married his wife, Celine, from Chesterton, Indiana on October 12, 1961. She was an R.N. at the Veterans’ Hospital in downtown Chicago at the time. He met her on a ski trip to Boyne Mountain, Michigan, the year before when he was on leave for a week from the Army. Rumor has it she, new to the sport, skied over his skies. Celine fell for skiing and the mountains and moved out to Denver in 1959 with girlfriends who also were nurses at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. She was later known as “Celine of Vail” because of her unique local persona, prolific artwork, Christmas fairs, and her help in the valley’s public schools.
In 1960, after his Army service, Ben moved closer to the mountains (and Celine) to Denver, Colorado. He worked at the Cherry Hills Country Club, right after the 1960 U.S. Open was held there. He stayed there until 1962 when he was hired to help design and be construction superintendent at the Los Verdes Golf Club in southeast Denver.
Now with two infant sons, Bern and John, the family moved to Vail, Colorado in April 1967 after Ben was asked to become the first manager of the Vail Metro Rec District. At that time, his responsibilities included golf, fishing, and tennis. His tasks included finishing construction of the first nine holes, design and building of the second nine plus three extra holes to replace original holes 1, 8, and 9 that were sold for the development of the North Woods Condominiums.
Ben was also tasked to build and maintain the tennis courts, ball fields, soccer & rugby fields, and the outside ice-skating operations at Gold Peak and behind the Vail Interfaith Chapel. In consort with the Town of Vail, Ben was in charge of planting the mature trees and landscaping the bermed new main parking structure at Vail. He also built the facility for the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy, turning the old lettuce pastures in the future EagleVail subdivision into a temporary golf course during that first year. That first fall he helped install the first snow-making operation on the Gold Peak race course and was the first snow-making supervisor for Vail Associates that winter.
He stayed on as Golf Course Superintendent for 25 years, contending with fickle Poa Anua grass, snow mold and both peat bogs and river rock just under the play surface. During the later years he built homes in West Vail in fall and winter when the heavy work and tension of the golf course let up and Ben’s skeleton crew groomed Nordic trails and prepared for spring.
In 1992 Ben retired from the course, and with his son John, with a recent MBA degree, started Krueger Development Company. He later traded half of his duplex home on the Vail Golf Course for a small trailer park in Glenwood Springs. Over the years he has helped out many tenants who couldn’t pay their rent and managed a neighborhood of homes with a river running through it, tucked in the cottonwoods.
Ben was a 65-year member of the Knights of Columbus (a Catholic Men’s organization devoted to do charitable work to help the needy.) He loved his Catholic faith and his St. Clare of Assisi Parish.
Ben helped start and was an initial coach for the Buddy Werner youth ski racing club and followed his kids around the west slope for high school football, skiing and volleyball. He loved golf, skiing, skating, dancing, and fishing (for golf balls). At age 80 he took up biking as an alternative exercise for his overworked back and every now and then he started “up the Pass”, headed East anyhow, greeting his many neighbor friends along the way. He enjoyed watching his children and grandchildren grow up to make Ben and Celine very proud.
Ben lost his artist-of-everything wife in 2007 to an infection after a surgery after 46 years of marriage. Ben is survived by his son, Marine Lt. Col. Bern Krueger of Colorado Springs (wife Terri, kids Caleb and Kate Krueger and Melisa Pacheco (husband Gary, and great granddaughter, Isabella Pacheco); son, Navy Lt. John Krueger (kids Claire and Davis); Carol Krueger; son, Karl Krueger (wife, Pavan and kids Hayden and Theo), and daughter Celynn (husband Scott McClarrinon and daughter Mary); and all of the Vail valley. Ben’s older brother, Albert, passed away in 2002; his brother, Leo, 90, lives in Lagrange, Illinois.
Ben’s is also survived by his lady friend, Tess Lloyd, mother of four and grandmother of ten of her own. They met at a Club 50 dinner-dance in 2010, and she has been Ben’s dancing partner, traveling companion, early morning golfer, dinner guest, and all-around sweetheart for over 10 years. Together they rarely missed a concert, dance or happening. To Ben’s family there was never a doubt that she belonged with him and us.
Ben is looking forward to catching up with Byron Brown (hopefully in heaven) so they can settle up golfing bets owed. He also hopes to sit in on bridge games with many locals who have preceded him and sharpen his game for pending arrivals.
He will miss playing early morning golf with Rick Sackbauer at the Vail course where he gets inspiration and lessons from Rick at the 18th tee. They played 84 rounds from May 15 to October 15 in 2020, first off in the morning, averaging 2 hours, 20 minutes for 18 holes. The Vail Recreation District gifted Ben a lifetime pass to the golf course in 1992. They have generously accommodated his filling the first tee time slot on summer mornings and even his disregard for cart paths and the “no cart” signs he once put up. He has booster Mike Ortiz, director of the VRD, to thank for continually recognizing his work on the Vail Golf Course with a room named for him at the new Clubhouse.
Ben wrote a historical account on the first 10 years of the Vail Recreation District, 100 pages of the personalities, stories and photographs of the early Landscape of the valley. The book was titled “Ben Here”, after the way he answered the phone, at home or at the course, for the last 60 years. Having distributed 300 copies already, raising money for the Knights of Columbus, Ben’s family will take your order and continue his fundraiser.
One of Ben’s best skiing memories of the past came in 2011, in a thank-you card from sports commentator Bud Palmer who wrote, ‘You are the greatest mogul skier that I have ever seen, and I have seen the best, none have your graceful style!’ Ben himself made a point to not just notice and think how much he appreciated someone’s particular talent or work, but to tell them so.
Ben was a mainstay in Vail and was part of the local “back bone”. He literally used up all of his vertebrae doing all that he loved over his 54 years in the valley. He had another procedure done last month in hopes of improving his mobility and maintaining his independence. However, the intervention disrupted all of his systems, and it became apparent to him that he would not be able to swing his golf clubs, dance with his sweetheart and plow through Walmart behind a cart. He bowed out, at peace.
A Catholic funeral mass will be held Friday, November 26th at Beaver Creek Chapel at 3:30 PM. A community celebration of Ben’s life is being planned for early January- stay tuned for details on the big event.
In lieu of flowers, donations to St. Clare’s School will be accepted, to support scholarships to help with tuition for those who would like to attend the school but don’t have the means.