Lifelong Iola resident and perhaps its best-known citizen, Chet Krause, 92, died June 25 of complications of congestive heart failure. At the time of his death he was under hospice care at Iola Living Assistance where he had been admitted June 22.
Chester Lee Krause was born Dec. 16, 1923, in Helvetia Township, rural Waupaca County, about six miles east of the village of Iola. He was the youngest of six children born to Carl and Cora (Neil) Krause. His education began in a one-room schoolhouse that had been built by his father next door to the family farm. From an early age, Chet learned the building trades working with his father who was an accomplished stone mason. He attended high school in Iola, graduating in 1941.
At the age of 19, Chet was drafted into the U.S. Army in February 1943. He served as an auto mechanic with the 565th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, part of Patton’s 3rd Army, in Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany through the end of World War II.
Following his release from the Army in 1946, Chet returned to Iola where he worked on the family farm and set himself up as an independent builder. Through the early 1950s he constructed two dozen houses, two churches and a 105-foot ski jump in the Iola area.
In 1950, Chet’s father sold the family farm and moved into the Village of Iola with his wife, sons Neil and Chet and daughter Grace, residing in a large Victorian home at the corner of Jackson and Iola Streets.
In October, 1952, Chet published the first issue of Numismatic News. The paper was meant to fill a niche he had identified to serve coin collectors nationwide who were far removed from metropolitan areas. He was the prototypical customer for his new venture: a serious coin collector who was geographically cut off from that hobby’s mainstream.
For the next five years the publication grew in advertising volume and circulation as Chet nurtured it on evenings, weekends and when inclement weather kept him away from current construction projects. In 1957, Chet finished the last building he would ever construct, a 40-foot by 40-foot brick and glass office a block off of Iola’s Main Street. That would remain, with occasional additions as expansion dictated, the offices of Krause Publications for nearly two decades as Numismatic News and Krause Publications expanded through acquisitions and start ups of periodicals to fill identified needs in the coin collecting community.
When the coin collecting hobby suffered a serious downturn in the mid-1960s, almost forcing the demise of his publishing business, Chet recognized that diversification was key to insure its survival. In 1971 he founded Old Cars, and began to develop a parallel line of periodicals for antique auto enthusiasts.
His involvement with the car collecting fraternity led to one of the most significant contributions he would make to his hometown. In 1972, in conjunction with a pig roast and auction fundraiser sponsored by the Iola Lions Club, Chet invited two dozen area vintage car owners to display their vehicles at the cookout. That was the first Iola Old Car Show, an annual event that now draws tens of thousands of spectators to the village. The event has raised millions of dollars with profits benefiting dozens of area civic organizations that provide volunteer staffing for the largest collector car show in the Midwest.
The car show is only the most visible of the philanthropic activities that Chet engaged in over the years. Both personally and through a family foundation that he endowed, millions of dollars were spent on such projects as the development of Lake Iola, expansion of the local golf course, village park improvement, street renovation, removal of dilapidated buildings and the provision of assisted living housing for seniors.
Less visible support within the community was ongoing for decades, often unbeknownst to the general public. Over the years he made countless donations to local individuals and families in times of hardship.
Chet was instrumental in drawing resources into the community such as medical practices, outdoor winter sports facilities, a health and fitness center, housing for seniors, day care operations and other amenities not usually found in similarly sized rural Wisconsin locales.
Besides providing financial impetus for community improvements, Chet consistently gave of his time to the community. He was a member of the local volunteer fire department, a member of the Iola Village Board of Trustees (1962-72) and a member of the Waupaca County Selective Service Board (1955-70) during the Vietnam War era.
Though most of his philanthropy was focused locally, Chet was a major benefactor over the years to the Rawhide Boy’s Ranch, New London, a residential facility for at-risk youths, the Badger State Winter Games, the Melvin Laird Center medical research facility at the Marshfield Clinic and the Max McGee National Research Center for Juvenile Diabetes at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee.
Chet guided the growth of his publishing company through the 1980s, expanding into more that a dozen collectible hobbies and outdoors activities, producing dozens of periodicals and more than 150 book titles, with revenues approaching $100 million annually.
In recognition of his accomplishments in the publishing world from his base in small-town Wisconsin, in 1990 Chet was named the state’s Small Business Person of the Year.
At the age of 63 he stepped down as president of the firm in late 1986, remaining as chairman of the board. In 1988, he converted the company to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, eventually vesting the company’s stock in the hands of its 400+ employees. When he had completed the transition of his shares to the ESOP in 1992, Chet retired from active participation in the company.
While the ESOP was intended to insure that Krause Publications would remain in the hands of its employees, and thus in the Iola community, in 2002 a group of its largest shareholders voted to sell the company to an outside investment capital group.
Chet severed all ties with the company at that point. He set up a retirement office from which he oversaw the disposition of his lifelong collections of numismatic material, vintage autos and a large personal collection of World War II U.S. Army vehicles.
In retirement as he neared the age of 90, Chet spent much of his time writing monographs on subjects ranging from family and local history to a compendium of places named Iola throughout the U.S. These publications were a continuing facet of his lifelong goal to preserve historical information for future generations, whether they be coin collectors half a world away, or neighbors from down the block.
In a similar vein, Chet was active in the creation and operation of a number of alumni groups, including reunion organizations for the Dow Grade School and Iola High School. He co-founded a reunion group for the February, 1943, draft “class” of 57 Waupaca County men who were inducted into military service together during WWII. Also harkening back to his Army days, Chet was active in the 565th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion veterans’ organization and maintained contact with a number of fellow soldiers during their lifetimes. He was co-founder in 1991 of the Iola Military Vehicle Show, which continues in operation today.
To assist in the disposition of his collections, the publication of his books, arranging his travel and social schedule, and the operation of various alumni and reunion groups, Chet hired as his secretary a former Krause Publications’ employee, Chris Williams in 1999. In the ensuing 16 years, Chris served an increasingly comprehensive role as Chet’s personal assistant, proving invaluable to the maintenance of his personal interests as he aged, and especially as his health declined.
Upon the 2007 completion of the Living Oaks assisted-living apartment complex for seniors, behind which Chet had been the driving force, he moved into an apartment there.
In January 2014, Chet suffered a stroke that impaired his ability to read and write. He recovered much of his lost mobility and retained his generally upbeat attitude. He came nearly every day to his Main Street retirement office, remaining active behind the scenes in the planning and financing of village improvement projects. His office was a morning coffee-break meeting place for local friends, out of town visitors and former employees.
Among the most regular visitors to Chet’s office was his former right-hand man in the publications’ business, Cliff Mishler. Cliff maintains a Main Street office of his own just two doors down from that which Chet occupied. In retirement, Chet and Cliff were in almost as close a proximity as they had been for more than 40 years operating Krause Publications. Cliff remained a liaison to the numismatic world for Chet and continued to act as a sounding board on community affairs.
Serving a similar role relative to the antique vehicle hobby, Chet continued to rely in retirement on former employee Kenny Buttolph, who for more than 40 years helped Chet with the acquisition, restoration, maintenance and disposition of Chet’s old cars, trucks, military vehicles and other rolling stock.
In February 2016, while using his walker in an icy parking lot, Chet took a hard fall to the pavement. While being treated for those injuries, it was discovered that the congestive heart failure that had plagued him in recent years had progressed to the point that it was irreversible.
He elected to enter hospice care, foregoing further medical treatments with the assistance of round the clock caregivers. He continued to live in his apartment until June 22, when advancing ill health required him to enter the nursing home facility at Iola Living Assistance.
Chet was the last survivor of his generation of the immediate Krause family. He was preceded in death by his parents Carl (1954) and Cora (1980), his eldest brother Neil (1980), eldest sister Mary (2010), older sister Grace (2006) and older brother Ben (1988). An older sister, Donna, born in 1917, had died in 1925.
He is survived by seven nieces and nephews: Patti (Don) Dickhut, Hancock, Wis.; David (Gayle) Klug, Lincoln, Ill.; Alan (Sharon) Klug, Brookfield, Wis.; Patricia Klug, Iola, Jane (David) Klug, Oshkosh; Carl (Krystal) Krause, Iola; Kristine (John) Shurson, Bozeman, Mont., and more than a dozen grand-nieces and grand-nephews.
A nephew, Tommy Krause, and two nieces, Sue (Mark) Helgeson and Beth (Bruce) Meagher, predeceased him in 1979, 2002 and 2004, respectively. His closest cousin, Joan Paulson, Clintonville, preceded him in death in September, 2015.
Funeral Service will be held at the Iola-Scandinavia High School Gymnasium at 540 S. Jackson Street in Iola, on Friday, July 1, 2016 at 2:00 P.M. Rev. Dale Wilson will officiate. Burial will be in the Riverside Cemetery, Town of Iola, Wisconsin. Visitation will be held at the Gymnasium on Friday from 11:30 AM – 2:00 PM. Memorials may be given in memory of Chester, to Childrens Hospital of Wisconsin, 9000 W. Wisconsin Ave, Milwaukee, WI. 53226 or to the Rawhide Boys Ranch, E7475 Rawhide Rd, New London, WI. 54961.
Register Book and online condolences may be sent by visiting www.voiefuneralhome.com