Hard work, determination and ultimately generosity, framed local man Leland Krueger’s life and created a legacy for area organizations well into the future.
Krueger, who passed away January 17, 2019 at the age of 95, said he wanted to leave gifts for organizations that held meaning for him and for the community. Thanks to donations and bequests before and after his death, Prospect Hill Cemetery, Wessington Springs Senior Center, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Wessington Springs Carnegie Library and Dunham Historical Society will all benefit from Krueger’s philanthropic foresight.
Krueger also left gifts for the Wolsey Senior Center, International Flying Farmers Memorial Scholarship and Assisting Children To Smile (ACTS).
Krueger was born December 11, 1923 near Wagner and attended country school, graduating from the 8th grade in 1931 and working on the family farm until he turned 18.
A self-described “farm kid who wanted to see more of the world,” he left home at 18 and traveled by bus to Wichita, KS with $17 in his pocket and the clothes on his back. One of 12 children, Krueger began his journey in Wichita, driving taxi at first then moving onto to drive truck for Red Star Milling Company. After the first trip, he landed a job on a cattle ranch in Johnson, KS, where he stayed on for seven years.
A strong desire to travel led Krueger to Hugoton, KS, where he met his wife Joyce, who he married in 1950 in New Mexico. From there, Krueger’s work in the oil fields took the pair to Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.
In 1953, Krueger earned his airplane pilot license, which he described as “quite a charge,” and began his lifelong love of aviation.
Krueger was the pilot of the famous 1956 flight that safely delivered Santa to Main Street in Wessington Springs. According to the December 27, 1956 issue of the Wessington Springs Independent,
“Santa’s visit to Wessington Springs for the Chamber of Commerce Christmas treats for children was pretty special. He came by plane. Leland Krueger flew him in. They landed east of town near the livestock auction sale pavilion, and taxied, with police escort, provided by Sheriff H.B. Hemmelman and Highway Patrolman Lee Bentley, to a spot between Wolting’s and the Oliver Hotel.”
Krueger recalled the event with delight and nostalgia.
“We taxied in front of the motel and you wouldn’t believe the people on Main Street,” remembered Krueger, in an interview with the True Dakotan late last year. “Hundreds of kids lined up for candy — there’s never been a Santa crowd of that size at any time in Wessington Springs.”
According to the Independent, Krueger’s account rings true:
“Crowds of waiting children and parents broke through the line of volunteer firemen who roped off Main Street for safety purposes at the instant Krueger cut his engine, and Santa had an eager crowd around him as he stepped out of the plane laden with a sack-full of sacked treats. Co-op men kept him supplied with more sacks as his supply diminished, and Holly Lee, the Co-op crew and many others helped distribute more than a thousand sacks in about a half hour.”
A member of the US and Canadian Flying Farmers until his death, he and his wife Joyce flew across the Unites States countless times and visited several foreign countries with the organization throughout the decades.
In 1967 the Kruegers moved back to South Dakota, purchasing a farm northwest of Alpena where they farmed and raised their sons Greg and Terri. The Kruegers farmed there until they began leasing the land and retired in 2002. After the loss of his wife Joyce in 2011, Krueger found great companionship in Darlene Higgins of Wessington Springs, who cared for him up until the time of his death in January 2019.
As displayed by the generous donations left to area non-profit organizations, no matter where he traveled, Krueger’s commitment to leave a local legacy returned home.