It was the fall of 1967. Fred Krueger, newly arrived in Upper Kittitas County, was beginning his first year as a history teacher at the newly-combined Cle Elum-Roslyn High School.

Krueger — offered three jobs, one in Bellingham, one in Omak and the one at Cle Elum-Roslyn — chose the latter, lured by his interest in the area’s history and Slavic culture.

His welcome, at least from one staff member, was hardly optimistic. “Good luck,” advised the former history teacher who was moving to a position teaching PE. “You’re going to need it.”

Students were bored, textbooks outdated. “It was 1967 and in the books, Eisenhower was still president,” Krueger recalls, flashing a wry grin.

Captivated by the Upper County’s rich local heritage, Krueger was determined to bring it to life for his students. “How would you like to learn history without a teacher?” he asked his Washington state history students. “I’m going to teach you how to do research so if you do it well enough you’ll become your own teacher.”

They would start with their own families and in their backyards, around kitchen tables and on familiar doorsteps.

Krueger got a grant to provide a tape recorder, tapes and other resource materials. He instructed students on how to do oral interviews and required each student to do at least one interview as part of a heritage project that included a written report based on personal research. His passion proved infectious. Students gathered historical artifacts — personal letters, documents including immigration papers and citizenship records, photos and other items. Some were unexpected treasures. “I had one gal bring in a diary done during the Mormon migration,” Krueger recalls.

The effort takes off

In 1971, the late Louis Bruno, then state Superintendent of Public Instruction and a native of Roslyn, paid a visit to the Upper County. The high school held an open house. Students displayed their work with items laid out on tables. Community members flocked to the displays.

“Word about what we were doing was going out among the families. There was a lot of interest,” Krueger recalls.

He was showing slides in his classroom. It was packed. Lines formed outside his door.

Krueger was both innovative and energetic. His passion was contagious, says Roslyn attorney David Browitt, who graduated from Cle Elum-Roslyn High in 1982.

“He wrote fast on the blackboard,” Browitt recalls. “He would be writing with one hand and erasing with the other because he had so much info to share and time and space were limited.”

Krueger laughingly recalls that at one point he was teaching in a former music room which had a platform in front of the blackboard. “I was writing fast and I got so excited that I fell off,” he says. “It startled the students.”

Lessons learned

As it happens, Krueger was learning as much from his students and their research work as they were learning from him.

In 1972, a boy who hadn’t lived in the community long approached Krueger and asked if he could do his research project on the old Salmon la Sac guard station, a rustic log structure built as a depot in 1912 by the Kittitas Rail and Power Co. The company, backed by a French syndicate, had hoped to electrify its line and connect it to the Milwaukee but that plan failed after foreign investors withdrew capital due to mounting tensions in Europe. The Forest Service took over the building around 1915. Krueger learned the building was scheduled for removal.

He contacted the Forest Service, arguing that the guard station might have historical significance and the building should be saved. The Forest Service, citing health and safety issues, disagreed, saying no records existed to prove historic value.

“I was a burr under their saddle. But they weren’t interested in what I was saying,” says Krueger. In 1973, he and three others — Morris Jenkins, a retired forester who had once lived in the guard station, Albert Schober and John Deonigi — formed the Upper Kittitas County Heritage Council in an effort to save the guard station. A petition drive netted 1,500 signatures in two weeks and grew to include 4,000 names. “That petition is a Who’s Who of the Upper County,” Krueger says.

It was during the fight to save the guard house that Krueger met his wife, Linda. She was with her parents celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary at the old Thunderbird restaurant in Ellensburg. He asked her to dance. She liked him “well enough” to give him her phone number. He called the next day and invited her on an outing. Their first date? To Wenatchee — to do research, of course.

‘Mud in their face’

Officials in the Wenatchee office of the Forest Service stonewalled on requests for records, says Krueger who continued to push for information, even threatening to get a court injunction. Eventually, Krueger says, he was referred to a General Services Administration office in Seattle where he was able to get an inventory list for 23 boxes of Forest Service records that had been stored at GSA but requested back by the Forest Service office in Wenatchee.

Armed with that data, he contacted the office of the late Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson. “I can’t help but feel Sen. Jackson had a role behind the scenes,” he says, noting that the Forest Service suddenly became more cooperative.

The Forest Service continued to maintain the guard station didn’t meet requirements for historic significance and should be removed. In August 1973 in Steilacoom, the Upper Kittitas County Heritage Council presented its arguments to the State Heritage Council. The committee adjourned for a private session, then emerged, Krueger says, to announce “openly and publicly” that the building’s history had been proven.

Relations eventually improved but for a time, Krueger says, “the Forest Service was bitter toward me. It was mud in their face.”

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. On June 23, 1977, a ceremony was held marking the guard station as a national historic site.

Passing on a passion

As proud as he is of his role in saving the old guard house, he’s just as proud of the role his students played in historic preservation projects, including working with the Roslyn Kiwanis Club on the Roslyn cemeteries.

“A lot of kids were involved in that over the years,” Browitt says, noting that not everyone understands Krueger’s influence because much of what he did over the years was behind the scenes and without fanfare.

(There was some public attention to the work being done. The Seattle Times did a story, Krueger recalls. So did AARP magazine.)

Browitt says Krueger connected with Upper County residents because of his respect for their history. “I think he was impressed with the struggles of the people who came here and what they went through to make a better life for themselves and their children.” As a teacher, “he emphasized that there was a rich cultural heritage here and it was worth knowing about,” Browitt says. “He was a phenomenal teacher.”

And an innovative one.

Early on he began using historic “simulations” to bring periods of the country’s past into focus for modern students. Students studying the migration west found themselves assigned to imaginary wagon trains traveling the Oregon Trail. “Fate” cards often determined who made it all the way and who fell by the wayside.

“People died,” Krueger says. “We had services. We put gravestones on the Oregon Trail.”

U.S. history students lost everything in re-enactments of the Great Depression. “As I remember, one of the stocks we could invest in was Honest Krueger Limited,” Browitt recalls with a laugh.

In 2001, Cle Elum-Roslyn High grad Susan O’Donovan, a professional historian then at the University of Maryland, later at Harvard for eight years and now on the faculty of the University of Memphis, wrote a letter to the man she calls “one of the most memorable and influential of my teachers.

“Every time I design a course,” she wrote, “I remember the 1860 election in your classroom, role-playing through the crash of 1929 and winning a prize at the county fair for my history of the early settlers of Taneum Canyon. You sparked enthusiasm enough to carry me through three degrees and ultimately into one of the most prestigious institutions in the country.”

In June 1996, after 29 years at Cle Elum-Roslyn High, Krueger retired. He was struggling with health issues and wanted to quit, he says, while he was “still on top.” His personal history collection has been turned over to Central Washington University where CWU archivist Steve Hussman calls it a valued contribution.

“As an educator, he really helped develop an interest in preserving history,” Hussman says. “The collection is about 65 cubic feet which is a pretty big collection. The community really got behind him. If he hadn’t collected a lot of this stuff it probably wouldn’t be available.”

Upper County is home

Krueger, now 73, lives with his wife in an Ellensburg retirement community. He wears his gray hair in the ponytail he promised himself he’d grow when he left teaching. So far, he hasn’t felt inclined to get the ear piercing he also used to say he wanted.

Despite health issues — he was treated for a brain tumor in 2001 and had his cancerous right kidney removed this past December — he is vibrant and still passionate about the Upper County and its history. He’s both flattered, and a little self conscious, that the Roslyn-Ronald-Cle Elum Heritage Club has chosen to honor him and his students at a dinner scheduled May 26 at the NWI Building in Roslyn. The event also will mark the 100th anniversary of the Salmon la Sac guard station, the building Krueger worked so doggedly to save.

Although he lives in Ellensburg, Krueger’s heart is still in the Upper County. When he dies, he says, he’ll be buried in the Roslyn cemetery.

It is a place that feels like home.

“I know people there,” he says. “And a lot of my kids worked there.”

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