As people come and go in a community, some simply leave larger footprints than others through their words, actions, dedication to duty and cause, and a sincere, unrequited love of their fellow-man.
You can park your car in the footprints left here by the Reverend Ray and JoAnn Kruger.
"Pastor Ray," as he is lovingly called by members of the Cherokee Memorial Presbyterian Church and countless friends, and his beloved wife JoAnn, leave today for Shakopee, Minn. and their continuing retirement journey together, as they have been for 55 years of married life.
The Krugers came to Cherokee 20 years ago after Pastor Ray answered the call to serve as the Memorial Presbyterian Church Pastor. He served faithfully from July 1, 1990 until his retirement on Oct. 31, 2001.
Having lived and worshipped in many communities in his 50-year career as a Presbyterian Minister, the Krugers grew so fond of Cherokee that they chose to remain here after his retirement.
But family kept beckoning as the Kruger's three children and their growing, achieving families all resided in and near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. So, Ray and JoAnn decided to relocate near Minneapolis to be near their children and grandchildren.
"It's so very bittersweet to be leaving this wonderful community," said Kruger during a recent interview. "We love Cherokee and its wonderful people. We have been so accepted here and have made so very many good friends we will cherish all our lives. But we also want to be near our family and our grandchildren. It's time. Time goes by so very fast and we're missing out on spending as much time as we can with our children."
Those children include two sons and a daughter - Steve, a Corporate Attorney in the Twin Cities; Jeff a Vice President Financial Advisor in the Twin Cities; and Sally, an Occupational Therapist in Moorhead, Minn.
Steve and wife Mary are the parents of a daughter in graduate school and a son who's a senior in high school; Jeff and wife Lori are the parents of three daughters, one at the University of Nebraska, a junior in high school, and a 5th grader; and Sally and husband Eric, a Drug Enforcement Agency Officer, have two sons, one in 4th grade, and one in kindergarten.
Pastor Ray was ordained at the Dubuque Theological Seminary in 1960 after serving four years as a Student Pastor for the Calmar and Waucoma congregations. He served as Pastor in Parker, S.D. for five years; Sibley for 10 years; Shakopee, Minn. for 14.5 years; and in Cherokee for 10 years.
Each move was seen as a calling by the Krugers to experience new challenges and to spread his devotion to the Word of God to as many as possible in his ministerial career.
Pastor Ray's journey to Cherokee was not his first sojurn here, as he worked at KCHE Radio in 1955-56 as a DJ, news, weather, and sports reporter, after attending radio school in Omaha and Buena Vista College in Storm Lake.
While working at KCHE, Kruger accepted his calling and enrolled in the Seminary.
When asked to recall any memorable moments occuring during his 50-year career as a minister, Kruger recalled his very first funeral as a Student Minister. Brand new to the job and unsure how to conduct graveside services, Ray consulted with an elderly neighboring Lutheran Minister who advised him the "dust to dust" theme works well. With that plan in mind, Pastor Ray said as the funeral procession advanced to the cemetery and gravesite, there was no dirt, just gravel all over the place.
"I picked up a handful of gravel and prayed "dust to dust" and dropped it on the casket. The rocks ricocheted and echoed off the metal casket and the dust blew into the eyes of all the mourners! It was terrible!" exclaimed Kruger, now able to see the humor in it after all these years."I never did dust or dirt again!"
Kruger also recalled an outdoor wedding he once performed where the Ring Bearer was the couple's dog. However, the dog ran away the night before and was never to be found.
"The couple was almost inconsolable with grief!" said Kruger. "I ran out of words to console them with. They cried all through the ceremony."
Speaking of weddings, Pastor Ray was adamant throughout his career that weddings were to be a solemn occasion when in a church - the House of God. He always spent extra time preparing the bride and groom with words of wisdom and advice about partying too much the night before and possibly ruining such a beautiful occasion with antics or an embarrassing incident. He's never had anyone faint during a wedding.
"I prepared them well and, thankfully, most of them took my advice," said the civic-minded community booster.
Kruger also always spent extra time assisting families preparing obituaries for deceased family members. "Although death and dying bring tremendous grief to all concerned, a proper obituary can be a great insight and learning experience paying tribute to a person whose journey on earth has ended and they are called home to be with God," explained Kruger.
Throughout their career, the Krugers have walked the talk, staying active in many civic and community organizations and events.
Pastor Ray served on the Board for the Cherokee Area Economic Development Corporation for several years, two terms on the Cherokee Work Activity Board, as President and longtime Kiwanis Club member, the Prospect Hill Presbyterian Committee on Ministry, and on the Presbyterian Camp Board at Okoboji. After his retirement, he and Marcus Mayor Darrell Downs were familiar faces and instrumental in visiting area businesses to keep them apprised of the work CAEDC was doing.
"I've always appreciated those people being a part of community service and I wanted to do my share to contribute, to give something back for all the blessings JoAnn and I have received along the way," said the Dike native.
Kruger said writing a book about his life in Cherokee and his career is not out of the question, although those plans are on hold as JoAnn overcomes health issues, including an upcoming kidney transplant. The donor? Their son, Jeff.
Looking back, Pastor Ray recalls the many wonderful relationships with people from all walks of life. "I've always enjoyed people. Being around them was always special. Like Will Rogers said, I've never met a person I didn't like. I like to have fun, too, when the time is right. My life has been so very blessed."
In a fitting and personal tribute marking Pastor Ray's 50 years of Ordination, Memorial Presbyterian Pastor Ethan Saylor told the Krugers, "You have given yourselves, your time, your talent, your tears, your treasures, so that this church and this community might know the goodness and glory of God in Jesus Christ. You have faithfully preached the word, cared for those in need, and you have been a friend to me in ministry. We give thanks to God especially today for your service and your love that you have shown us here in Cherokee."
Pastor Ray gave his final sermon here Sunday at Memorial Presbyterian Church. As he recalled his ministry and events in his life, the congregation shared his dry wit and poignant memories with laughter and tears. His devotion to his calling and to God was evident in every sentence.
He also reiterated his love of Cherokee and its people and... and in his final words here... on a day devoted solely to him... Ray Kruger thanked US.
We should have known.