CAMPBELLSPORT - Karlene Krueger is a living legend with an agricultural claim to fame no one can match.
The Campbellsport woman was the first female ever to receive the National FFA Star Award, and because of that distinction, her FFA jacket is on exhibit in the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Krueger’s dedication to the Future Farmers of America started as a child and has carried forward into her life as a mother, raising three young children. She and her husband, Scott Krueger, operate a pig farm in the town of Ashford, raising Duroc, Hampshire and Poland China breeds youth can show in 4-H.
Now it’s time for the community to give back to Krueger, said Kristen Hatzinger, agriculture educator and FFA adviser for the Campbellsport School District. Krueger and her family were dealt a sudden blow in December when she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer.
“She has been an enormous help to myself and the rest of the FFA chapter, as well as to many other events and organizations that she is a part of in the community,” Hatzinger said.
Nothing can ever prepare a person to hear a cancer diagnosis, Krueger said, but so far she is responding well to targeted hormone therapy treatment.
“I just take it one day at a time. A lot of people ask me how I am doing and my feeling is I am not going down without a fight,” Krueger said.
The American Star Farmer is the highest award an FFA member can receive, similar to a key award in 4-H or the Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout ranking. Krueger earned the award in 2002 during the 75th FFA National Convention, held in Louisville, Kentucky.
“Thousand of kids, when they reach the age of about 20, apply for an American FFA degree, and each state picks its best candidate and they go on to national competition,” Krueger said.
The FFA member with the top production agriculture program each year is recognized as the American Star Farmer. Four national finalists vie for the star award. Considered the highest recognition in the nation for an aspiring young farmer, the award recognizes achievement in both career and leadership development.
"Shocked," Krueger said of her reaction when she learned she was recognized for all her hard work.
“Up until I came along, no female had ever earned the award, so honestly, I was not expecting it,” Krueger said. “I really didn’t think I stood a chance because I was against kids who came from some big (livestock) operations.
Next came the request for her jacket, more than a decade later. She delivered it to the Smithsonian in July 2014, to be installed and on display in the American Enterprise exhibition in the museum, alongside the jackets of U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Corey Flournoy, Jesse Godbold and Mary Louise Reynnells, according to the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History website.
“It was an opportunity of a lifetime, something of mine that will live on forever in history,” Krueger said.
Krueger grew up on a pig farm in the little town of Chili outside Marshfield. She met her husband while showing livestock she raised at the Wisconsin State Fair.
“We enjoy raising pigs because you can make a huge difference from one generation to the next,” Krueger said. “And we enjoy being able to provide kids with an opportunity to show animals.”
As far as continuing tradition, Krueger said she wants to remain involved with the local 4H and FFA groups if she feels good enough during her treatments.
A community fundraiser is planned on her behalf, beginning with a pancake brunch at 11 a.m. March 12 at Campbellsport High School.
“The FFA chapter felt compelled to host a benefit in hopes to alleviate the family’s expensive and exhausting medical bills,” Hatzinger said. “We want to show the family how much our community supports them through this time.”
Krueger said the kindness she and her family has received has been overwhelming.
“It’s a great feeling to know of all the love and the prayers I have coming my way,” she said.
Attend a fundraiser for Karlene Krueger
- A pancake brunch will be held at 10 a.m. March 12 at Campbellsport High School. The event includes a silent and live auction, games for the family, a bake sale and raffles.
- Baskets, gift cards, and other items for the auction may be dropped off at Campbellsport High School. People with items they wish to donate but are unable to drop off are asked to contact Brenna Ebert at Ebertb@csd.k12.wi.us
- Tickets may be purchased in advance by contacting Kristen Hatzinger at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 920-533-4811, ext. 3103.
- Monetary donations can be mailed to: Campbellsport FFA, Attn: Krueger Benefit, 114 W Sheboygan St., Campbellsport , WI 53010