LELAND PAUL KREBS, JR
LELAND PAUL KREBS, JR
Jan. 8, 1930 – Jan. 2, 2019
Leland P. Krebs, Jr., who owned and operated the Great River Bed and Breakfast in Stockholm, Wis., drawing a loyal Twin Cities clientele for 35 years, has died in Twentynine Palms, Calif., of complications from a fall in August. He was 88 years old.
Leland had only recently retired from the business that was his pride and joy. He bought the scenic 45-acre property near Lake Pepin, a wide section of the Mississippi River that straddles Minnesota and Wisconsin, in 1979. He intended to operate a sheep ranch and sell lamb on the market, but after five years, he abandoned the idea; he didn’t have enough barn space to make ends meet.
Instead, Leland converted his house – built into the hillside in 1869 by Swedish pioneers – to a bed and breakfast. He painted some walls in warm hues of amber and terracotta, covered others with elegant wallpaper, filled the rooms with a mix of fine antiques and modern Scandinavian furniture and offered a tasty breakfast. The place was booked months in advance through word of mouth. Leland never bothered to hang out a sign, and he never had an iphone or an answering machine.
The Great River B & B was where all the Important visitors to Stockholm were directed to stay, including, once, Wisconsin’s Secretary of Tourism. From the master bedroom upstairs, there was a distant view of the river with its sailboats and barges. For visitors who liked to walk outdoors, Leland mowed a path through his fields to a love seat with a view. In 1998, the editors of Midwest Living magazine named his B&B as one of their favorite “special places” in the region.
Alan Nugent, an interior designer and the owner of the Abode Gallery in Stockholm, remembers Leland as a “gentleman and a gentle man” who had “an amazing eye” for decorating.
“The house was so beautifully put together; every detail was carefully thought through,” Alan said. “That was what characterized Leland. He was just a genuinely good person, and you could feel it. You saw his intense love for this area and this place and Lydia, his wife. We will miss him terribly.”
For Leland, the rolling farmland around Stockholm hearkened back to the countryside around Quincy, Ill., where he spent a happy childhood on the banks of the Mississippi. As a boy, he roamed the limestone bluffs and sandy creeks with Carolyn, his sister and sidekick, going picnicking, hunting for squirrels, sledding on the hillsides and skating in limestone caves.
“Forever, he had thought about being on a farm,” said his sister, Carolyn Dukes. On one visit to Stockholm, she remembers finding Leland in the upper pasture, riding his beloved tractor and wearing his red plaid shirt. The sun was shining and the field was alive with grasshoppers.
“It’s like a photographic shot in my memory,” Carolyn recalled. “I said, ‘Who do you think you are?’ And he said, ‘I love it up here.’ He was in his element.”
Leland was born on Jan. 8, 1930, in Duluth, Minn. During the Korean War, he was stationed with the Air Force on Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. He graduated from the University of Minnesota and worked for 12 years in Minneapolis as a purchasing agent with Archer Daniels Midland, a commodities trading company.
In 1969, Leland abruptly quit Archer Daniels out of boredom and moved his young family of five to the island of Grenada. He spent nine months there as a house-husband while his first wife, Joyce, taught school. Every day, he made sandwiches for his children and escorted them to the water taxi that took them to class. At the time, the Krebses were one of only two white families living in St. George’s, the capital city.
“He was such a risk-taker,” said his daughter, Nancy Krebs. “Who moves a family to Grenada? But it was enriching, and so much fun.”
Leland’s sojourn on the island led to a seven-year stint at an international real estate firm doing business in the Caribbean; and the family moved again, to Palm Beach, Fla. Leland loved visiting the grand estates of the islands, but in 1977, he left the firm, citing what he said were questionable business practices.
Jobless and unfazed, Leland, then 46 years old, embarked on a rugged 88-day, 2,900-mile bicycle trip with Joyce from Williamsburg, Md. to Eugene, Ore. Their route on backcountry roads had been promoted and planned by the 1976 Bikecentennial. They trained for it on the flats of Palm Beach – not exactly the kind of terrain that awaited them.
Leland always said the Allegheny Mountains practically finished them off. They had to buck the westerly headwinds on the Great Plains; and biking through Kansas on the melting asphalt was like biking through bubblegum. Carolyn and Nancy joined Leland and Joyce in Denver for the rest of the ride. In the Rockies, they had to get out of the way of the huge logging trucks that blew by them on two-lane roads.
Altogether, it was Leland’s idea of a really fun vacation. A special delight was eating home-made pie in towns all across America.
In his late forties, Leland made his boldest move, returning for good to his midwestern roots. He moved back to the Twin Cities, studied animal husbandry at the U. of Minnesota for a year and bought the farm in Stockholm, complete with a 1918 barn, chicken coop and thick-walled two-story home, built by the co-founders of the village as a replica of their house in Sweden.
In 1988, Leland married Lydia Gnos, a principal and teacher at the Pepin Elementary School and a Civil War buff who called him “The Colonel.” They met at the Harbor View Café, a premier restaurant in Pepin, Wis., where she was a waitress and he was a bartender in second jobs. They loved to take road trips to Canada, the East Coast and Civil War battlegrounds in their gray Mercedes-Benz, a 1960 classic that Leland had inherited from his father.
“They were a good match,” said Harley Cochran, Leland’s neighbor and part-time carpenter and the owner of Stockholm Gardens. “He was very private and so focused on working on the property. Lydia found a lighter side of life for Leland. She was a good balance that way.”
Leland would discuss his projects for months, Harley said, mulling over how to properly restore the stucco exterior of his house, repair the shutters or rebuild the old stone wall. Harley would often see Leland briskly pushing a hand mower across the acre of grass surrounding the house and farm buildings or on his hands and knees, cutting the fringe of grass along his property frontage with a sheep shear.
Then there was the time that Harley came upon Leland in his kitchen, standing at his ironing board.
“Lee, we are really different men, aren’t we?” Harley said.
“Yes, Harley, you’re a slob,” Leland replied.
Leland is survived by his wife, Lydia Gnos of Pepin; her sister and brother-in-law, Cindy and Gary Daigneault of Twentynine Palms, Calif.; Leland’s brother Jim of Marblehead, Mass.; his sister, Carolyn, of Santa Barbara, Calif.; three children, Nancy and Carolyn Krebs of Oakland, Calif., and Tom Krebs of Lyle, Wash., and many cousins, nieces and nephews. His first wife, Joyce, lives in an expatriate community in Ajijic, Mexico.
A memorial in Pepin is pending. Leland was buried in Joshua Tree, Calif. A memorial was held in Yucca Valley, Calif. on Jan. 12.
Donations may be made in Leland’s memory to the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Mercedes-Benz Club of America, and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, a National Historic Landmark in Forest, Va.