Chet Krause; December 16, 1923 – June 25, 2016
Chester Lee “Chet” Krause, founder of Kruse Publications and the Iola Old Car Show, passed away on June 25.
He was 92.
To state that Chet left an indelible mark in the collector car hobby would be an understatement.
Born in rural Wisconsin near the village of Iola, he grew up in the area and graduated from Iola High School in 1941. He served his country during World War II in the European Theatre of Operations as a mechanic in the 565th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion. After the war, he returned home to the family farm in Wisconsin, initially doing construction work, but soon became the epitome of the American Dream.
One of his hobbies was coin collecting, but living in the country, he didn’t have access to collectors in larger cities. To network with fellow coin collectors, he started a newsletter for them, Numismatic News, at the kitchen table in 1952. Its success grew by leaps and bounds, leading him to found Krause Publications and publishing other books on the collecting of currency.
This success allowed him to pursue his other interests, most notably old cars. With a downturn in the coin market in the late 1960s, he used this interest to diversify Krause Publishing and founded the hobby tabloid Old Cars Weekly in 1971. It followed a similar template as Numismatic News for regular news of the collector car hobby – and eventual collector car industry.
In 1977, he started Old Cars Price Guide, and with that, established what has come to be the universal standard of rating the condition of collector cars on a 1 through 5 scale (later adding 6 for parts cars). This is still in use by most publications today, including Sports Car Market and American Car Collector. In addition, the books division published “The Standard Catalog” series of automotive reference manuals.
An informal gathering organized by him of a dozen other old car collectors from the area in 1971 at the annual Iola Lions Club picnic became the first Iola Old Car Show. It’s since become one of the largest car shows and swap meets for collector cars. Thanks to his foresight to turn the organization of it into the Iola Old Car Show Foundation, it is also an annual fund raiser for multiple nonprofit organizations throughout central Wisconsin, working the event through their volunteer labor. While the car show was the most visible, the lifelong bachelor made numerous philanthropic donations in the region both personally and through his foundation.
Chet’s car collecting focused on cars made in Wisconsin – as he was an advocate of collecting vehicles from one’s local area to preserve their history – and unrestored cars with low miles, years before this became the now the major trend in the hobby. In the 1980s, he began to collect historic military vehicles, drawing on his time in the Army during WWII as the focus of that portion of his collection. In 1991, after hosting a reunion of his WWII unit, he started the Iola Military Vehicle Show, also turning it over to be part of the Iola Old Car Show Foundation.
His continued diversification in publications on stamps, firearms, hunting, comics, record albums, and sports memorabilia – among others – eventually made Krause Publishing the world’s largest hobby publisher. He continued to run Krause Publishing until retiring in 1986, then transforming the company into an ESOP in 1988, retaining a position on the board of directors until all his shares were sold in 1992. Despite doing this to keep the company local, a group of its largest shareholders orchestrated a sell-off to F+W Media in 2002. Infuriated by this action, he severed all ties to the company he founded and went into full retirement. He sold the brunt of his MV collection in 2003, his car collection in 2004, and in 2010 his near complete collection of 23 variants of U.S. military issue Jeeps.
Up until the last couple of years when his health began declining, he continued to be a fixture at the Old Car Show and at the Military Show – at the latter usually wearing his WWII uniform – the local farm kid who made it big, but still was still “just plain Chet.”