As generations of cavers came to know him, a deep bond developed with this hardscrapple, soybean farmer from Monroe County, Illinois. While cavers came and went, the caves -- and Armin -- remained behind. His constant presence reminded us that we were the intruders onto a very special place. This gentle man exemplified in a manner both dignified and simple that life did not require material wealth. When measured by friendship, Armin was wealthy indeed. He taught us about a spiritual bond and comfort with the land -- and the subterranean depths -- which could provide tranquility. While honesty and frugality may describe him, deep affection for his fellow human beings exuded from him. A rare person indeed who having known Armin could claim not to have been touched by this love.
Armin's life was indelibly bound to the caves beneath the rural Monroe County landscape, and in particular to Illinois Caverns. Born in 1914 less than a mile from this Cave when the area was called the precinct of New Design (also called Burkesville Station,) Armin was the third of five children. An immigrant from Germany, Amin's grandfather had bought up much of the land directly south and east of the Cave. (Anyone who knew Armin was acutely aware that the distinctly German accent of his ancesters was never lost.) Armin's father, Moritz Krueger, farmed for corn and wheat. His mother, Maria (Mamie) Hagmeier from nearby Renault had in fact visited the cave ten years prior to Armin's birth, signing the cave register in 1904 when it was a featured attraction of the St. Louis World's Fair.
Armin and his brothers William, Walter, and Henry, attended gradeschool at O'Leary's one-room Schoolhouse (now the "Armin Krueger Speleological Research Institute".) As a young man Armin explored the various nearby caves with his friends. Over time, Armin became owner of much of this land. In an agreement with the State of Illinois, the schoolhouse and nearby cave entrances, on property owned by Armin, were set up in perpetuity as a "speleological" natural preserve.
In the 1950's Armin took over caretaking duties at the William Hayden farm where Illinois Caverns was located; he lived at the site until his death. Logs he placed at the cave entrance to prevent people from entering were constantly being "moved." Rather than try to continue to buck this trend, Hayden and Armin made the cave "commercial" once again. (Commercial meaning the next thing to wild caving.) Armin placed a few metal footbridges and ladders in the entrance stream passage, replacing the wooden structures of earlier times. Otherwise, the cave retained no improvements or lighting from earlier times.
From Chicago, St. Louis, Carbondale, and elsewhere throughout the Midwest, cavers can testify how Armin gave life to underground Monroe County. His acute knowledge of every sinkhole and willingness to share this knowledge, provided cavers with innumerable cave leads -- and kept cavers coming back. But cavers also returned because of Armin. He taught cavers by his example, without his pupils realizing they had received his instruction, that a more sustainable, non-frantic existence was feasible. Armin collected cans before the rest of us caught on. He recycled discarded clothing and even unused carbide pellets. He did this not through poverty but rather to be frugal with material items. The junked vehicles surrounding his homestead demonstrated in an extreme fashion his spirit of waste not, want not. Armin neither wasted nor wanted. While cavers belted down the campfire beers, Armin graciously accepted a pop and candy. A clean plate was all he left.
We cavers came and went. Yet, wherever cavers went, they took a piece of Armin with them. Many of the close friendships among cavers in Illinois and Missouri resulted from being around Armin. His cave, Illinois Caverns, is now a State Natural Area. Thousands of youngsters received their first exposure to 'wild' caving in the Caverns. Armin's former properties, including Big Sink and Krueger Cave, will remain open to cavers as he desired.
Armin's exceptional tolerance and love, even more than the caves, will remain stuck to the cavers he touched like the thick mud from his beloved depths. In testimony cavers from Chicago, the St. Louis area, Carbondale, and his home Monroe County attended his August 25 funeral. He is buried in Fults overlooking the placid Mississippi River Valley.
Larry Cohen #17135