ARNHEIM - Baraga County has lost another influential leader in the passing of James Krenek, 70, of Arnheim, but his influence will continue to live on.
Just months after the passing of longtime Michigan State University Extension agent and teacher Jim Dompier, Krenek, the man who hired Dompier and who spent 24 years as the county's MSUE director, passed away suddenly Friday.
Krenek served in numerous capacities throughout the county, even well after he retired from MSUE in 1996. The native of Milwaukee graduated in 1965 with a degree in Agriculture and Biological Sciences and taught in Wisconsin until 1973 when he was appointed MSUE director in Baraga County. In that position, he also served jointly as Baraga County Fair Manager.
From 1996 to 2000 he served as the Upper Peninsula program director for the Council of Michigan Foundations and with the Baraga County Community Foundation. He was a grant writer at Finlandia University from 2000 to 2002, and later became a marketing consultant for Michigan Food and Farming Systems at Michigan State University. He was an independent consultant right to the end.
"Throughout the years as a stellar cooperative extension agent, and what he did with that whole organization, and then his other involvement in our community with economic development, it's a major, major loss," said current county board member Paul Tesanovich, who was on the county's area development committee with Krenek in the late 1980s.
That committee was influential in bringing the maximum security prison to Baraga County, and Krenek also helped market the county for forest products companies to come to the area, among other economic development initiatives.
"He was forward-thinking. He had great foresight. I consider him a good friend, and he was a mentor for me," said Tesanovich, who met with him twice just in the last six months to discuss economic development opportunities.
"He was enthusiastic recently when I met with him about things we needed to do and could do in Baraga County," Tesanovich added. "He wanted to be a part of that. He was always that way. He would never not give his time and his energy to make this a better place to live."
While his influence was certainly felt in the community, Krenek took the same approach with his family, according to his sons.
"He frequently made road trips to visit each one of our families. He'd even come in the middle of the week," middle son David said.
"He just wanted to be there, and be part of everyday life," said Steven, the youngest son.
Between David, Steven and his oldest son John, Krenek has seven grandchildren, who he loved spending time with, including at large family gathering at deer camp, which became a family tradition and a "pivotal moment in his year," according to David.
"He loved to laugh," recalled Steve. "He especially loved hearing stories of what his grandkids put us through."
According to David, one of his greatest accomplishments was earning the Baraga County Kiwanis Citizen of the Year award in 1993 honoring his years of service.
"His lifelong goal was to teach people and help people," David added.
According to Tesanovich, he was certainly successful at it.
"He made you believe you could do things that you might not even believe you could do yourself," Tesanovich said. "... His fingerprints are on a whole lot of good stuff that's happened."
The family will greet friends and the public at the Reid Funeral Service and Chapel in L'Anse from 11 a.m. Friday until the 1 p.m. funeral services at the chapel. A fellowship and luncheon will be held afterwards in the Harrington Gathering Room at the chapel. According to the full obituary, which is in today's Daily Mining Gazette, in lieu of other expressions of sympathy, the family suggests memorials in Krenek's honor be directed to the American Red Cross or the St. Vincent de Paul Society.