Fred Krebs played no fewer than 20 historical characters on stage, under Chautauqua tents and in libraries. But to his friends who remembered him Sunday at a memorial service, their favorite character was Fred Krebs.
About 400 people attended the memorial at Johnson County Community College, where Krebs had taught history since 1969, the year the school opened. He died Dec. 28 at age 66.
“He was a unique American personality who left an indelible stamp on the college and our lives,” said Vin Clark, chairman of the college’s history department.
Known for his voracious reading habits, love of conversation — even if it made him late — and an unbridled enthusiasm for small-town Kansas, Krebs was also a mainstay of the Kansas Humanities Council. Over the decades, the council sent him to the four corners of Kansas to lecture on a wide variety of subjects and portray Ben Franklin, Stephen A. Douglas, Rutherford B. Hayes and a host of other American figures.
“Fred never knew a stranger, never traveled to a community he did not fall in love with, and never, ever tired of talking humanities,” the council’s executive director, Julie Mulvihill, said in a statement. It was read at the memorial by Carmaletta Williams, Krebs’s colleague at the school.
The audience laughed knowingly as Williams told about the time Krebs talked her into going to speak to a group in Holcomb, Kan., a mere 385 miles away — and to take an all-night train there.
“He snored very loudly,” Williams recalled.
Besides colleagues, those in attendance included a few of the more than 20 Eagle Scouts that Krebs, himself an Eagle, had guided from his years as a Scoutmaster. Several former Kansas Eastern District governors of Rotary Club also attended. Krebs, a member of the Shawnee Mission Rotary Club and district governor in 1996-1997, often said that the service organization had changed his life.
“Fred did something all of us Rotarians strive to do, which is to put service over self,” said current district governor Kevin Tubbesing.
Several speakers at the memorial noted the high value Krebs placed on literacy. His niece, Allison Krebs, said that “because of him I knew ‘The Arabian Nights’ didn’t begin and end with Aladdin.” Mike McKinney, pastor of Leawood Baptist Church, said that his reading obsession was “driven by his quest to understand other points of view.”
After the memorial, Henry Fortunato of the Kansas City Public Library said he would be posting Krebs’ portrayal as William Allen White, the iconic editor of the Emporia Gazette, on the library’s website. He lamented the fact that this 2009 “Meet the Past” appearance was the only record the library had from Krebs’ career as a performer, which took him to Chautauqua-styled events in more than 20 states.
“It was one of the only times Fred did one of his historical characters on video,” said Fortunato.
Krebs’ most enduring and endearing flaw was that he was never on time, usually because he had been lost in a book or conversation. The service was started late in his honor, and later his only child, daughter Kandi Krebs, said that if her father were present, he would have wanted everyone to know something about his perpetual tardiness.
“He never meant it,” she said.