It is a struggle to find the right way to introduce Kay Krause. Do I call her “the award-winning cook” with seven blue ribbons to back the claim? Or do I introduce her as “the Rummage Queen of South Milwaukee,” as she is known throughout the city’s southside Catholic community? Perhaps “Roll ‘em Roll ‘em” as her fellow Tamburitza enthusiasts call her. I met this special lady with many monikers when she was Guest Relations Director, Ken Gjika’s, honored guest. Ken invited the lively firecracker of a woman to the hotel to enjoy a bit of the Pfister magic on her 101st birthday.
Sharp and sassy, she recounted the times in her life she has been in the hotel for weddings and performances, recalling her attendance at a Red Skelton show in the lounge and fondly remembered being in the audience to hear Hildegarde, the hometown girl who went on to became an international singing sensation. The hotel, and Wisconsin Avenue, have long been a part of Kay’s life, as she spent much of her career employed at the Federal Building across the street, working first for the US Post Office, and later for the IRS.
Kay moved to Milwaukee when she was 16 years old and was soon employed at Allis Chalmers. Later in 1935, she joined the staff of the Post Office to assist with the holiday rush. It was there, between two mailbags that she met the man who would become her husband, Ben. The pair exchanged smiles at work, but it was a rainy night and a delayed street car that began the courtship. Kay and a friend had just exited a Perry Como concert into a downpour. The girls, wearing their best dresses and freshly coifed hair, were without an umbrella. As they stood under an awning, debating the best way to get home, a car-full of young men from the Post Office, including Ben, drove up and offered the girls a ride home. Ben was a good-looking man, whose resemblance to Fred Astaire was highlighted by his penchant for dapper attire. After years of courting that began on that rainy night, the couple married when Kay was 22 years old and the pair went on to have four children.
Working hard to raise her family, Kay also made time for her faith. Active in her parish and a devoted member of Christian Mothers, she was an energetic volunteer who introduced and organized fund-raising rummage sales for her church. The night owl also taught polka-hop and tap dancing, during the little free time she managed to find. The lively lady loves music and her Croatian heritage. If a tamburitza orchestra is playing, Kay will be there, dancing and keeping the party going. She is such a fan of the traditional folk music that her favorite group, Šarena Tamburitza Orchestra, came to Milwaukee to perform at On the Clock for her 101st birthday party.
Her talent for cooking is a gift she has shared throughout her life. In the kitchen for countless church bazaars, funerals, and other gatherings, she developed quite a list of often-requested favorites. Some of those special dishes went on to become blue-ribbon winning recipes, including her apple turnovers, banana bread, carrot cake and liver pate. Her family still requests her special “funeral casserole,” a hearty dish that contains sauerkraut, cream of mushroom soup, pork steak and noodles. So beloved was her cooking that when her son opened his restaurant a month after his mother retired, he asked her to cook with him. She offered to work with him for a year. In that role, she became a master of 28 homemade soups, all accompanied by one of her celebrated deviled eggs. Her time in his kitchen stretched far beyond the year she initially promised to invest in the restaurant. She would later hang up her apron for good when she turned 86.
Her second retirement was not the beginning of a restful time for her, as one might expect. The active lady drove until she was 98 and is still in the kitchen busily making dumplings and other favorite recipes from her collection today. When asked what she attributes her longevity to, she suggested it is a combination of her favorite salad: sweet onions covered in bleu cheese dressing, and her volunteerism. As for the future, she prays for continued good health and remains grateful for her blessings, including her loving children and grandchildren.
Reminiscing about her husband, she shared that before a night on the town, her Ben would always say, “now Kay, please behave tonight.” To the delight of all who know her, she is still not following that directive. If you see Kay around town, be sure to wish her a very happy 101st year.
Cheers, Kay, to many more happy, healthy, and sassy years!