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Greta Krueger

A Journey Home

By Craig Williams

“Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Vandalia has always been more than a dot on the map for Greta Krueger; it has been at the heart of her life’s journey. As the newly appointed principal of Vandalia Elementary School, Greta’s path has been marked by a series of chutes, ladders, and silver linings that brought her back to her roots, infusing her life with rekindled friendships, resilience, faith, and a deep sense of community.

We meet at Baan Thai in Vandalia, one of her local favorites, on a perfect late Spring day to chat about her remarkable journey. Growing up in Vandalia, Greta is an ‘85 Vandal alumna. Her tight-knit group of friends—Jill O’Rourke, Molly (Barenfanger) Gilbert, and Karla Rogers—formed bonds that have withstood the test of time. From sixth grade through high school and beyond, their friendship flourished. “We still get together once a year and go on girls’ trips,” Greta reminisces, highlighting the enduring nature of these important touchstone relationships.

Greta attended Eastern Illinois University, where she majored in speech communication, minored in psychology, and received her teaching certification as well. It was at Eastern that she met her husband, Freddie, also a student there. Envisioning a career in marketing, Greta’s professional journey took her to Chicago, where she landed a marketing support role with IBM. She was captivated by the stunning architecture of the tall, green Emerald City-like glass-sided office building. Her role in marketing support allowed her to travel and manage significant accounts as part of a team, providing a strong foundation for her blossoming career.

Freddie’s career also drew him to Chicago and their life together has included the joys and challenges of parenthood. However, the financial crisis of 2007-2008 brought unexpected turmoil for which Greta and her family would have to find a new gear on their resilience. Freddie’s job at First Franklin, a division of Merrill Lynch disappeared quite literally overnight, forcing the family to recalibrate their future. In a brave move, Greta took a teaching position in a nearby suburb, a profession for which she had once prepared but, until that moment, had never actually pursued.

Her first teaching role was both daunting and transformative. “I walked into an eighth-grade classroom, maybe the most intimidating audience you can face,” Greta recalls, “but I loved it.” She thrived, rediscovering a passion for education that would eventually lead her back to Vandalia.

“I asked my husband, if I find a job teaching in Vandalia, can we move back to my hometown? I really want to go there. I feel safe there,” Greta shares. And so, in 2010, the Krueger family relocated from suburban Chicago to Vandalia, where Greta began teaching freshman English at her alma mater.

The transition was not without sacrifice. The Krueger family had to make some very hard choices following the professional challenges dealt to them by the financial crisis. The move, however, proved fruitful for the Krueger children, the three youngest of whom thrived in Vandalia’s supportive environment. Dylan, the oldest, finished high school in Chicago, graduating in 2010, and pursued a career in law enforcement in the Chicago area after attending Illinois Wesleyan University. Austyn, a 2013 graduate of VCHS and Millikin, excelled in chemistry and has made a career in the field; Leo, a 2022 graduate of VCHS, is in his third year at Illinois State University studying international business, and Sophia, Greta’s youngest — like her older sister — has shown a strong aptitude for chemistry and math and will graduate from VCHS in 2025.

Greta’s career continued to evolve as she took on the role of assistant principal at the High School and, more recently, the principalship of Vandalia Elementary. Her background in marketing and sales proved invaluable, equipping her with strong communication and leadership skills. “The diversity of people I met in the corporate world and in my years in both the classroom and administration prepared me for this role. You’ve got to learn how to communicate and show people you care,” Greta explains. Full disclosure: I’ve had the privilege of working directly with Greta for the last two years, producing this magazine, and I’ve seen firsthand how capable she is at meeting people where they are and giving them space to be their best, even when getting to their best takes a rugged route. I’m reminded of that adage, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” That’s Greta.

Beyond the textured path which has informed much of who she is to this point, Greta’s journey is also deeply influenced by her family. She credits her grandfather, Leo Cocagne, as the inspiration for her strong work ethic. “My grandfather taught me the value of hard work and honesty.” Greta’s mother, Ellyn, demonstrated through her own approach to life, the importance of—and love for—family, which Greta clearly models today. “My father, despite his physical challenges resulting from a devastating motorcycle accident, always remained positive and strong in his faith, and those ideas he fostered have meant so much in my life.” Greta reflects. These lessons have not only shaped her professional life but also her approach to parenting, friendship, and just living life honestly and out loud, as Greta is prone to do.

Vandalia itself is a character in Greta’s story. Unlike many small towns, Vandalia boasts a unique blend of historical charm, community spirit, and resilience borne of shared hardship. This community exudes a sense of pride and continuity and, from what I’ve seen, it puts a special imprint on its native sons and daughters. “Growing up here, you feel this deep connection to the past and a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to the future,” Greta says.

Greta’s story is a testament to returning to one’s roots. Vandalia has, after all, been the backdrop to her life’s most significant moments. For Greta Krueger, Vandalia is more than a hometown; it’s a sanctuary where the past and present intertwine, creating a legacy of love, perseverance, and meaningful lifelong connections.

As the Pad Thai dwindles and our conversation winds down, Greta looks at me, contentedly, across the table. “Ya know, there’s nothing better than coming back home,” she says, with her classically positive smile, as she picks up the check. “Who can argue with that?” I thought.

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