Lydia Gnos met Leland Krebs Jr. when she was waiting tables and he was tending bar in 1987 at the Harbor View Cafe in Pepin, Wis.
“I asked him for a quartet of glasses,” she recalled, “and he said, ‘Here are two violins, one viola and one cello.’ ”
Right away, Gnos realized Krebs was a charmer. She was even more impressed when she found out he owned and operated the Great River Bed and Breakfast in nearby Stockholm.
The two were married in 1988, and, with the help of Gnos, Krebs kept the B&B humming along until about a year before he died on Jan. 2 in Twentynine Palms, Calif. He was 88.
“Leland said, ‘No wheel turned without me turning it,’ ” said Gnos, recalling his jack-of-all-trade talents.
Krebs was born in Duluth in 1930 and his family moved to Quincy, Ill., where he spent his childhood. There, he explored the banks of the Mississippi River with his sister Carolyn Dukes, sparking a lifelong love for the outdoors.
Following high school, Krebs served in the Air Force during the Korean War in the Marshall Islands. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he worked for Archer Daniels Midland, a Minneapolis commodities trading company.
Krebs and his first wife Joyce started a family and had three children in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul. But in 1969, his risk-taking spirit kicked in and he quit his job, moving his family to the Caribbean island of Grenada.
It was an eye-opening adventure for his daughter, Nancy Krebs. “He gave us an insatiable curiosity of the outdoors,” said Nancy, who works as a park ranger in California.
“He taught us to be open to new experiences and other cultures,” added his other daughter Carolyn.
After a year in Grenada, Krebs moved the family to Palm Beach, Fla., where he worked as an international real estate agent selling island properties. When he was about 50, Krebs came back to the Midwest and, in 1979, bought a 45-acre farm near Lake Pepin in Stockholm.
His sheep ranch venture failed, so Krebs turned the 1869 stone cottage, built into the hillside by Swedish pioneers, into the Great River Bed and Breakfast. “The farm and B&B were such a quintessential blend of his talents,” said Nancy.
When furnishing the cottage, “Leland had an amazing eye for taking Scandinavian modern pieces and working them into the decor of a 150-year old stone house,” said Alan Nugent, a friend and owner of the Abode Gallery in Stockholm. “He was always finessing the place.”
Krebs even mowed a path across a field guiding guests to a love seat view. In the morning, he cooked them breakfast with eggs laid by his chickens. The successful B&B was booked throughout the season primarily through word-of-mouth. In 1998, Midwest Living magazine named his B&B one of best in the region.
A gentleman farmer, he maintained the grounds himself, shoveling the long driveway and mowing the vast lawn. “He was very detail oriented about projects and would spend weeks talking about it,” said Harley Cochran, a neighbor and owner of Stockholm Gardens.
During the summer, Gnos took time off from her job as principal and teacher at Pepin Elementary School, and the couple took road trips in their 1960 Mercedes Benz, visiting places like upstate New York, New Orleans and other destinations.
Gnos is retired and plans to sell the B&B this spring.“I’m glad he’s not here to see me sell it,” she said. “He poured himself into that place.”
Krebs is survived by his wife Lydia Gnos, his children Nancy, Carolyn and Tom Krebs. His first wife Joyce lives in Ajijic, Mexico.
Services have been held.