Building honors 'awesome’ memories

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Steve Kruger touched the memorial stone he and Brad Popp, both of Jasper, installed on top of Kruger’s building in the northeast corner of the Square in Jasper on Sunday morning in honor of his late son, Douglas S. Kruger, who was killed in a car accident in August 1997. Steve renamed the building, formerly known as the Sprauer Building, in his son’s honor.

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Steve Kruger stood on top of his building in the northeast corner of the Square on Sunday morning with his hands stretched above him.

As soon as the nearby crane swung the big black granite slab he was reaching for close to him, Kruger helped maneuver the stone into place atop the building.

He and Brad Popp worked for the next 45 minutes to secure the stone to the building while about 100 people watched from the ground.

Kruger was meticulous with his work, making sure the stone was level and secure. He was just as meticulous when he picked out the stone and its simple inscription, his sister Connie Thewes said.

The black stone reads “Douglas S. Kruger.” Its installation was Steve Kruger’s way of renaming the building, formerly known as the Sprauer Building, after Doug, his deceased son. He wanted to make sure that everything pertaining to the placement of his son’s name was perfect.

“Because it’s Doug,” Kruger said, his voice choking a little. “He was such a good boy.”

D. Kruger

Doug, the son of Steve and Debbie Kruger, was killed in a car accident in August 1997, shortly after graduating from Jasper High School. He has a sister, Jennifer Kruger, who lives in Texas.

Several family members, including Thewes and Doug’s paternal grandfather, Charles Kruger, mixed in with the crowd to watch the installation.

“I felt like I needed to be here. It was a pull,” Michaela Eckerle, who graduated with Doug in 1997, said as she watched Kruger work on the roof. “This is about celebrating a life. We’re all here to celebrate Doug’s life.”

Michaela and her sister Amber Knies were Kruger’s neighbors and knew Doug well. In fact, many people from Doug’s neighborhood on the west side of Jasper were watching Kruger work.

“He holds a special place in my heart,” Knies said. “He always had a smile on his face. He was never sad. I really wonder where he would be now, what he would be doing if he was here today.”

Several people watching the installation said the same. They talked about a kid who always encouraged and supported others to do their best, a kid whose favorite word was “awesome,” a kid who loved stars a lot and baseball even more.

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Darlene Jerger, left, Stacy Fischer and Stacy’s daughter Riley, 9, all of Jasper, watched Steve Kruger of Jasper install a memorial stone in honor of his late son, Douglas, atop Steve’s building on the Square in Jasper on Sunday morning.

Doug was on the JHS baseball teams that won the 1996 and 1997 state championships. “I remember after that, he’d introduce himself as ”˜Doug Kruger, state champion,’” said JHS baseball coach Terry Gobert, who also was at the installation.

Doug, who was an outfielder, wasn’t the best player on the team, but he was the one who had the most heart for the game, Gobert said. “Doug loved every aspect — the practices, the games, the work, just all of it,” he said. “He was a team player. He didn’t get as many at-bats, but his attitude was great. He’d do anything for any one of his teammates. He was a hard worker.”

Fellow teammate Klint Heichelbech agreed. “He was the constant. He always had my back,” he said.”He had a an old soul, in a way. Doug seemed to understand the overall point of things, where the rest of us were caught up in the moment.”

Brent Pfister traveled from his Indianapolis home to be at the sign installation.

“Doug was a very close friend. I knew I had to come,” Pfister said. “And I wanted the family to know that I supported them doing this.”

Pfister thought about his buddy as he watched. “He was so fun. He never knew a stranger,” he said. “I loved the connection we had.”

Ariana van den Akker/The Herald
Steve Kruger received a hug from Deb Boyles, both of Jasper, after Steve renamed his building on the Square in Jasper in honor of his late son, Douglas S. Kruger, on Sunday.

After finishing the job, Steve Kruger came down from the roof as the crowd clapped. Many people hung around for another 10 minutes or so to talk to Kruger and other family members. Several times while people talked, Kruger looked up at the black granite. “Looks good,” he said to himself, smiling.

Thewes agreed. “It looks classy,” she told her brother. “It looks like it’s always been there. It’s gorgeous.”

Seeing Doug’s name on the building will help the family’s healing process after losing Doug, Thewes said. “I think it will help bring some closure.”

Those who knew Doug had a good idea of what he would do if he were standing on the Square watching the installation.

“He’d be in the crowd, watching. He wouldn’t be out front,” Knies said.

“When it was done, he’d give the thumbs-up sign,” Eckerle said.

“He’d look at it and say, ”˜Awesome,’” Gobert said.

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