ROBERT "ROB" LANIER KRIEGER, 65
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WINTER HAVEN - Robert "Rob" Lanier Krieger, a prominent Winter Haven businessman, philanthropist, and decorated Vietnam War helicopter pilot, died Thursday, February 14, 2013 in Indian River County of injuries received in an airplane accident. He was 65.
Born in Sewickley, Pennsylvania on June 5, 1947, the Krieger family moved to Winter Haven in 1951 when Rob's father became a civilian flight instructor at Bartow Air Base. He attended schools in Winter Haven, graduating from Winter Haven High in 1965 and from what was then Polk Junior College in 1967.
Soon after graduation, Rob was drafted into the Army and was quickly singled out for Officer Candidate School, following which he entered helicopter training. His dual tours of Vietnam extended to 1972 when he was honorably discharged with the rank of captain. As a member of the "Razorbacks", he piloted gunships, reconnaissance missions, medical evacuations as well as occasionally transporting the brass, including Gen. William Westmoreland.
From his two combat tours, Rob was awarded, among other medals, the Bronze Star Medal for distinguished meritorious service, the Army commendation medal and the air medal for heroism.
Rob returned to Winter Haven with the savings he had accumulated from Army service and purchased New Electric. Starting with two trucks and one employee, Rob grew his business one customer at a time. He had started working at New Electric at age 15 and earned his journeyman electrician's license. Krieger Electric has now grown to 30 employees and is a major residential, commercial, and industrial contractor in Central Florida. It is a mark of his qualities as an employer that over a dozen employees have been with him over 20 years, some as long as 35 years.
Dedicated to the interests of his customers, Rob was known to work all night during freezes to restore electricity to his clients. In recognition of his high quality work and many years of service, he received the Gold Cup of Industry award from the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce in 1992.
He was a founding board member of Commerce Bank of Central Florida and later served on the board of Citrus and Chemical Bank. He also was a member of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council, Main Street Winter Haven, and the Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce.
While Rob supported many causes - including Champagne & Shamrocks, the Bach Festival of Central Florida and was a member of the Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association and Airplane Owners & Pilots Association - his great passion was the Citrus Center Boys & Girls Clubs, on whose board he served for many years, two as president. Rob and Nancy also established the Krieger Family Scholarship at Polk State College.
Far more than just a dedicated board member, Rob regarded his service at the Citrus Center Boys & Girls Clubs as a calling. While he was quick to accord credit to others for the many accolades that came his way, those who knew of his involvement remember his very substantial if very private support of the club, especially during perilous financial times - which tended to be the club's norm. Through his work, hundreds if not thousands of children's lives were impacted for the better. His contributions continued to the end of his life.
"He didn't grow up with a lot," his daughter Kelly said, "and saw in those kids something of what he had gone through himself. It resonated with him and he wanted to help them. In so doing, his kindness became an instrument of his success."
While not engaged in business or civic duties, Rob loved his role as "the trail boss of Rock Ridge Ranch", his life long dream of peace and happiness with his family north of Polk City, where his avocation was cattle ranching. Bulls were named after family members and goats after his wife's aunts. "If you get named," she once observed, "you don't get eaten." In addition to woods and rolling pastures, Rob was working on a specially constructed pond with an island to attract the wild waterfowl he so loved to see in flight.
Duck hunting, but more importantly, the Camp Mack camaraderie were unarguably some of Rob's greatest pleasures. If there was anyone who could amplify the excitement for a new season to his fellow hunters at the Quack Shack and the KRDSC, it was Rob Krieger. Rain or shine, limit or skunked, empty-handedness was never an option for Rob. Being in the presence of nature on Lake Kissimmee and working with his faithful retriever were plenty to satisfy Rob's simple needs.
Another huge pleasure was fishing, which Rob pursued with abandon. Skilled with a fly rod, he fished literally everywhere he could, from the Florida Keys to Maine waters to Western rivers, finding great joy and satisfaction in each pursuit. The ocean, said his daughter Kelly, was "part of his soul."
A gregarious, imposing man with an outsized and lopsided smile, Rob customarily greeted each of his battalion of friends with a kind word and frequently a story, of which he had an ample supply. While he loved the outdoors, he was also an avid reader, known to ignore all distractions in order to pursue his favorite Westerns, the novels of Hemingway and the works of Richard Wheeler, a writer who became a friend. When not pursuing his other ventures, his son Robbie remembers, he enjoyed a good cigar, a roaring fire and a fine glass of chardonnay.
An optimistic gentleman with infectious enthusiasm, he was deeply engaged with his family. Rob, his wife remembers, "had working hard and playing hard down to a science," and she prefers his life be honored with this thought: "In the fall and the spring, when you see a gobbler, a duck flying on Lake Kissimmee, a bonefish tailing in the keys or a trout rising on Yellowstone River, we will remember you. You helped make our world so beautiful."
His appreciation of family, work, community and country stemmed from his experiences at war. "I should have been killed a dozen times in Vietnam," he once told a friend, "and when I got out of there safely I vowed I wouldn't waste a day of my life, that I would see every sight and do everything I possibly could in this world."
Rob was preceded in death by his father, Gilbert Krieger. In addition to his wife
Nancy, to whom he was married for 25 years, he is survived by son Robert "Robbie" Lanier Krieger II, daughter Kelly Elizabeth Krieger and mother Toni Krieger, all of Winter Haven; brother Kenneth and Kay Krieger of Cape Coral; sister Kathi Krieger Barr of Winter Haven; brother-in-law Calvin and Pam Eaker of Delray Beach; nephews Tobey Barr of Weeki Wachee and Paul Krieger of Marietta Georgia; niece Karen Krieger of Cape Coral; and his best hunting buddy, his chocolate lab "Brown."
In lieu of flowers the family requests donations be made to the Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club, 2400 Havendale Blvd., Winter Haven Florida 33881.
A visitation is planned for Tuesday, February 19th, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the club on Havendale Blvd. A "Celebration of the Captain" is planned for Wednesday, February 20th beginning at 4:00 p.m. at Rock Ridge Ranch, the Krieger family home, located at 17090 Rock Ridge Road, Polk City, Florida 33868.
Condolences may be sent to the family at www.oakridgefuneralcare.com
Published in Ledger from Feb. 18 to Feb. 19, 2013