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After a dynamic, wide-ranging life during which she had several lifetimes’ worth of occupations, achievements, and children, the Honorable Patricia Krueger died peacefully Monday, February 20 in her home in Francestown, NH at the age of 81. As he had been for 35 years, her husband Ortwin was by her side. Patricia was a natural storyteller, a gregarious politician, a skilled designer and cook, a wheeler-dealer and a hoot. She was a big thinker whose restless spirit and boundless energy allowed her to reinvent herself time after time. Patricia never let total accuracy get in the way of a good story, but even she could not over-tell her life.
The eldest daughter of Carl and Helen Pepe, Patricia (Pat to many) was born in Bayonne, NJ on December 22, 1941. She grew up surrounded by Irish aunts and uncles, Italian cousins, and amongst the trappings and traditions of the Catholic Church. She is survived by two of her sisters, Pamela Philbin and Charlene Kelemen and her brother, Chuck Pepe; she was predeceased by her sister, Michelle Pepe.
As a student, Patricia was smart and driven. She earned a scholarship to attend Mount Saint Mary’s Academy in Watchung, NJ, where she excelled academically and - perhaps more for height than skill - she was the co-captain of the school basketball team. To pay her way, she scrubbed floors, often as wealthier girls stepped over and around her. She was given the honor of studying the harp - which she never again touched - instead of learning to type - which might have been useful given her illegible handwriting (which she attributed to the nuns forcibly retraining her from left- to right-handedness).
From “the Mount”, Patricia went on to Georgetown University, where she earned a BS in nursing. Though Patricia did not associate herself with the second wave feminists of the time, she nonetheless chafed against traditional strictures and pushed the limits of her gender. She had hoped to become a doctor but was informed upon arrival that the nursing program was the only track available to women. To afford her final year, Patricia enrolled in Naval ROTC and upon graduation in 1963, she was commissioned as an Ensign Nurse at Bethesda Naval Hospital. She was present when President Kennedy’s body was brought to Bethesda and claimed that there were two bodies that came in that night, both supposedly Kennedy’s. This was an ambiguous conspiratorial twist that she maintained with a conviction typical of her enduring faith in her own world view, even in the face of conflicting facts or logic.
Patricia was beautiful and stylish and never lacked male admirers. Shortly after graduation, she met and married John DeSando and had their first son, Erik, forcing her to leave the Navy. Over the next 6 years, they had five daughters - Courtney, Rachel, Jessica, Thea and Gabrielle. Patricia taught nursing and worked as an occupational health nurse and school nurse while living in various college towns with her husband, a professor. She had a growing need for kids' bedrooms, an eye for identifying the potential of historic homes, and the energy to renew them. She bought, rehabilitated and sold a house in nearly every place she lived, restoring perhaps 25 over her lifetime. During several periods, she turned this passion into successful antiques and interior design businesses.
Patricia had a knack for earning loyalty and high effort from those she taught and mentored. She once mentioned to a group of vocational technical students that she had not seen the prior night’s television shows because she did not have a way to watch. The next day several new televisions appeared outside her office. She thanked her charges but insisted they return the ill-gotten goods.
By the mid 1970s, divorced and with six kids, Patricia met and married Prentice Colby (he knocked on the door looking for his stray dog). They had two sons, Eben and Elijah, bringing Patricia’s total to eight. From a drafty, dilapidated farmhouse two miles down a dirt road in Royalston, MA, Patricia commuted in an old brown Mercedes-Benz to Keene State College to pursue her Masters in Education. At the same time, she and Prentice set about using the rural acreage to grow much of the family’s food, raise chickens, turkeys, and pigs (lovingly named Ham, Bacon and Sausage), and keep sheep, horses, ponies, and all manner of dogs and cats.
In addition to running the farm, working full time and getting her Masters degree at night, Patricia threw events like a cross country ski party complete with hot cider and homemade donuts. She could also be counted on for regular, unsentimental charity. She took in countless rejected animals and opened her holiday table to anyone without a place to go. When she discovered that a young man she taught was getting most of his meals by banging expertly on vending machines, she took him in as a foster child. Patricia also worked as the nurse for Camp Caravan, a summer camp for children with disabilities, and made the position into a family affair: some of her children worked as counselors, the rest tagged along, and she brought the family horses for the campers to ride.
She exposed her kids to the world of ideas, as well, and delighted in conversations about literature, art and current affairs. She made most of their clothing and terrified any teacher who did not recognize their brilliance. But she believed in tough love and demanded hard work, good grades and high character. She trained the older kids to care for the younger and filled their days with chores: washing clothes, churning butter, making bread, splitting wood to heat the house. Her training as a nurse had inured her to injuries and her treatment of her kids often consisted of a quick glance and breezy “I’m pretty sure you’ll live.” One November, she gave them an anatomy lesson as they prepared a favored animal, Tom the Turkey, for Thanksgiving. Some found the meal more somber than festive. Though the kids were becoming well suited to the demands of the 19th century, most chose to leave for the modern world as soon as they could.
During this time, she also became gravely ill with Hairy Cell Leukemia. During months of hospitalization, she had a reputation as a comic and rabble-rouser, entertaining the bed-ridden and smuggling them forbidden food. Her cancer eventually remitted, though the experimental treatments took a heavy toll on her body.
In 1983, Patricia went to work as the Director of Career Counseling at Keene State College. She gave up the rural life and settled in Keene, NH, where she met Ortwin Krueger, whom she married in 1988 in his native Germany. She had finally found her match and together, they bought an unloved historic home in Francestown, NH and set about restoring it. At the same time, Patricia took on the role of Vice President of Development at The Crotched Mountain Foundation. She was driven to fundraise by her belief in the importance of the organization’s mission. She delighted in her interactions with the residents with disabilities and recruited and funded the enrollment of children from places as far-flung as Romania and the Virgin Islands.
As a young woman, she developed broad knowledge of French and Italian cooking and an artist’s feel for how a meal should come together. She was visionary rather than precise in most things (a quality for which her nursing patients may have suffered) and rarely followed a recipe. Still, she had a way of turning out gourmet meals for large groups with no apparent planning or effort, even during times when she had little money. Her Thanksgivings could include more than 40 guests, and in Francestown, she became known for her gourmet dinner parties and for hosting the town’s annual movable feast.
In her next chapter, Patricia and Ortwin transformed the 130 acre Arbutus Farm in Dunbarton, NH, into a thriving bed and breakfast and function venue. As she became more involved in the business community, she was drawn back to politics (she had volunteered for Gary Hart in 1984). In 1995, she ran to represent Merrimack County District 7 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, winning after a tight recount. Though her mind often jumped too quickly from one thing to another for proper syntax, she had headlong confidence, natural charisma and an innate feel for a room that carried her through any public moment. Always well dressed and often trailing a long blond ponytail, Patricia could eviscerate an opponent on the debate stage, charm a room full of donors, and reliably fire up a crowd.
During the 1996 Republican Presidential primary, Patricia hosted all of the Republican candidates and hundreds of guests for a July 4th Pig Roast at the Arbutus. Later, she agreed to host Vice President Dan Quayle at a “Family Farm Day” fundraiser for Congressman Charlie Bass. Undeterred by the fact that the Arbutus was not then operating as an actual farm, Patricia arranged for the construction of stalls to house a menagerie of loaner animals. At one point, she wheeled into an actual farm and asked the proprietors working outside, “Hi! Can I borrow your sheep?”. She served as a delegate for Pat Buchanan at the 1996 Republican Convention and Finance Chair for Ovid Lamontagne’s 1996 run for NH Governor. In 1998, Patricia was elected to represent District 16 in the NH State Senate, where she sponsored legislation on taxes and special needs education. She also acted as the Vice President of the Order of Women Legislators. She served as the NH Finance Chair for Steve Forbes’s 2000 presidential candidacy.
By 2003, after a short stint in Ashland, VA, Patricia and Ortwin turned another page, fulfilling a long-held desire to move to Napa Valley, CA, where they ran the 20 suite Vineyard Country Inn in St. Helena. Despite being a newcomer in a deep blue district, Patricia launched a campaign to represent District 7 in the California State Assembly, earning the endorsement of four out of five district newspapers. She ultimately fell short but received 38% of the vote in a 22% Republican district. She began lobbying for Napa wineries, then became Vice President of V. Sattui Winery (and later, also Castello di Amorosa winery), where she redesigned the winery’s visitor spaces and oversaw the event program’s rapid growth. During her time in Napa Valley, Patricia also channeled her love of houses and gift for networking into work as a realtor.
In 2016, Patricia and Ortwin returned to Francestown, refurbishing a stately colonial just down the street from the one they had rebuilt 30 years earlier. Patricia liked to say that Francestown was the town that time forgot. By moving back to the site of their first home together and the wellspring of so many fond memories, she willed herself back into an earlier time in her life. Though she was in slowly failing health, Patricia launched an interior design business and began making her mark again in NH design magazines. She leafed through the classifieds and joked about a political comeback. But over the summer and fall of 2022, she suffered a series of strokes which limited her ability to speak and began to cloud her quick mind. In recent weeks, as the complications grew, she demanded to go home from the hospital, damn the doctors’ orders. So in her own home, surrounded by her impeccable decor, tended tirelessly by her beloved Ortwin, and visited by a string of her old friends, kids and grandkids, her breathing slowed, then stopped, and she was off to reinvent herself one last time.
Visitation will be held on Saturday, March 4, 2023 from 10 AM to 11 AM at Divine Mercy Parish, 12 Church Street, Peterborough, NH. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated immediately following at 11 AM with Rev. Michael Taylor as Celebrant.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Patricia’s name to The Francestown Volunteer Fire Department, P.O. Box 97 Francestown, NH 03043.