WisBiz In-Depth: Krause Konstruction keeps steeples part of landscape
By Gregg Hoffmann
STODDARD – Church steeples are eye-pleasing parts of the Midwest landscape. Around Christmas, they seem to draw even more attention.
You can bet that a fair amount of those steeples have been repaired, and in some cases even built, by Krause Konstruction, based near Stoddard with a warehouse in the industrial park of nearby Coon Valley.
Larry Krause, and his wife, Sharon, founded the company 32 years ago. Their son, Jason, has been groomed to take over the operations once Larry decides to retire.
Krause does about 50-60 steeple jobs per year, ranging from $500 to $500,000, according to Larry’s estimates. The company’s territory primarily includes Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa and some in northern Missouri. At one time, it was even more extensive.
“As far as actually specializing in what we do, we probably are the only one in the country,” Larry said in a recent interview. “Some local roofers will do some of this work, but we offer the full range of work for steeples and churches.”
That full range includes tuck pointing, painting, roofing, caulking, waterproofing, lightning rods, gold leaf work and ornamental fabrication. The company works in tile, slate, copper, rubber, vinyl and wood.
“Our workers (13 on a regular basis and up to 20 at peak times) pretty much are trained in all the skills and materials,” Jason said. “A lot of our fabrication work is done in our warehouse and then brought to the site to be fitted.”
In fact, Krause has spun off another business that sells fabricated soffets, vents, ornamental work and others products to other companies.
But, the actual repair and construction work is done by Krause crews on site, using cranes and booms, but also ropes and hoists. It can be high altitude, dangerous work, but Krause has had only one major accident in its 32 years of operation.
“A cousin of mine fell 40 feet and died a number of years ago,” Larry said. “Otherwise, we’ve been lucky. We do take safety precautions.”
An old world craft approach, combining engineering skills and artistic qualities, has helped Krause earn its reputation. Modern technology also has been added over the years.
“Our cutting and bending of the metals are all computerized now,” Jason said. “It makes for more precision, and is easier than the days when it all had to be done strictly by hand.”
Old World Teacher
Larry learned his craft from an “Old World” teacher in Norbert Kolb, who ran Norbert Kolb & Sons in Northbrook, Illinois.
“I was a rebel and didn’t finish school,” Larry said. “I was living in the Northbrook area at the time and figured I’d better learn something if I was going to work the rest of my life.
“Mr. Kolb had come to America from Germany to become a priest, but ended up doing this church steeple work. He took me under his wing and taught me the business.”
Krause went all over the Midwest and elsewhere during his 11 years of working for Kolb. Then, he and his wife decided to start their own business and move back to his home area of southwest Wisconsin.
“We started it right from our home near Stoddard,” Larry said. “My wife used to help tie paint buckets and do other things when we first started. We carved out a niche and have grown in those 32 years.”
Krause is glad to see Jason stay in the business. “He worked on his first steeple when he was 14,” Larry said. “He’s learned the business from the ground up.”
Jason said he finds the work rewarding. “It draws a lot of attention from parishioners and others in a community when we work on a church,” he said. “Churches are often prominent in many communities. People care about them.
“Not just anybody can do the work we do. So, people don’t see it every day. We still do a lot of the work with ropes and up in the air.”
Both Larry and Jason said they take a great deal of pride in the craftsmanship that goes into the steeple work, especially when it includes some of the ornamentation and artistic work.
“No two churches are identical,” Jason said. “So, you do get to customize a lot of the work.”
Just some of the more prominent jobs done by Krause in Wisconsin include St. Gesu Catholic Church in Milwaukee, the Diocean Chancery in Madison, Viterbo College in La Crosse, St. Vincent De Paul in Oshkosh and historic St. Joseph’s in Prescott.
“The domes can be the most challenging because of their size and the configuration,” Larry said. “But, every job is unique and has its challenges.”
Krause lists more than 300 churches and other buildings in Wisconsin. The lists for Minnesota and other surrounding states are similar in length.
Edwin Kaatz, building superintendent for St. Bede Priory in Eau Claire, wrote in a testimonial: “St. Bede Priory is a convent and retreat center that was built in 1963. It was built in the style of an old European monastery and is faced with a soft brick. Maintaining the building is, to say the least, a challenge and a constant battle with the elements.
“Krause Konstruction Company has helped us to set up a long-term maintenance program, finishing one section at a time. They are covering the old roof caps with copper, forming a drop edge, installing standing seam roofs over the pillars and windows to replace the flat concrete caps, removing decayed brick, tuck pointing the loose and decayed mortar joints.
“Mr. Krause and his crew are truly professional and versatile in their work. They are fast, accurate, and pleasant to work with.”
Larry said repeat customers, like St. Bede, have been rather common, and he likes to keep track of how former customers are doing.
“It drives my wife crazy, but when we are traveling I’ll drive 30 miles out of our way at times if I know I’m near a church we worked on,” Larry said. “I like to see how things are doing.
“In fact, at times, if we see some shingles off or something, I’ll tell our crew to stop next time they are in that area and replace them, at no charge.
“We’ve been lucky to have carved out a niche in this area. I think we’ve been able to maintain it through our service and doing quality work.”
Larry and Jason agreed that their work might become more showcased during the holidays -- when the steeples seem to become even a bigger part of the landscape.