Barry McNamara  |   Published October 05, 2022

She Was in the Room

Hall of Achievement inductee Karen Krueger ’72 ‘made a difference’ through foreign service.

KAREN KRUEGER: Hall of Achievement inductee delivers her acceptance remarks at Monmouth College KAREN KRUEGER: Hall of Achievement inductee delivers her acceptance remarks at Monmouth College's Alumni Impact Awards ceremony on Sept. 30.“I wanna be in the room where it happens.” – Aaron Burr from the musical Hamilton

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Karen Krueger ’72 was in the room.

Maybe not for decisions as big as Alexander Hamilton’s plans for a national bank, but the career of the recent Monmouth College Hall of Achievement inductee fulfilled her desire to be the proverbial fly on the wall for some very important conversations with implications for U.S. international relations.

“I loved history,” Krueger told a group of Monmouth students in an “International Organizations” class she visited on the afternoon of her Sept. 30 induction. “I wanted to be a part of it, but not the part that already happened. History as it was happening. And I was a part of it, even if it was a teeny part of it.”

Krueger had a 41-year career with the U.S. Department of State. She retired twice – first, from the foreign service in 2005, and again in 2018, after 13 years as a civil servant. As a foreign service officer, Krueger was stationed in Mexico, Spain, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and Canada.

“I don’t have any giant peaks in my career, just lots of little ones. My proudest moment then, is just knowing that I did the best I could and that I made a difference. I had an impact, and I made friends for the United States.” Karen Krueger

“I preferred to be in the background,” said Krueger. “I did things that nobody knows about or that got recognized. I don’t have any giant peaks in my career, just lots of little ones. My proudest moment then, is just knowing that I did the best I could and that I made a difference. I had an impact, and I made friends for the United States.”

Working her dream jobs

While studying government at Monmouth, Krueger said she “had two dream jobs – to be a diplomat overseas and to work on the Hill (in Washington, D.C.). And by gosh, I did both of them.”

Her time on the Hill came first. As an aide to a new congressman who was “learning the ropes,” Krueger provided counsel on a wide range of issues related to international affairs, trade and security, among others.

“I was to evaluate and report on key issues in the country, gain support for U.S. initiatives and, depending on the position, assist U.S. citizens and businesses. I could provide insights that government officials weren’t getting from anyone else.” Karen Krueger

“At the age of 25 or 26, I had more power – more influence – than I’d have until 20 or 30 years later,” she said.

Krueger did that work for three years and would’ve stayed longer on the Hill, but the foreign service called. She told the class that in her role as a foreign service officer, she had a clear mission.

“I was to evaluate and report on key issues in the country, gain support for U.S. initiatives and, depending on the position, assist U.S. citizens and businesses,” she said. “I could provide insights that government officials weren’t getting from anyone else.”

South Pole and tribal war

Krueger told the students tales of drama and patriotism that the average person would never experience.

“The foreign service gives you a lot of stories – things that are not common,” said Krueger, whose travels took her to all seven continents.

For example, not many can say they flew to Antarctica to observe scientific research being conducted at the South Pole. Fewer still can say that flying conditions weren’t ideal on that journey and that turning back to Christchurch, New Zealand, for safety was discussed – except for the fact that the plane had crossed “the point of no return.”

Krueger served in Nicaragua in the 1980s “while our bilateral relationship was tense.” There, another moment from the early years of our nation’s history came to mind.

“I knew it was a hostile place,” she said. “The embassy’s daily flag-raising by the Marines took on new meaning for me. As the flag went up, it reminded me of our national anthem – ‘the flag was still there.’”

While a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Krueger’s Chilean colleagues asked her to translate in their meeting with a representative of a U.S. non-governmental organization. The rep she translated for turned out to be former President Jimmy Carter.

And that wasn’t the only time Krueger’s path crossed directly with a U.S. president. KRUEGER WITH THE PRESIDENT: Not Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, but with Monmouth President Clarenc... KRUEGER WITH THE PRESIDENT: Not Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton, but with Monmouth President Clarence R. Wyatt as she accepts her Scotsmen statuette and induction into the College's Hall of Achievement.

“The coolest person I met was President Clinton,” she told the class, recounting the experience of coordinating Clinton’s visit to New Zealand for an APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) meeting. “He reached past two people to shake my hand. Oh, the magnetism that I felt in his handshake. There was like an energy flowing out of him that left me so impressed.”

The South Pole scare came during what was supposed to be a “fun trip,” but there was also danger in her daily work. Krueger recalled “some genuinely scary moments” when she found herself in the middle of a tribal war in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, complete with men with spears.

Career takeaways

And 9/11 was also a trying time. Krueger was at the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa, Canada, during the terrorist attack. Her portfolio included responsibility for terrorist and border-related issues – which had just become America’s highest priority.

“Everybody was frightened,” she said. “I’ll never ever forget those times. … Friends and allies are critical in this complicated world. If I had ever doubted that, 9/11 made it crystal clear.”

Krueger also shared two other takeaways during her Hall of Achievement induction speech.

“Humanity has much more in common than we often realize,” she said. “But we also need to recognize the differences and work to bridge them. … Each of us can play a role, large or small, in making this world a better place. I chose public service.”

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