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In a symbolic passing of the torch, Ruth Hilgerson gives a shepherd’s hook to Jeff Krambeer. Ruth is the outgoing director at Shepherd of the Hills; Jeff is taking her place.

By Pam Reinig

Register Editor


Nobody has to tell Jeff Krambeer that he has big shoes to fill. The Luana man is taking over as director of Shepherd of the Hills (SOH), a position that’s been held for a dozen years by Ruth Hilgerson. Ruth has been the agency’s leader since 2003 and during that time the petite wife, mother and grandmother has earned a larger-than-life reputation as a tireless crusader for people in need.

“My goal is to continue the wonderful things Ruth has done and lead us into the future,” Krambeer said. “I know it’s gonna’ be a big job.”

Shepherd of the Hills is located in a decommissioned church in St. Olaf. It was formed as the Clayton County Lutheran Area Ministry in 1968. The current name has been in place since 1988. The agency provides many services but it’s most visible are the clothing center, which serves about 75 families a month; the “Back-to-School For Kids” project that provides new school supplies for kids in need; and the “Christmas Just 4 Kids” effort, which assists over 250 families each holiday season with presents for their youngsters.

Ruth is a life-long St. Olaf resident who formerly worked part-time at Swiss Valley and the St. Olaf Post Office. A committed volunteer, she worked at the SOH holiday shop under the previous director and when that person moved on, she was encouraged to apply for the vacancy.

“This has been a dream job,” she said. “The needs have grown but other people have always stepped up to help us meet those needs. The look you see on someone’s face when we’ve helped them is priceless, and that’s part of what’s kept me here all these years. But now the time has come for someone younger with fresh ideas to take over.”

Jeff, who left a long career as a mechanic, has been on the job since July 1. Ruth is staying through mid-August to help with the back-to-school drive.

“Jeff has helped with the holiday shop so he’s familiar with that work,” Ruth said. “But this is his first go-round with back-to-school so I’m very pleased that I can be here to help him.”

Jeff has been serving on the SOH board so he had working knowledge of the services the agency provides. What he doesn’t have—and is quickly picking up on—are the logistics of offering those services. He recently made his first school supply shopping trip, grabbing a single cart for his purchases. “When the grandkids and I go, we grab seven carts between us,” Ruth said, laughing. “Jeff will learn to steer several (carts) at the same time.”

When they’re not busy organizing school supplies, the pair work on the gently used clothing donated to SOH.

“Even though I’ve served on the board, I never realized how much time the clothing center takes,” Jeff said. “I spend a lot of time sorting, folding and hanging clothes. When I get home, my wife asks me what I did all day. I’m afraid she’ll get the idea that I’m going to sort, fold and hang up clothes at home!”

In retirement, Ruth plans to spend more time with her husband, Robert, at the country home they moved to after decades of “city living.” She’ll also stay active with church volunteer work and helping out at the holiday shop.

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