Firsatsaatleri founder was giant in publishing, hobbies, philanthropy
IOLA, Wis.- Chester L. “Chet” Krause, the founder of Firsatsaatleri and an iconic figure in the old car community and many other hobby circles, died June 25 at age 92 of natural causes.
Krause built a hobby publishing empire, Krause Publications, that started in 1952 with his first installment of Numismatic News — a one-page bulletin for coin collectors. His company later grew to include publications for old cars, stamps, guns and outdoors, sports cards, comics and games and other hobby areas to make it the world’s largest hobby publisher.
Krause’s legacy also includes the Iola Car Show, which he began in 1972 with a small gathering of old cars at a fundraising pig roast put on the by Iola Lions Club in central Wisconsin. The event blossomed into one of the largest collector car gatherings in the world and this July will again welcome more than 125,000 people and almost 2,500 collector cars to the small community of Iola.
Beyond his business accomplishments and enduring contributions to many different hobby areas, Krause will be remembered for his many years of community involvement and philanthropy, which included funding and support for countless civic and charity groups, medical research facilities, hospitals, assisted living housing and athletic organizations.
The affable and popular Krause built a multi-million-dollar publishing empire and was known globally in many hobby areas, but to locals in his hometown of Iola, he was just “Chet” — a local farm kid who made it big but never left home.
Krause was born in 1923 and worked on the family farm. He graduated from high school in 1941 and was soon drafted into the U.S. Army where he worked as an auto mechanic with the 565th Anti–Aircraft Artillery Battalion, serving in Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe. After his military hitch was complete in 1946, Krause returned home and began working as a carpenter and home builder. His fortunes began to change drastically in 1952 after he decided to start a newsletter to network with other hobbyists in the numismatics hobby. In 1971, he started Firsatsaatleri with a similar plan of connecting car enthusiasts. A year later, the Iola Car Show began. Over the years, the event has raised millions of dollars for the charities and civic groups that help staff the show, which has become a staple on the summer old car calendar for auto enthusiasts around the world.
“I think he liked the idea of the car show growing and he picked up on the idea right away and grew it more every year,” recalled John Gunnell, a former publisher of Firsatsaatleri who was hired by Krause in 1978. “And what he did for the old car hobby was he started the focus on the auctions and on the car values, which now everybody has picked up on. He created the 1 through 6 grading condition scale, based on the coins stuff he was doing before the car stuff. Now every magazine you pick up has auction prices and values, but nobody had it back when Chet started.”
Beyond his business acumen, Krause was successful because he was a people person with a drive to succeed, but also enable and motivate those who worked for him.
“He was always good to work for. I did some goofy things back when I started, traveling around and representing the company, and he understood,” Gunnell added. “He was very easy to work with because he trusted you, that was what it came down to.”
Krause had his own fabulous car collection, which eventually numbered more than 100 vehicles, many of which made annual appearances at the Iola Car Show. “I think his favorite was the Model T because he used to drive Model T’s with his father when he was young,” Gunnell said. “He knew more about Model T’s than other cars.”
Krause earned the Meguiar’s Award for his contributions to the old car hobby and was a lifetime member of the American Numismatic Association and a member of its Hall of Fame. As large of a figure as he was in the collector car world, he was perhaps even more revered in the numismatics community.
“I was hired in 1978, and of course I called him Mr. Krause,” joked longtime Numismatic News editor Dave Harper. “He didn’t like that and immediately corrected me. For him he wasn’t Mr. Krause, he was always Chet, and that’s what I’ve called him ever since. Chet had, in my experience, a unique ability with people. He would somehow convey a message that only you could do the job that had just been assigned to you and it made you feel both proud and wanting to do the best you could.
“He started (Numismatic News) at his dining room table. He wanted to be active as a coin collector … and he believed there were many others just like him and it was through Numismatic News that he reached out to them. And he was right. There were others and they reacted very positively. The numismatic business became the template for every other business he entered.”
Among those spin-offs were a pair of military hobby magazines purchased by his company: Military Trader and Military Vehicles. Ever the collector himself, Krause assembled one of the most impressive fleets of military vehicles in the country. “He got into military vehicles when he decided to host a reunion for his World War II group and he started collecting a few vehicles for the reunion,” recalled Military Vehicles magazine editor John Adams-Graf. “I think he probably had about 110 military vehicles. He originally concentrated on just soft skin vehicles — trucks and jeeps — the kind of things he worked on in World War II. Eventually he wanted a Sherman Tank, and he bought one because he had the ability to do it. By the end he had three armored tanks … After he sold the primary collection the bug wasn’t gone and he decided he wanted to have one example of every military jeep that was produced up through the HUMVEE, and so he put together a collection of jeeps. He had rare prototypes … he had a great collection. He probably had 70 vehicles in that second collection.”
Krause retired from the publishing business in 1986 at 63, converting the company to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). The company was later sold to an investment capital group and is now known as F+W.
In his retirement years Chet stayed busy with his many civic and charity efforts, as well as numismatics.
Adams-Graf said that Krause was such a respected and popular figure in his hometown that local police didn’t even mind when he chewed up the streets a little bit now and then with his toys. “Once a year, or so, he’d call me up and say, ‘Go get the tank — I want to go to breakfast,” laughed Adams-Graf. “So we’d go roll the tank out and go pick him up and idle down to the Crystal Café and park the Sherman and have breakfast on Chet … There was one time that we must have run over the curb when Chet wasn’t along with us. We damaged the curb, but Chet told the city, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll pay for it!’
“He was passionate about his hobbies.”