When Colonel Edd Kueker of Waterloo was once asked how long he could talk about the history of Monroe County and his western antique collection, he responded, “Well, how long can you listen?”
Thanks to Edd and his wife, Violet, the community has had a chance to listen for more than 35 years through his 4,000-piece historical collection that now resides at the Monroe County History Museum, 724 Elaine Street, Waterloo.
The Kuekers have welcomed community members to their Lakeview Drive ranch for generations, teaching others about the history of the area and the “ways of the west.”
At age 87, people say Edd is still a cowboy at heart.
Kueker grew up in Monroe County, in an area once known as Prairie. It was there he was raised on a farm, and his passion for working with horses and cattle began.
In 1944, Kueker was drafted by the U.S. Army to serve in World War II. But that is not where Kueker acquired the “Colonel” title. It wasn’t until after graduating from Southern Illinois University and carrying a few jobs in between at the National Stockyards and Mon-Clair Grain, for example, that Kueker was dubbed “Colonel” after becoming a certified auctioneer.
“I’d find something and then I’d buy it,” explained Kueker. “That’s how I got in the game.”
The game of collecting took on a whole new meaning for Kueker, an auctioneer and appraiser for 47 years, traveling to 49 states and collecting pretty much anything that told a story.
This includes more than 50 saddles, about 75 bridles and at least 500 bits, more than 25 weapons and 13 wagons and stagecoaches, plus two of the first deer shot in Monroe County mounted on his wall in the living room.
Another item, a statue of a buffalo, now decorates his front yard.
“I saw it and thought, ‘I’m going to buy that,’” Kueker said when explaining the large buffalo in his yard. He had plans to donate it to the Monroe County Courthouse in an effort to educate people of the buffalo trail that once ran in between where the courthouse stands today and Hecker.
Kueker says buffaloes would travel north in the spring and come back southward through the trail in the fall.
It would take countless hours to sift through all the historical knowledge Kueker has acquired over the years and view his collection of artifacts, but it just takes a few moments to grasp his passion — which he leaves traces of all over his home, ranch and this community.
“I’m glad he is being recognized for his gifts of time, service and his famed collection to the History Museum to be shared with future generations to experience and enjoy,” said Museum Society President Norma Reheis.
Kueker has been presented numerous awards throughout his lifetime — Person of the Year by the Waterloo Chamber of Commerce; induction into the Hall of Great Westerners; recognition for serving 40 years on the Monroe County Fair Board; and induction into the 4-H Hall of Fame for his establishment of the first all 4-H Horse Club in Illinois.
He volunteered to run this club for almost 25 years.
Kueker’s latest honor? Being chosen this year as an inductee to the Senior Illinoisans Hall of Fame. He will be honored during a ceremony to take place Oct. 24 at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield.
The Kuekers did not have children of their own, but they consider hundreds of children throughout the community to be their own.
“We worked with everyone else’s kids,” said Violet, a teacher in the Waterloo School District for 37 years. “And we enjoyed it.”
The Kuekers have lived a fulfilling life, with Edd’s hobbies taking them all over the country. Not just as an auctioneer, but as a cowboy.
When it came to his passion for rodeos and participating in cattle drives, Kueker says “it just fell in,” and became a part of who he is.
But Kueker’s hobbies don’t end there. He has authored more than five books. Edd said the idea to write came after a Valmeyer teacher took her students on a field trip to the Kueker ranch and told him he should write down all of his stories.
“By golly, I’m just going to try,” Kueker remembers thinking.
So he sat down one night and began his first book.
“One mushroomed into another,” he laughed, as he looked at Violet, who nodded back.
According to Reheis, Kueker has also created numerous dioramas of his experiences on cattle drives, life on the western frontier and local history to share with his visitors.
He has also created about 50 scale models of buildings that once stood, or are standing, around the area out of pencils he collected over his time as an auctioneer.
“I made every building I could think of,” he said.
Kueker says the idea came to him one day when he was tired of watching the O.J. Simpson murder trial on TV. He ventured into his barn and started putting together pencils. And, like the rest of Edd’s ideas, it just took off from there, with people in the community supporting him along the way.
“Oh god, they just kept feeding me pencils,” he laughed.
When asked about his legacy, Edd just chuckled and said, “They can remember me if they want.”
But how can Monroe County forget?
“If you asked Edd for something,” explained Violet, “he tried to find it for you.”
And because of that, Edd will continue to share his passions, knowledge and artistry for generations to come.