Jack and Karen Krug have escaped to a world of their own. Tucked away in the woods of Whidbey Island, Washington on a small pristine farm, they are enjoying an early retirement that seems as far removed as it could be from their high-flying careers in the oil industry. Jack ’70, MS ’71, PhD ’77, a petroleum engineer, and Karen ’84, a petroleum engineer and lawyer, now refer to themselves as vintner/farmers, growing pinot noir grapes, making wine and raising Black Angus.
Karen explains: When they moved to Washington from Golden in 2004, both were looking for a rural life, but Jack was interested in farming and she wanted to make wine. So they compromised and began the work of planting vines and preparing pastureland. Jack enrolled in a six-month livestock advisor course at Washington State University to determine the most sustainable farming techniques for their land, a strong focus of their entire operation, while Karen joined the board of the Whidbey Island Conservation District (which she subsequently chaired). They also received assistance from scientists at a WSU grape-growing research program and a nearby vintner specialist.
More than five years into their new life, the Krugs are very happy. “There is a natural progression to what we do, depending on the weather and the crop or livestock needs,” says Karen. “It’s a healthy life, with lots of exercise and good-eating homegrown veggies. We are almost completely self-sustained,” she adds. They especially enjoy running Spoiled Dog Winery, named after their Australian Shepherds, Blue and Carmie. Jack says, “It’s a lot of fun. Think of it being an applied chemistry ‘class’ but not 101.”
However, Jack is used to complexity. He enjoyed a long and successful career in the oil and gas industry, most recently as owner/partner of Golden-based Questa Engineering. Previously he headed up several companies in Russia and Kazakhstan, and was president of Chaparral Resources. Today, he still enjoys the odd short spell as an on-site rig supervisor, as it helps pay for winery and farm equipment and keeps his knowledge fresh.
When he isn’t working on an oil rig or on the farm, Jack enjoys woodworking and furniture making. He recently built a bathhouse, complete with a Japanese soaking tub and sauna, which was featured on the back cover of the Fall/Winter 2008 edition of Fine Homebuildingmagazine (see some spectacular photos of the structure).
After graduating with her degree in petroleum engineering from Mines, Karen complemented it with a law degree from Lewis & Clark College of Law and developed a career as a petroleum negotiator, specializing in Central Asia. Today she continues to work part-time for a London-based law firm, primarily on projects in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In April, she completes a one-year term as president of the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators, a position that will have taken her to five continents to lead workshops and conferences. Now, with the end in sight, she’s looking forward to devoting more time to selling wine.
The Krugs called Golden their home for 40 years, so when they uprooted and moved away in 2004, they had to leave a great deal behind: friends, family and close proximity to their alma mater. Their involvement with Mines over the years has been considerable; Karen was the school’s first alumna trustee (1996-2004) and she founded the Sister to Sister Scholarship to support female students at Mines.
They haven’t ruled out returning someday. But for now, they are busy building a new life and livelihood together (‘retirement’ really isn’t apt). And they encourage others to do the same: “The bottom line, find a passion to keep yourself entertained through retirement,” says Karen.