A Wyoming native, a military veteran, a park ranger, a pioneer in women’s leadership, an equine specialist, a coffee shop owner, and an adventuring enthusiast— this is Deb Kruse. She spent the 60’s immersing herself in the wilderness of Wyoming, fighting fires as a Park Ranger out West, working as an equine caretaker at three horse farms in the hills of Tennessee, and now she spends her days caring for each person who steps into her quaint coffee shop on the corner of Main Street Jonesborough.
It’s easy to see that Kruse has a lasting lust for adventure, to fully touch, feel and experience it. And she has no desire to see an adventure played out on the big screen— she’d rather be living it. “You can ask me right now if I saw a movie and 9 times out of 10 I’m going to say no,” Kruse says. “My friends have the hardest time understanding why I haven’t seen this childhood movie or even a movie 2 years ago. I don’t watch movies. And I blame it, or I tribute that, to growing up in Wyoming in the 60’s. We were outside, in the mountains, climbing rocks, floating down whitewater rivers, you know— just any adventure we could find outside, we were doing it.” If you were to ask Kruse, “What was the turning point in your life? Can you put a timeline on it, dotting the moment when you grew the most?” Her answer would be a story of growth. Kruse experienced a childhood full of adventure and nature, but life experiences soon taught her the value of hard work. This lesson came during the trying time of losing her mother at a young age.
“I think sometimes the growth comes from the deepest pain and grief.”
“My mother died suddenly when I was 18 and that rocked my world,” Kruse says. “I had nobody to depend on, I didn’t have a father, I had to do it myself. And I think that has been in me since I was 18 years old. With everything I’ve done, I’ve had to do it myself. I think mothers are such big parts of our lives, you can always call on your mother. Yah know- when I didn’t have money to pay my insurance on my car I thought, ‘dang, I can’t call my mother’. I think that at a young age that situation really put me on my feet- I had to do it.” After losing the person who was such an integral part of her life, Kruse had arrived at the time asking herself, “What am I going to do with my life?” She spent time in the military and then became a Park Ranger. “I loved it but I didn’t make any money.” Kruse says. “I was always struggling. I went to college on a GI Bill, thank goodness I had that, I graduated from the University of Maryland. But still, I was struggling with what I was going to do and that’s when I landed at FedEx. That was another point in life that I committed to what I loved. It was an adventure, I didn’t know anything about it and I loved that.” With FedEx, the door was wide open to exploration and Kruse took that opportunity. “I was knocking at the glass ceiling,” Kruse says with a smile as she reminisces. “Back then there were very few women in management. It was the 80’s- men would go out on the golf course and network, but women weren’t taught that. I taught women to network, to sell themselves, how to go into an interview and make them believe you’re the best person for the job.” One of the many things Kruse still carries with her today is the FedEx philosophy of “People, Service, Profit”. It’s the belief that by creating a positive working environment for employees, they will provide better service quality to customers, which will then lead to customers using FedEx products and services. “It has been my vision in everything I do here at the coffee shop,” Kruse says. “My people come first, that’s my employees. I pay them as much as I can- they’re number 1. I swear by it, I live by it, there is nothing more important than the people.” Kruse’s compassion for her employees and customers is evident. If you’ve had the chance to meet her than you’ve experienced this first hand and if not, then you’re in for a treat. She’s more than just the labels of being a veteran, a pioneer in women’s leadership and an entrepreneur. She has the true glory of a veteran, the true passion of a leader and the true drive of an entrepreneur. And she also has the true heart of a friend because at the end of the day, she’ll be the one who will listen to your problems when you walk into her coffee shop.