S. S. Kresge: Gilbert Cemetery's most famous son
LINDA KOEHLER/TIMES NEWS The S. S. Kresge mausoleum is an edifice that befits the final resting place of a remarkable man.
If you drive by the Gilbert Cemetery between Long Mountain Road and Gilbert/Effort Road, you'll notice an impressive mausoleum. Inside rests the remains of Sebastian Spering Kresge, July 31, 1867 - October 18, 1966.
Kresge is a very common name to the area. So who was that he could afford such an elaborate burial site?
How about S. S. Kresge. Does that ring any bells?
He was founder of the S. S. Kresge Company, one of the 20th century's largest and best-known retail organizations. The company was later renamed Kmart Corporation in 1977, and evolved into today's Sears Holdings Corporation, parent of Kmart and Sears.
Kresge was born in Bald Mountain (near Wilkes-Barre), the son of Sebastian Kresge and Catherine Kunkle.
Living on the family farm until he was 21, he was educated in the local public schools and at the Fairview Academy in Brodheadsville and Polytechnic Institute in Gilbert. He taught one winter in the Gower School for $22 a month. After graduation, he went to the Eastman Business College, from which he graduated in March, 1889.
In 1897, Kresge started with James G. McCrory (founder of J.G. McCrory's) at a five and ten cent store in Memphis, Tn. In 1899 he founded his company with Charles J. Wilson with an $8,000 investment in two five-and-ten-cent stores, one in downtown Detroit, (for which he traded ownership in McCrory's).
He incorporated the S. S. Kresge Corporation with 85 stores in 1912. During World War I, Kresge experimented with raising the limit on prices in his stores to $1.
Kresge opened the first Kmart in 1962. He died in 1966. In 1977, the S. S. Kresge Corporation changed its name to Kmart Corporation. In 2005, Sears Holdings Corporation became the parent of Kmart and Sears, after Kmart bought Sears, and formed the new parent.
It is said that Kresge was very frugal, even stingy, when it came to himself. But he spent millions on his fellow man.
In 1924, Kresge established The Kresge Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose income he specified simply "to promote the well-being of mankind." By the time of his death, Kresge had given the foundation over $60 million.
He donated $25,000 in 1929 for the building of a consolidated school, the Kresgeville High School (Polk High School and later, Polk Elementary School.)
He was married three times and had two sons and three daughters with his first wife.
Jeff Hinton, caretaker/secretary/treasurer of the Gilbert Cemetery says the story of Kresge buying his plot at the Gilbert Cemetery went something like this ...
Erwin Kreger (cemetery caretaker at the time) met with Kresge who wanted to buy land for his mausoleum in the same cemetery where his great-great-grandfather, the Pennsylvania-German pioneer Conrad Kresge was buried. Conrad had settled in the Gilbert area before the Revolution, where his 12-year-old son met death at the hands of a marauding band of Native Americans.
Erwin quoted a price, with S. S. saying, "I want wholesale. I'm not buying retail." Kreger responded with "Well, then you're not buying today." They went round and round and Kresge finally bought his land.
Kresge was 99 years old when he died in his home in East Stroudsburg.
According to Jeff, over the years the grounds of the mausoleum became neglected and the brass fence was stolen. About 10 years ago, Jeff took pictures and sent them to the S. S. Kresge Foundation. A week later, someone contacted Jeff, asking what they could do. Jeff talked to the president of the Kresge Reunion, Earl Kresge, who said he'd get in contact with the Foundation. Soon after, a new fence was installed and a landscaper came in and cleaned up the property. It has been beautifully maintained ever since - a resting place that befits a great American entrepreneur and philanthropist.