During a storm last spring, hailstones beat down violently on Tom Krieger’s home and farmland in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. His property sits on the crest of a hill with sprawling room for cattle (he leases out the space to other farmers these days) and hay harvesting. On a clear day, he can see picturesque Roan Mountain, an hour away by car.
When the hailstorm ended, Tom, an 86-year-old retired grocery industry executive, went outside to inspect the damage. The hail had pummeled his house, including the garage doors and roof, a family car, the deck, the awning over the deck, the vinyl fence surrounding the pool, and the guttering and downspouts. All had to be replaced. When technicians pulled up the damaged decking, they discovered another problem: The drainage pipes were allowing water to flow toward the foundation, which if left alone, would have wreaked havoc on the grading and structural integrity of his home.
Months later, Tom sees the storm for what it turned out to be: a blessing—because it prevented a disaster to his house that would have been much worse than hail.
“God opened it up and got it taken care of,” Tom remarked. “You think it’s bad, but God turns the bad around and uses it for good.”
The last three decades of Tom’s life could be described that way.
He was raised in church in his native Ohio—baptized as a child in the Methodist church. He later attended Presbyterian and then Lutheran churches as a young man. “All through my youth, I felt very close to God and prayed regularly and was involved in church.”
He also remembers watching Billy Graham preach on television in the 1950s during the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s first decade.
“If I knew it was on, I always watched his programs. I always felt moved by them.”
While still in high school in the early 1950s, Tom found a part-time job in a grocery store in the mornings before school, taking produce out of ice-packed barrels and returning it to the shelves for the day. When a full-time job there emerged after high school, he took it. From there a career was birthed. He eventually worked his way into executive management, tending to his career while also attending Cornell University’s food services program. Positions with the Kroger chain, then Food Lion, and finally Fleming Foods, took him to places like Kansas City; Little Rock, Arkansas; St. Louis; Salisbury, North Carolina; Columbus, Georgia; and finally, Johnson City, Tennessee, where he retired 24 years ago as president of Fleming Foods Tennessee.
Tom found remarkable success in the grocery industry, and it had become financially rewarding, but his busy career and related responsibilities had caused him to get away from church and fellowship with other believers. When he went through a divorce at age 53, after 29 years of marriage, he was a long time removed from his churchgoing youth.
A few years later, while working for Fleming Foods in Johnson City, he began reflecting more deeply on his life. He sensed the Lord drawing him back. His secretary, whom he described as “a really strong Christian lady,” was a source of wisdom for him. She asked him one day, “Tom, why don’t you date Becky?” Becky, a mutual acquaintance, also worked at Fleming.
“I told her, ‘Well, Becky’s 20 years younger than I am.’ She said, ‘Well, you don’t act your age. Becky’s pretty mature.’ So we started dating and it worked out pretty well.”
So well, in fact, that they married in 1991. Prior to that, Tom had begun attending Becky’s home church—a Baptist church in the Johnson City area. There, he recommitted his life to Christ and was baptized by immersion.
After Tom and Becky married, they bought Becky’s grandparents’ property in Jonesborough, near Johnson City, and have made their home there since.
Once Tom began growing in his faith, he wanted to give financially to a worthy cause. And the one organization that came to mind was the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. He began supporting BGEA financially and has continued to do so, alongside Becky.
The Kriegers also played an integral role in helping bring the Tri-Cities Celebration with Will Graham to Johnson City in 2018, and Tom led a successful effort to get a highway overpass in Johnson City renamed the Billy Graham Memorial Interchange after Mr. Graham died.
Acknowledging that while there are many good things that money can be used for, very few have eternal ramifications. “I just think my money needs to go for the Lord’s work.”
As he has told Sunday school classes he has taught, giving and stewardship go far beyond our finances. Tom makes it a practice to tithe his time for personal devotion to Christ—for almost 2.5 hours a day he works through his prayer lists, men’s devotionals and Bible reading, trying to read through the Bible twice each year. Add to that greeting people at church, Salvation Army involvement and other community activities.
For 22 years, Tom and Becky served as church greeters together. But four years ago, Becky’s sister had a life-altering illness. Tom and Becky took her into their home, which allows Becky to help care for her. Becky still serves as chair of their church’s Lord’s Supper Committee, as she has for 15 years.
“The Lord has blessed me to live as many years as I’ve lived,” Tom said. “What we’re given, it’s given to us to test us. I feel it’s been given to me to share, whether it’s the years I have left or other means. I want my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids, Becky’s second cousins and grand nephews and nieces to see service, service, service, not just a happy grandfather.”
Photo: Julie Gaylor Photography