Share Your Holidays: Boyhood tragedy drives his lifetime of service

Steve Krallis and his four brothers pose in front of a Christmas tree in this undated photo.
Steve Krallis and his four brothers pose in front of a Christmas tree in this undated photo.(NBC15)
Published: Dec. 9, 2019 at 3:11 PM CST
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"It was 1975."

Steve Krallis was just 8 years old, the youngest of five boys, when his father stabbed his mother multiple times and left her for dead. The father then turned himself into police, and later took his own life. Krallis' mother survived the attack, but her struggles were far from over.

"She had some injuries. She had to have surgery and was hospitalized for a period of time. She was faced with basically five boys between the age of 8 and 18, and a mortgage, and trying to work two jobs. It was... rough," recalls Krallis as he pauses to finish his sentence.

Steve Krallis is the director of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections Bureau of Budget and Facilities Management. He has worked in state government for 13 years, after serving almost 23 years in the United States Marine Corps and the Army.

"How tough he thought he was," he chuckles, pointing to an old military photo in his scrapbook.

Krallis has lived a life of service, but it's what happened to him as a little boy that really shaped his future.

Krallis' mother struggled to make ends meet. She relied on social services, food pantries and even neighbors to put food on the table.

"Neighbors stepped in and helped take care of the kids. The school stepped in and did food drives and worked with the local food pantry to make sure we had enough to eat ," explains Krallis, "When communities come together and keep families together, it strengthens families and it helps people overcome poverty and overcome difficulties, like we did."

It's the reason Krallis decided to start giving back through NBC15's Share Your Holidays campaign.

"Twenty years ago I called my mom up and asked what did you get when we were kids that had the biggest impact? And she said it was canned vegetables and peanut butter," recalls Krallis, who snapped his fingers when he conveyed his mom's response, "She instantly knew, these are the two things that meant the most. So as a tribute to mom, I never make a donation without those two things."

Krallis makes a trip to the grocery store every year to fill a cart full of those items. He has not forgotten being a child whose family counted on the generosity of others. It's a generosity he says saved his family.

"When I'm making my donation, I'm thinking about that kid who's coming home from school," he says as he starts to get choked up, "And he's not worried."

It's a story Krallis hasn't shared publicly until now, in honor of his mother, who passed away in September at the age of 80.

"I think there's parents out there struggling, and they're working just as hard as she was," he says, "So anything we can do to help them, I really feel like it's pretty important."

Krallis has lived in the Madison area for the last 25 years.

His message to those who are being helped by Second Harvest Foodbank is that there is hope, and this hard time won't last.