Lost and found in Manito
LARRY KRUZAN ’07
LARRY KRUZAN ’07 operates Lost Creek Pottery in Manito, where he and his wife have found a sense of community. They co-chaired the village’s sesquicentennial celebration last year. Manito is about 25 miles south of Peoria. View some of Kruzan’s work at lostcreekpottery.com.
During the first two decades of their married life, Debbie and Larry Kruzan ’07 moved 13 times in 13 years. Small wonder that Kruzan, a missionary-turned-professional potter, refers to his wife of 31 years as “Durable Debbie.”
After his career choices took their family to Germany, Texas, and Mexico, the Kruzans landed only a dozen miles from where Larry grew up. In 2005, they bought the shuttered train depot in Manito, a village of less than 2,000, and set out to turn it into Lost Creek Pottery. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a decade earlier, Kruzan admits, “My biggest hurdle was that I don’t like asking for help.”
As it turned out, he seldom needed to ask. Village residents had a knack for appearing just when the talented potter, who relies on a wheelchair, needed a hand with certain construction tasks. “The folks here have been really supportive of what we’re trying to do,” he says. Lost Creek Pottery has three “public firings” each year. After a week-long firing, more than 100 shoppers have crowded into the tiny business on a Saturday morning for the opening of the kiln. Because Kruzan mixes his own specialty glazes, there is always “an element of surprise” about how the pots will look. As he pulls pottery from the kiln and prices it on the spot, buyers call out for the pieces they want.
Inspired in the 1970s by the Foxfire book series that focuses on Appalachian folk crafts, the Lost Creek kiln is one of a kind. Outfitted with a wench system he designed, Kruzan is pleased to be able “to roll the cart in and out quite easily with one hand.”
Earlier careers gave Kruzan the know-how to tackle such a project. He was hired in 1977 as a machinist at Caterpillar and eventually became an electrician there. Fearing layoffs in the early 1980s, he attended Bible college preparing to be a minister. When Kruzan enlisted in the Army in 1983, he hoped eventually to become a chaplain. Instead, he worked with a multiple-launch rocket system while stationed in Germany. Touring European castles was a favorite weekend activity for the family of four until two years later when Kruzan was injured. He fell 12 feet from a missile launcher, breaking a hip and damaging his lower spine.
After retiring from the military in 1987, Kruzan worked in computer sales back in Pekin, but only for a short time. A chance meeting with an employee of Bearing Precious Seed, a ministry that prints and distributes millions of Bibles in dozens of languages, led to another line of work. “Two months later we sold everything and went to El Paso, Texas,” he explains. Kruzan’s job involved printing support, and he frequently went to Mexico to distribute Spanish scriptures. “It was an unbelievably varied sort of work.”
It took almost two years to diagnose, but Kruzan learned in 1994 that his problems with balance and vision were due to MS. Once again the family returned to Pekin, and Kruzan’s medical needs were skillfully met at the VA Hospital in Iowa City.
A lifelong learner, the 53-year-old explains his 2002 decision to enroll at Bradley as an art major. “Wherever we lived, I always went to classes. I was always enrolled in something.” Kruzan had wanted to try his hand at pottery, but had trouble finding the kind of courses he wanted. “I was excited to learn that Randy Carlson taught with a potter’s wheel,” he recalls of his early days at Bradley.
In May 2007, Kruzan was awarded two bachelor of fine arts degrees — in ceramics and photography. “I found something I should have tried 30 years ago,” comments the owner of Lost Creek Pottery, who seems anything but lost. “We get to come here and play,” Kruzan says of the fulfillment he and his wife have found working and teaching in an old train depot.