A few things have changed since Marilyn Moron Kreke made her debut on St. Thomas in 1936, but the friendly feel of her island home is still at the center of her personal view.
“I was born here, right above (what is now) Virgillo’s on Back Street – at home,” Kreke said.
Her father was from the well established Moron family. Her mother was a Sasso from Panama, who met Kreke’s father on a trip to visit relatives on St. Thomas. Like most families at the time, they lived in Charlotte Amalie. There was little outside the town area.
“When I was a little girl on Saturdays all the stores opened up,” Kreke recalled. It was a special day and she often spent it playing cards with her grandmother and a great aunt.
Pleasures were simpler then, as was life in general.
“You visited, you went to the beach,” she said. “You could leave all your doors open, you didn’t have to lock anything. It was really nice … I’m happy that my kids grew up here too.”
After completing elementary grades at a small private school on Garden Street, Kreke was sent to St. Peter’s and Paul School starting in eighth grade.
“I was a little Jewish girl in a Catholic School,” she remembered. She did so well academically that she skipped a grade and graduated early from high school. That happenstance changed the course of her life.
She had dreams of becoming a nurse, but the nursing program wouldn’t accept students younger than 18. While she waited, she started working.
“My first job was at WSTA Radio station,” she said. Duties included typing commercials, answering the phone and general office work. “It was fun … I think I was only making about $50 a week, but to me that was a lot of money.” She also worked at a bank.
It was neither a financial nor a communications career that lured her away from nursing.
It was Joe Kreke, a man from Cincinnati. He came to St. Thomas in the mid-1950s to spend his tour of duty with the Coast Guard and met the petite Miss Moron.
“By the time I was 18, I got married,” Kreke said, adding that she has no regrets. “It lasted for 40 years until he passed away, so I guess I did something right.”
The couple raised three children – Deborah, Robert and Donald – and eventually became stalwarts of the Virgin Islands insurance industry.
First they spent a couple of years in Ohio so Joe could finish his education at the University of Cincinnati.
Kreke said she was “extremely happy” when her husband asked if she wanted to move back to St. Thomas. She readily agreed to his conditions: first, he must be allowed to have the Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper mailed to St. Thomas weekly, and second, each year he could fly up to watch his cherished Cincinnati Reds on opening day of the baseball season.
It was about 1958 when they returned to the Virgin Islands. A retired Army colonel, John Jouett, was running a small insurance company with his wife. He offered first Joe, and later, Marilyn jobs.
“We worked for him for about 10 years,” Kreke said. “He was just a wonderful man.” They were learning the insurance industry, and they were contributing to the company.
“My family had a lot of friends here,” Kreke said. “That helped grow the business.”
In 1968, with Col. Jouett’s blessing, the couple started their own insurance agency, the Kreke Corporation, and the fun really began.
Kreke said friends used to tease her about working for her husband. “I told them, ‘I sit with my back to him and I do want I want to do.’” Both of them worked hard and long. “We never had a vacation for a long time.”
If there’s one thing she doesn’t mind, it’s work.
At 79, Kreke still manages the company and goes to the office every day. She has a long list of longtime clients and an earned reputation for personal service.
“I get up at 5 o’clock, before the sun,” she said. “I don’t need an alarm; I have an alarm in my body.”
When she’s not at work, she likes to read – mysteries are a favorite – and to cook and bake.
“When I get bored, I make a rum cake,” she said with a laugh.
“I know I should retire. I keep saying, every year, ‘Next year,’ But I just enjoy working,” she explained. Besides, she’s seen the consequences of disengagement: “I have friends who retired. Some are dead, some are in a home or have Alzheimer’s.”
Except for some hearing difficulties, Kreke said she’s blessed with good health – although “I’m not allowed to climb ladders anymore” which means she needs help with some tasks, like changing overhead light bulbs.
“I just like to be independent,” she said. “I have trouble asking people to do things for me.” Fortunately, she has children, in-laws and grandchildren close by who pitch in when necessary, as well as friends willing to help.
“That’s one good thing about living in St. Thomas,” she said. “I have good neighbors.”
It’s that sense of community she has always found appealing.
“I like to go to the supermarket and run into people that I know,” she said. “I’m not going to live anyplace but St. Thomas.”
Kreke has five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Her philosophy is commonsense: “I don’t worry about things until I have something to worry about.”