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A Life: Donald A. Crate, 1923 — 2013; ‘He Embodied What a Community Is All About’

  • Donald A. Crate stands next to his convertible in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

    Donald A. Crate stands next to his convertible in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

  • Donald A. Crate works at his Bog Road gravel pit in Enfield in July 2011. (Dolores Struckhoff photograph)

    Donald A. Crate works at his Bog Road gravel pit in Enfield in July 2011. (Dolores Struckhoff photograph)

  • Donald A. Crate stands next to his convertible in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)
  • Donald A. Crate works at his Bog Road gravel pit in Enfield in July 2011. (Dolores Struckhoff photograph)

Enfield — Even in his late 80s, Donald A. Crate would climb into his loader to crush rock or screen sand for his sand and gravel pit business in town.

Crate, who owned more than a half-dozen businesses, held numerous positions throughout his 89 years, including town elected and state positions, volunteer duties and self-employed pursuits.

And one thing separated Crate from the working class — his passion and love to do just that, work.

Even after he was unable to go to the pit, Crate still managed his medications on a spreadsheet, organized his meals and stayed in touch with the truckers to keep his hands on the business.

Crate was a fighter.

“No matter how sick he got, he didn’t stay idle and didn’t let us stay idle,” Crate’s daughter Dolores Struckhoff wrote in her father’s eulogy. “He persevered and tried to accomplish something each day until the very end.”

Crate, an Enfield resident for more than 65 years, died July 10, at his Sargent Street home at age 89.

In his mid-80s, Crate prided himself on being able to say, “I’m not retired.” And it’s not as though he started working late in life and felt the need to make up for lost time.

Crate became a business owner in his 20s.

After his school years concluded, he worked as a grocer and soon opened Don’s Cash Market, a Lebanon grocery store, in the early 1940s.

He ran that business for a few years, before selling it to embark on his next venture. In 1946, the year Crate married his wife of 67 years, Evelyn, the two purchased the Mascoma Hotel on Main Street in Enfield. The couple ran a restaurant and bar out of the hotel building as well, and later reopened Don’s Cash Market — in Enfield, this time.

“He worked hard,” said daughter Dianne Nelson. “And we didn’t have a lot back in those days, but we always had plenty to eat.”

“He was a workaholic,” said son Donald J. Crate Sr. “And he was very caring, generous and taught us all the trade.”

As if Crate didn’t already have his hands full, his love for work led him to open another business, Don Crate & Sons in the late 1940s, which grew into an established trucking and excavating company that still thrives today. He also started an affiliate business, a sand and gravel pit operation, that also runs today. His wife, Evelyn, owns the businesses and performs the administrative work, while sons Donald Sr. and David, and grandsons Donald Jr. and Duane help run day-to-day operations.

“He was a good person; he was a good teacher and he wanted us to do things and do it right,” said son David.

During the time when the Crates owned the hotel, they started their large family, which eventually grew to eight children. Six still live in Enfield.

Crate immersed himself in Enfield’s local government, holding many positions, and encouraging his offspring to do the same. They met that challenge.

Crate joined the Enfield Fire Department shortly after settling in town, and later became the fire chief for more than 35 years. Struckhoff said her father was instrumental in shaping the department and led the purchase of the Enfield Fire Station on Union Street, which occupies a building Crate purchased for $1 and donated to the town.

He was also a driving force behind raising funds to purchase Enfield’s first ambulance through years of raffles, bingo fundraisers and the still-running Enfield Family Fair.

In addition to his work on the fire department, Crate held titles of Enfield fire ward and road commissioner, fulfilled duties as state forest fire warden/deputy representing Enfield, occupied state positions for over a decade, ran the family dairy farm in Meriden, and started a sporting goods shop — selling snowmobiles, tractors and the like.

“If he could have gotten up, dressed, had his lunch packed by my Mom, he would have gone to work forever,” Struckhoff said. “His work and his family meant everything to him.”

Struckhoff recalled memories from when her father was road commissioner, such as having to wait until the afternoon or evening to open Christmas presents on Christmas day because Crate was out tending the roadways.

Struckhoff said her father’s various roles in Enfield helped shape the life the Crate family lived.

“Can you imagine, the middle of the night, when your home is all dark and quiet, and a small red phone rings next to your bed?” Struckhoff wrote in the eulogy. “You awaken your wife and children to let them know there is a fire in town and that you will be leaving but you also need their help.”

Struckhoff indicated each family member would stakeout a position at home, no matter the hour of day, to help Crate fulfill his duties on the fire department.

“(It was) like a military squad being called to order, we all took a position,” she wrote, adding Crate would respond to the fire, while his family members would man the phone line and check for smoke through nearby windows.

When Crate wasn’t manning a hose line or running one of his various businesses, he enjoyed spending time with his family — and not just one or two members at a time.

“We had a lot of family gatherings and everyone was always invited,” Nelson, one of five daughters, said of her parents. “If one child showed up and they decided to prepare a meal, they would get on the phone and call and tell everyone of us to come.”

In addition to enjoying time spent with family, Crate enjoyed playing bingo, card games, taking long trips in his “Caddy,” vacationing to Florida and tending his vegetable garden.

“Peas were his favorite, and his green beans, his yellow string beans and cucumbers,” Struckhoff said, adding that her mother enjoyed canning vegetables from the garden.

Although quiet and reserved, Evelyn Crate called her husband “a people’s man” and said he always liked surrounding himself with friends, family and business contacts.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who knew Donald Crate for more than 40 years, described him as hardworking and spoke highly of the Crate family.

“The Crates are one of those families of many generations that just continue to be a part of the local culture and fabric of a rural American town, which I am very proud of,” Burton said, noting Crate’s children and grandchildren currently hold either positions on the town Selectboard, fire department or police department. Crate’s children also own and work for various Enfield businesses and hold fire-ward positions.

One year ago, Burton said he had the privilege of escorting Donald and Evelyn Crate across the newly constructed Shaker Bridge in Enfield in Burton’s Oldsmobile convertible.

“It was an honor to have them in my car and that pleased them to no end,” Burton said.

Stephen Christy, president of Mascoma Savings Bank, said a bench was placed across from Hughes Park a few years ago on Crate’s behalf, as a gesture to recognize all Crate had done for the community.

“He loved his family, was a public servant in the town of Enfield and he was an entrepreneur,” Christy said. “He embodied what a community is all about and he really was a friend.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.