He owned a mansion, but lived in a small apartment on the grounds of his estate. He eschewed bistros and steakhouses in favor of Denny’s. And when he bought a Rolls Royce, he bolted a CB radio into the burl wood dash so he could chat with truckers.
The Orange County Register reported that John Crean was eulogized Thursday (Jan. 18) at the Crystal Cathedral as a man who enjoyed and shared his hard-earned fortune but always kept his feet on the ground.
Instead of a glossy portrait, the memorial booklet handed out to more than 1,000 mourners showed Crean smiling and ready to dig into a mound of baked beans, mashed potatoes and roast beef stacked high on a paper plate.
Despite immense wealth, he was an “amazingly normal person,” said Doris Heil, an acquaintance who attended charity events at Crean’s Newport Beach home over the years. “Nothing showy about him.”
“You’d think he was the guy next door,” said Maureen Tate, who knew Crean for decades.
In a procession led by choirboys in red blazers, pallbearers filed down an aisle with Crean’s casket, an austere light wood variety with little bald eagle ornaments at the corners, a nod to his deeply felt patriotism.
Dr. Robert H. Schuller officiated along with the Rev. Robert Richards, Crean’s Lutheran pastor for many years.
“The church you’re sitting in, the Crystal Cathedral, would not be here without John Crean,” Schuller said, recalling a $1 million donation that helped get the world-famous house of worship built.
Crean, who died last week at 81, made millions by founding Fleetwood Enterprises Inc., an industry leader in recreational vehicles and manufactured homes based in Riverside.
For many years, he starred in a campy television cooking show, “At Home on the Range,” that was filmed in one of his garages.
All that, and a generosity that benefited countless Orange County charities, packed the house in Garden Grove on Thursday.
Because they knew “so many people would want to say a few words about John, (his family) feared another passing before the funeral ended,” Richards said to laughter.
Instead, loved ones selected five close friends to speak on specific qualities Crean was known for, including his philanthropy, keen business sense and perseverance that helped him battle alcoholism.
Friend and comedian Stan Freberg described Crean as “ultra-conservative and ultra-kindhearted.” He had an obvious charitable bent, but admitted to political persuasions that placed him “slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.”
Clancy Imislund, who attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with Crean, recalled his friend’s youth, time spent carousing and brawling.
“There was no philanthropy at that time, but he gave a few policemen plenty of baloney,” Imislund joked.
Over the years, Crean beat back his addiction, building a thriving business known for valuing its employees and always listening to customers.
Elden Smith, now Fleetwood’s CEO, recalled that even when Crean headed the company, he would march around RV parks with a box of tools and happily fix the screen doors of motorhome enthusiasts who had patronized the company he ran.
Those qualities, speakers repeatedly noted, were owed in no small part to Crean’s wife of 58 years, Donna.
Crean’s son, Andy, said that shortly before he died, his father heard Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” on the radio and declared, “This is a really bitchin’ song.” The tune was blasted through the cathedral near the end of the funeral.
Jim Doti, president of Chapman University and another longtime friend, said he had hoped to read a list of Crean’s recent charitable donations during the funeral. But when the tally came back, more than 300 groups were on it.
Instead of reading them all, Doti selected a few examples: Alzheimer’s patients, senior-advocacy groups and scholarships for students.
After each one, Doti offered the simple gratitude that was all Crean ever asked: “Thank you, John.”