Kawartha Dairy patriarch remembered
|By Jennifer Hughey - Contributing Writer | September 14, 2017|
Those who knew Don Crowe say he’d have given you the shirt off his back. That’s just how he was.
The Crowe family patriarch died suddenly Sept. 6 after a stroke. The 77-year-old was rushed to Peterborough Regional Health Centre, where his family spent his last moments with him at his bedside.
Kawartha Dairy announced on social media Sept. 11 that the eldest son of Kawartha Dairy’s founders had died, adding Don was someone you were unlikely to forget even if you met him only once.
Many called him a “gentle giant” and knew he just “simply had a way of making you feel good.”
“I have had so many calls and emails, even people stopping in saying what a mentor he was,” Don’s youngest son, Craig, told The Highlander.
“Business people saying they wouldn’t be where they are today if it hadn’t been for dad.”
Don was married to his late wife Opal (Hewitt) for 51 years. The couple had five sons: Steve, Terry, Darryl, Rob and Craig. He also has 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
With the exception of Darryl, who is undergoing cancer treatment, each son has a prominent role in the business – either in Minden or in Bobcaygeon, where it all started.
Don’s parents, Jack and Ila Crowe, bought the small business in Bobcaygeon in 1937. So small, it only had three rooms and everything was kept cold with ice cut from the lake. In the early 1960s, a second dairy bar was opened in Minden and Don and Opal took the helm.
“[They] concentrated on the Minden location and my grandfather and grandmother looked after Bobcaygeon,” Craig recalled. He added that it was only until Don’s brothers were old enough to start helping, that there really was a succession plan in place.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Larry Anderson was hired in 1978, when Kawartha Dairy still delivered door-to-door.
“Don hired me,” Anderson told The Highlander. “A driver was off sick for a couple of weeks, [and seeing as] I was not working … he asked if I could fill in.”
For more than 32 years, Anderson worked for his Aunt Opal and Uncle Don. He recalled how Don liked a good joke, which many of his family members would agree with.
“One winter, when I was done work and went to leave, he had filled the back of my truck with wet, packed snow, higher than the cab, with his tractor,” Anderson said. “[Witnesses] said he would grin with every bucketful.”
Don’s grandson, Sterling, will miss the time he spent growing up with his grandpa.
“He would take us on classic car tours, on some of his travels to collect bottles, and to visit with his many friends across Ontario,” Sterling said. “I got to see so many small communities in Ontario with him while having long talks on the drive and getting to learn more about all of the things that he loved.”
Sterling said Don always had his back in the most authentic of ways. “He would have confidence in you when you weren’t sure, and would tell you if you had a blind spot to help you out.”
Sister-in-law, Joy Kellett, and her husband were living with Don in Minden for the past five weeks. She believes they were meant to be there in his time of need.
“We’ve been living in the States for 30 years now, so we miss a lot of babies being born and funerals for closure,” the 71-year-old said. “It’s still so hard to believe he’s gone. We were meant to be here now.”
She spoke fondly of trips they would take as couples in their motor homes across Canada and the U.S., taking the less travelled routes. “I am sure that he and Opal are out cruising the back roads of heaven now.”
Tom Prentice Sr. and Don had been friends since the Crowes moved to Minden. He reminisced about Don’s dedication to the Minden Kinsmen and their friendship over the years.
“We met when he first came to Minden, as teenagers,” Prentice said. “At that time, all Kawartha Dairy amounted to was a van, [person] and a parking lot. I remember riding with Don in the evenings to Bobcaygeon to pick up milk for the next day.”
Both Prentice and Kellett said Don never wanted to be in the forefront for his philanthropy. “He never did it to take praise,” Prentice said. “He just wanted to do everything he could for his community.”
The Kin Canada motto is to serve the community’s greatest need and Prentice confirmed that is exactly why Don was voted by the club to become a life member.
“Don became a Kinsmen in the 1970s,” Prentice recalled, “and then in the 1980s, he was made a life member and once that happens, you’re always a Kinsmen. He was just so humble.”
A visitation at the Gordon A. Monk Funeral Home will take place on Sept. 22 from 1-6 p.m., followed by a funeral service to celebrate Don’s life on Sept. 23 at 11 a.m. The reception will be held at the Minden Legion and any donations are to be made to the Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation (HHHSF).
Don’s dairy collectibles will still be on display for Doors Open this weekend (Sept. 16-17) in Minden, because Craig said the family wishes for “people to see the most amazing collection of the super, most amazing man who put it together.”
JENNIFER HUGHEY is a contributing writer for The Highlander.