Tyler Fenton bows his head in prayer along with other members of Randy Crawford's Pop Warner football team during a memorial service for Crawford on Saturday afternoon in Kenai. Fenton presented Crawford's widow with a football signed by the team during the ceremony.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Retired Alaska State Trooper Jeff Hall knows the organization felt a void when Randy Crawford retired as commander in 2002, and that his family, friends and community felt a much greater one when his plane crashed in Cook Inlet on Jan. 9.
But Hall doesn’t doubt Crawford’s talents are still being put to use, even if his co-workers, football players or others who’ve depended on him are no longer the beneficiaries.
“My sympathy goes out to St. Peter, because by now I’m sure he’s failed an inspection for something,” Hall said Saturday afternoon during a memorial service for Crawford at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.
The auditorium was filled near capacity as the community said goodbye to Crawford, 55, of Soldotna a beloved family man, respected state trooper and spirited coach of Pop Warner football.
The Cessna 207 Crawford was flying Jan. 9 crashed into Cook Inlet after Crawford made a mayday call. Despite exhaustive search and rescue efforts, the icy waters didn’t return Crawford’s body.
While the reason for the gathering was a sad one, many of those there to grieve found solace in the memories of Crawford’s life that were shared.
“We are gathered to honor his life,” said Meg Zerbinos, a spiritual care coordinator at Central Peninsula Hospital who officiated the ceremony.
Following her brief opening, pastor Alan Humphries lead those gathered in a prayer for Crawford.
“To say that he will be missed is an understatement,” Humphries said, but thanked God for the time that everyone did have with Crawford.
Close friends and fellow retired troopers, Hall and Al Schadle, recounted Crawford’s life, from his birth in 1954, his youthful days as a cowboy in California, his move to Alaska as a teenager and, of course, the many years he served as a beacon of loyalty, integrity and courage as a state trooper.
“The pain we feel today is worth it, for the privilege of having known Randy,” Hall said with a cracked voiced and teary eyes.
“The void he leaves in our lives will never be filled,” added Schadle.
Friend and fellow Pop Warner football coach, Mark Fowler, commented on Crawford’s commitment as a coach.
“His dedication was immediate and he was always the first one on the field and the last one off it,” he said.
While the two coached the Soldotna Saints Mighty Mights to the state championship last year, Fowler said Crawford didn’t start out as a natural.
“Randy wouldn’t accept mediocrity in himself or those kids,” he said.
Fowler explained how initially Crawford had some kids crying after barking at them, but he found a way to connect with the kids by using Skittles candy as positive reinforcement.
“Most of us called him Coach Skittles,” said Austin Hatten of Soldotna, who played under Crawford.
The boy’s father, Mike Hatten, said his son learned a lot about football and life from Crawford, such as sticking it out even when times get tough.
“(Austin) was ready to quit at first,” he said, but explained how Crawford continued to challenge the boy, rather than taking it down a notch like some folks might have. Hatten said his son stuck it out and never regretted his decision.
“I appreciate all that (Crawford) did. He gave more to those kids than a lot of people,” Hatten said.
Other kids and their parents demonstrated similar experiences with Crawford. During the memorial service Tyler Fenton, a boy on Crawford’s team, presented a football signed by many fellow players to Crawford’s widow.
It was not the only gift she received that day. Trooper Maj. Matt Leveque presented Michelle Crawford with an Alaska state flag, which “not only represents (Crawford’s) service to this state, but all the troopers that carry on in his place striving to maintain the high standard that he set,” he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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