A Lifetime, A Legacy: Family Fondly Remembers David Crafts
By Marybeth Hagan
David Crafts in 1964...
…and in 2016.
There might not be enough space here for the love that the late David Crafts generates in conversations about him with his family members and friends.
This Seven Mile Beach man-for-others died at his Stone Harbor home on Jan. 13 at age 83.
Seven weeks later, David’s wife, Nancy, resolves to snap out of the void left by the loss of her beloved and return to being her more familiar self. David’s warm and friendly face in a framed picture on the kitchen counter looks toward Nancy as she recounts their past together.
Bits and pieces of the David “who could do anything” died progressively over the past 10 years as he battled Alzheimer’s disease, Nancy explains. Yet, “he remained sweet and kind.”
David – the highly organized former U.S. Marine who served embassy duty during the Korean conflict – became scattered. David – the former New Jersey state trooper who could spot beauty in battered antiques and bring them back to life – lost his artistic vision and the motor skills required for art restoration and gold leaf gilding that he learned from his art expert brother, Peter. Peter and David operated Crafts and Crafts Restorations back in the 1980s.
Not only that, David – the skilled renovator who with nephew Pete Crafts converted a bank building into Island Aerobics fitness center in the late 1990s – no longer transformed buildings. David – the father of three and grandfather of seven who happily made home improvements for family members, whether at home or later working alongside his adult children to help them repair or improve their homes – no longer lifted a tool.
When physically fit David could no longer drive cars, motorcycles or boats, preferably fast, the Alzheimer’s patient became a bicycle rider who traveled the coastal route and crossed its bridges daily. His solo bike-riding routine changed four years ago after one windy springtime day when David, wearing his red Phillies cap, went missing from 3pm until 1am.
When her spouse did not return from his bike ride by 5pm, police were alerted, Nancy says. Daughter Alicia (Crafts) Eger put the word out on Facebook. Sons David Jr. (or Davey) and David Cox joined police and friends like Stone Harbor mayor Judy Davies-Dunhour and her husband Doug Dunhour in searching the area for the missing bicyclist.
David and his wife Nancy
As lifeguards, sons Davey and David noted that when a child went missing on the beach, the best bet for finding that child was to follow the wind. So they did. Davey and David found their dad at Gardner’s Basin by Atlantic City, some 40 miles away.
David Crafts Sr., who had peddled all that distance on his bike was “so nonchalant” about all of the fuss, Nancy muses. After that emotional-roller-coaster incident, family members and friends were relieved and pleased to learn that David was perfectly healthy and quite strong after police checked his vitals.
Chris Davies became David’s diligent bike-riding companion after that episode. The pair rode to Avalon daily and lunched at Tonio’s Pizzeria or the Pudgy Pelican Café. “Exercise kept him going,” says Nancy. When David was in his 60s, Carol Wilson – who managed the Crafts’ first fitness center, 3206 – introduced him to the very thing that would be his lifeline as he battled Alzheimer’s, she adds. As her husband’s Alzheimer’s progressed, Nathalie Keane of Shape Fitness and Wellness Studios worked tirelessly in helping David, Nancy notes thankfully.
Nancy also remains deeply grateful to David’s caregivers, Stephanie Ried and Nona Mander. Their warm ways with David enabled Nancy to continue operating her two businesses, Island Aerobics (now named Avalon Fitness at 3206) and Nancy C. Crafts Counseling in Cape May Court House, without worry when she was caring for her spouse at home.
Stephanie and Nona mutually agree. Tending to Dave was a labor of love.
“It’s not easy to care for someone with Alzheimer’s. Dave made it very easy,” Stephanie says. “He liked to laugh. His personality was radiant. He had an impact on people.”
Because Dave enjoyed Stephanie’s singing, she converted their conversations into songs. Her pal Dave sang responses, snapped his fingers and tried to sing along, Stephanie says. Routine is important in caring for Alzheimer’s patients, the seasoned caregiver notes. “Dave was so attentive to his schedule,” Stephanie says. “He was such a fighter. I admired him so. I miss my friend dearly.”
Nona, who worked the shift later in the day, found Dave to be endearing, as well. “I nicknamed him My Boo,” Nona says. “I loved him. He was such a lovely man.” Nona kept Dave pleasantly busy by taking him out for pizza, driving him to Wildwood for fun in her car “Greenie,” looking through the Crafts family photo albums or mementos from Dave’s time in the U.S. Marines and more.
“I just felt love with this man,” Nona says. “He is well loved. And it was love with those two [David and Nancy] on good days and on bad days.”
From left: David Crafts, David Cox (son), Edward Bankert (brother), and Greg Eger (son-in-law)
Love for those two began one night back in 1971. At the time, Nancy was the divorced mother of her young son, David Cox. David Crafts was a widower, one who lost his first wife Christine to a tragic accident, and the father of two young children, Davey and Alicia Crafts.
“I think about our first date. There was music. We ate. We danced,” Nancy recalls. “I keep going back to that night” in an Anglesea restaurant with a name that she cannot remember. Three months later, David and Nancy married and blended their families into one. David, Davey and Alicia relocated from Medford Lakes and joined Nancy and her son David in Stone Harbor.
As adults, the three children all agree that dad gave his time and his talents generously.
In remarks at David’s funeral, daughter Alicia recalled her father’s kindness in “teaching me the tricks of his trades, like playing detective (There wasn’t a box of candy he could hide from me!), teaching me his cooking skills, teaching me how to use a drill and a miter saw, teaching me the intricate steps of gold leaf gilding and the appreciation of antiques.”
Son Davey remembers referring to Nancy as “Mom” immediately and being like a shadow to his father in his dad’s workshop in order to learn from him. “I was always proud to be the son of a U.S. Marine and a state trooper,” Davey says. “Dad instilled in us discipline and respect.” Davey recalls how David Sr. did the electrical, insulation and painting work within the college rental attic that his brother and he shared in College Park, Md., renovations that turned a dump into a showplace. “My dad could do anything, even cook and sew,” he adds.
“Whenever you needed help, Dad was there,” Davey concludes.
David Cox summed up David Crafts Sr.’s greatness.
With all of his gifts and life experiences, “Dad didn’t try to impress anyone. He was so unassuming. He was not an attention seeker. He had no agenda. He just wanted everyone to be happy,” says his stepson. “He was just a good guy. And, everywhere Dad went, he had friends.” While David Cox maintains a wonderful relationship with his birth father, “I tell people I grew up with a dad and a father,” he says. “David Crafts was my dad. He raised me and shaped me.”
Love begets love. In the late David Crafts Sr.’s life, he bred love abundantly.
Spring 2019 Articles: