Donald “Donnie” Edward Crandall, Sr., 83, was recalled to active duty by our Lord and Savior in Heaven Saturday, January 6, 2018 while enjoying his retirement from the United States Marine Corps at his rural home.
He was born April 20, 1934, to Russell and Merline (Nelson) Crandall in Mondovi. Donnie enlisted into the Marines in 1952 and retired in 1973, serving in the aviation branch of the Corps. As a helicopter mechanic, crew chief, and door gunner, he served one combat tour of duty in Korea, and two combat tours in Vietnam. There he earned multiple Air Medals, signifying heroic actions or meritorious service while participating in aerial flight. Upon his retirement, he never flew again, saying if God meant for man to fly, he would have given him wings. Donnie was an accomplished boxer and “southpaw” baseball player while in the Marines, and an award-winning Marine Recruiter in Mason City, Iowa in the early 70’s.
In 1956, Donnie married Bonnie Hanestad of Strum. Together they had four children. In 1975, Donnie married Janice (Bloom) Fitzgerald and they, with her children Jane, Jim, and Joan, built a house north of Mondovi. Donnie traveled some, always by car, but that house would forever be his home. Donnie attended the Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire, where he received a certificate in agricultural practices. He put that knowledge to use on his small farm for many years. One always knew when Donnie was going out to the fields when his favored John Deere “A” popped to life. Donnie worked at Sears in Eau Claire, first as a mechanic in the auto repair shop, and then as the store’s maintenance manager. It was at Sears that he met Sharon Mercer, and they had one son. Donnie also enjoyed his last two jobs as a security guard at Presto Industries, and as a Field Supervisor at Huntsinger Farms. His summer weekends were spent fishing at his cabin on Prairie Lake in Chetek, and he enjoyed November deer hunts near his farm, a tradition he shared with one of his boys. He loved watching the Green Bay Packers on Sundays and was never far away from his worn Packers hat. Visitors to his place most often would find him outside fiddling with something, always with his phone hanging from a homemade wire hanger at his side. He liked to tinker, and he just couldn’t be disconnected from people. A passionate man, Donnie believed that if anything was worth doing, it was worth doing right. He was also a compassionate man. Once asked what he would do with his farm if he could, he said he would turn it into a place where disadvantaged children could come and live, and learn the things they needed to learn to live good lives. Patient and friendly with strangers, he was a little more direct with his own children, often telling them, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Donnie loved his children and he cared deeply about others, often finding himself underneath a car in the dead of winter, or working on a project no one else could or would tackle. He wasn’t Superman. He wasn’t infallible. He wasn’t perfect. He was a simple man whose laugh echoed loudly. From Friday night Bingo around the kitchen table and annual Easter egg hunts with his family, to watching his sons and daughter at school events and athletic endeavors, he was dad. To his grandchildren, he was grandpa, a man with a big smile and a bigger heart, a man who would as quickly pick up a doll and play with his granddaughters as he would a football, to play with his grandsons. Those who came to know him later in life knew an easygoing man who was proud that he was able to overcome two demons in his life, alcohol and tobacco, nearly three decades ago; however, a third, his service in overseas conflicts, continued to haunt him.
He was the “Old Gunny,” a reference to the rank he attained in his beloved Marine Corps. Donnie did in his younger years what many men couldn’t, or wouldn’t do, all the while loving those around him. Later years were difficult for him. Slowed by age, and a disease over which he had no control, he often would recite one of his favorite quotes: “The work ain’t hard. The boss ain’t mean. These are the longest days I’ve ever seen.” In the end, it was Alzheimer’s Disease that shortened his incredible journey.
Don Crandall is preceded in death by his parents, Russell, Sr. and Merline; a brother, Sanford, and a sister, Barbara. He is survived by his children, Donald, Jr., Dennis, Darrell, Deanne (Tim Becker), and Eddie; his brothers, Russell, Jr. and David; his sisters, Marjorie, Betty, Sharon, Judy, and Jane; his grandchildren Jessica, Ben, Caitlin, Cameron, Luke, Sam, and Vera. Those who loved Donnie thank grandson Ben for a life-saving miracle worked on a cold winter night two years ago. Thank you to Sharon Mercer, Christine and Daniel Talle and their daughters Patricia and Selina, Becky Dietrich Saliny, and Bethany Jacobson-Flieger and the staff at the Grace Adult Day Services in Altoona, for their wonderful and selfless care while our dad battled the frustration of suffering from Alzheimer’s.
Visitation is from 9-11 a.m. Saturday at the Talbot Family Funeral Home in Mondovi, followed by a memorial service, luncheon, and burial in Oak Park Cemetery, Mondovi. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, monetary contributions should be designated to the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, or the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of Gunnery Sergeant Donald E. Crandall, Sr., USMC (retired). Please share your memories and condolences online at www.talbotfuneralhomes.com.