Fred Crabtree: One of A Kind

He was one of a kind. A mover and a shaker, a dedicated volunteer and public servant with the ability to get things done, a family man and friend of young athletes, and most of all, a really nice guy that all of us are going to miss.  We lost former Park Authority Board member Fred Crabtree on Sunday, March 11.  At age 96 he left the game and is now remembered fondly as “Mr. Baseball.”

Fred Crabtree, aka "Mr. Baseball," stands near a sign at a park renamed for him in honor of his commitment to Fairfax County parks.

He left behind a legacy of love and accomplishment.  He was the loving husband of the late Ann Ruth Crabtree and father of Joyce Cockrille and Frederick “Rick” Crabtree, Jr.  He is also survived by his two sisters, Gaynell and Joan and six grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren. Those were his immediate family members, but beyond these individuals were hundreds of colleagues and admirers on boards and commissions, in youth athletics and on the fields of Fairfax County.

Fred loved baseball.  He spent much of his adult life in Vienna, Virginia, working closely with Little League teams and ensuring that the kids had someplace nice to play. He was a volunteer with Vienna Little League for more than 50 years.  In a 2012 interview with the Fairfax Times, Fred recalled that he learned the value of baseball during World War II.  As he tells it, when stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he helped build a diamond for fellow soldiers to enjoy.  Each day he would set it up, and each night the Japanese would bomb it.  “Every night, they would drop a string of bombs right on the damn field,” said Crabtree with a laugh. 

Bill Cervernak, chairman of the Vienna Little League, added in that article, “God knows how many kids he has reached out to and made a difference to, either directly or indirectly.  He’s been a manager, a coach, umpire and administrator.  He has been involved in every aspect of baseball you can think of.”

Fred’s ability to reach out to others found form in programs for children with disabilities as well.  He started the Challenger program for those with disabilities.  That program expanded nationwide.  He also created accessible basketball and softball programs in the mid-1990s and seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for doing the right thing and making the lives of those he touched that much better.  As a result, he received honors and accolades from President Bush, local officials, organizations and towns as well. He was honored by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials for his work as an outstanding public official in 1993.  Honors kept coming over 40 years.

In July 2006, the Park Authority Board unanimously broke its own naming policy to rename Fox Mill District Park in his honor.  Generally, that is an honor bestowed posthumously. The Reston park is now Fred Crabtree Park and in a letter to Mr. Crabtree at the time, then Park Board Chairman Harold Strickland wrote, “On behalf of the FCPA and the citizens of Fairfax County, I want to thank you for a lifetime of service and providing the ultimate example of what one person can accomplish through their unselfish commitment to the community and their fellow citizens.”

A miniature version of the park sign was presented to Fred Crabtree at the renaming ceremony in October 2006. Pictured from left to right are Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, Park Authority Board Member Hal Strickland, Former Park Authority Board Chairman Fred Crabtree, Park Authority Board Chairman Bill Bouie, and U.S.Congressman Gerry Connolly.

Fred was pleased, stating at the time, “It makes me so happy, it really does.  You feel like you accomplished something and I know that I have.” It was a well-deserved honor.

Fred was so generous with his time.  He served with distinction on the Park Authority Board from 1969 to 1992, including service as the chairman from 1977 to 1978.  At various times he also served as vice chairman and secretary/treasurer. 

He was visionary and understood how important land acquisition was to a growing community.  He was instrumental in the acquisition of Fox Mill District Park, Peterson Lane Park, Nottoway Park, Frying Pan Farm Park, Clarks Crossing Park, the Floris School Site, Baron Cameron Park, Lahey Lost Valley Park, Lake Fairfax Park and numerous others.  He served on the Founders, Benefactors, Supervisors and Friends of Frying Pan Park, Inc for more than 40 years.

He made it his mission to acquire parkland.  Years after he left the Park Authority he recalled one donation of 21 acres from a friend he knew.  He remembered regularly meeting with her, cutting her grass and speaking to her over meals about this contribution.  She donated the land and an historic home in 2000.  Crabtree ascribed to the notion that “It’s just knowing someone.  I got several pieces of property from knowing people.”

Two iconic former members of the Park Authority Board who recently passed also had kind words to offer about Fred in published reports.  John Mastenbrook for whom a matching grant program is named said of Fred, “Fred always maintained close contact with people in the community. He brings to every endeavor energy and enthusiasm.”  The late Gilbert McCutcheon, who represented the Mount Vernon District and was a friend of Fred’s for over 30 years, said, in 2004 “Fred’s a wonderful person.  He’s always thinking about what he could do for someone else.” 

Former Park Authority Director Mike Kane said, “Fred was the epitome of what a citizen board member is. He redefined what public service is. Fred was the Park Authority. While his heart was in athletics, in particular little league baseball, Fred promoted the full mission of the Park Authority 100 percent of the time. He knew the value of what parks bring to a community and he fought long and hard to protect parks.”

Kane continued, “One event in Fred’s career as a Park Authority board member was when he and John Mastenbrook charmed and swooned Mrs. Lahey to leave her property to the Park Authority in her will to insure that it would be protected from development forever. And to hear Fred tell the story, or any story for that matter, just made you laugh and smile. His presence in the community was large too. Well respected and revered. I will miss Fred, but I am so thankful for all his work for the parks and people of this county.”

Former Park Authority Deputy Director Tim White, a close friend of Crabtree over the years commented, “The number of young lives that he touched and his contributions to the citizens of Fairfax County are immeasurable.  He lives on through his accomplishments, the good that he did and the way that he lived his life.”

One of his lasting legacies was the creation of the Elly Doyle Park Service Award which recognizes an individual’s or group’s contribution of service to the Park Authority. Dozens of volunteers have been honored through the years for their work on behalf of local parks and those who enjoy them.

Fred and his late wife Ruth Ann are surrounded by family at the park renaming ceremony in 2006.

Fred was one of those rare individuals that just made the world a better place.  He had a smile and an opinion.  He made seemingly impossible feats look easy.  He cultivated his friendships and gave back way more than anyone could give to him.  He was a believer in the effect that sports and parks can have on encouraging children to stay away from trouble and lead positive lives.  I am grateful to have known him.

A memorial service will be held on March 25 at 3 p.m.  at Bruen Chapel Methodist Church, located at 3035 Cedar Lane in Fairfax. Contributions may be made to Vienna Little League or Bruen Chapel Methodist Church. Online condolences and fond memories of Fred can be offered at: www.moneyandking.com.

Written by William Bouie, Chairman, Fairfax County Park Authority Board

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

3 thoughts on “Fred Crabtree: One of A Kind

  1. Kevin McGrath

    I remember Fred Crabtree in the early 1960’s inviting us to his backyard barbecues to intrigue us to join Vienna Little League baseball. All of us wanted to play because he was so welcoming and enthusiastic about this emerging baseball league. In those days it had not been many years since the maple trees were all cut down along Maple Avenue to widen the road, and the W&OD train still chugged through Vienna. Brown’s Market was about all there was to visit at Tyson’s Corner. We were thrilled for the chance to play baseball and Fred made it possible.

    I was a pitcher for the Cardinals and I remember Fred coming out to the mound right before every game and picking every single blade of cut grass off the pitcher’s mound. He payed attention to all the smallest details. He didn’t just make sure it was a fair game. He would compliment us and urge us to play our best, even though he was the coach for another team. He knew how nervous we were and was a calming force to a young baseball player I remember to this day. I admired him so much. I have tried to emulate his gentle guidance with the many young people I have known. Pay it forward.

    What an example to young people, and his life served as a testament to his many contributions to a countless many lives he touched in Northern Virginia.
    I was so proud to be on the 1964 All-Star team when Fred was MY coach, and so I say, “Thank you again, Coach Crabtree. Thank you for your contributions to all of our lives, and the incredible class act you were to our community.”

    Reply
  2. Jan Wray

    I always thought that my grandfather was bigger than life. But I never relized exactly how many lives he had touched.

    I want to thank everyone for thier kind words and condolences. And for teaching me just how big he was.

    Reply
  3. Glen R. Schaeffer

    Fred Crabtree was my coach from 1962-1964. He taught me alot about baseball and how to prepare to be a man. He was kind and managed us using positive reinforcement, never raised his voice in anger (even to the umpires) and was genuinely concerned about his players. He would exclude you from practice and bench you if your grades were not up to par. I was blessed to to have men like Fred Crabtree, Chuck Rhoads, and Leonard Lagaman as role models.

    Reply

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