Don Crabtree Dead at 86

Don Crabtree
Don Martin Crabtree, age 86 years, died on Sunday, April 19, 2015. Don passed away surrounded by his loving family and friends at Good Samaritan Hospital in Suffern.

Don was born August 21, 1928 in Borger, Texas, to the late Ernest Wiley and Mable (Riddle) Crabtree. He was their sixth of seven children. He was raised in Ada, Oklahoma but spent a lot of time at his grandparent’s farm where he developed his great love for horses. At East Central University, he met Billie Jean Gardenhire, who would be the love of his life and the mother of his children. Together they transferred to the University of Oklahoma where Don attended an athletic scholarship for track. He was the anchor leg on the 1 mile relay team, and was a 1/2 mile runner. Don broke the OU 880 yard record, which then stood for nearly the next 30 years.

During his time at OU Don and Billie Jean were married and their first daughter, Deborah, was born (1954). Don spent time working in the oil fields of Colorado, and riding in rodeos. After graduation Don served two years in the Army during which time his second daughter, Cheryl was born (1956).

In 1957 Don and Jean moved the family to New York to pursue a career in music and entertainment. After choral operatic roles, Don made the move to Broadway. He found his niche having a long and successful Broadway career appearing in "Destry Rides Again" (with Andy Griffith), "The Happiest Girl in the World," "A Family Affair," "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," "Sophie, 110 in the Shade," "Golden Boy" (with Sammy Davis, Jr.), "Pousse-Café," "The Best Little Whore House in Texas," and "42nd Street."

Being professional actor, singer, and entertainer led to roles on the big screen in A Man Called Adam (with Frank Sinatra, Jr.), The Hustler (with Paul Newman); on primetime television in the Ed Sullivan Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, The Red Skelton Show; in soap operas Dark Shadows (Sheriff), The Edge of Night (Lloyd) and Texas (Burton); in television commercials for Volkswagen, Burger King, Hellmans, College Inn Broth, and the Old West Series for Time-Life Books. He also spent several years as the feature performer at Freedom Land (Bronx, NY) as Johnny Freedom. Ever the consummate entertainer for a time he could also be found in nightclubs throughout the Borscht Belt.

In the midst of this career Don made his way from Queens, NY to Harrington Park, NJ and added two more daughters Laura (1958) and Susan (1966) to the family. As an actor Don was well aware that work could be all but certain. Don sought other sources to supplement his income. One way to do this, like his mother had done when he was a child, was to teach piano and voice from his home. Don’s desire for financial stability and his desire to return to a more rural life of his youth, led him and his family to Warwick, NY in 1974. So while working as an entertainer at night, he spent his days he buying old houses [and fixing them up as rental properties.

Beyond a life in entertainment and being a landlord, Don was a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, contributed to the OU Scholarship fund.

Surviving him are his wife Billie Jean (Warwick, NY), his daughters: Deborah (Warwick, NY), Cheryl and her husband Glenn Woertz (Alpine, NJ), Laura (Warwick, NY), Susan and her husband Ian Graham (Nyack, NY); his grandchildren: Collin Crabtree-Keeler , Catherine Crabtree, Brendan Woertz, Matthew Woertz, Heather Graham, Patrick Graham, and Carson Graham; and his great-grandchildren: Emma Keeler, and Layla Keeler.

Although Don enjoyed great success on stage and was beloved by many, his greatest love was for his family- his wife, his children and grandchildren and extended family. Don’s vibrant enthusiasm for life and music will be truly missed by all who knew him.

For those who wish to join us in remembering Don, a memorial service will be held at Christ Church, 50 South Street, Warwick, NY. Sunday, May 24, 2015 at 2:30 pm.

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