[Click here for a Noozhawk photo gallery from the event.]

Larry Crandell, aka “Mr. Santa Barbara,” celebrated his 90th birthday doing what he loves best — giving back to the community — at a recent fundraiser benefiting the Foundation for Santa Barbara City College held at the historic Santa Barbara Yacht Club.

“Larry is the perfect representative of Santa Barbara City College because we impact the lives of 90 percent of Santa Barbara residents who are impacted by City College,” said Vanessa Patterson, executive director of the Foundation for SBCC. “And as Mr. Santa Barbara, he is so generous to give up his 90th birthday to help raise funds to send 90 students to college. We’re sending 90 students to school because of him. He’s just remarkable.”

The intimate luncheon was attended by 50 or so of Crandell’s longtime colleagues, family members and dear friends along with SBCC students and Foundation for SBCC board and faculty members who came to pay their respects to the “great communicator,” whose silver-tongue skills as a charity auctioneer, emcee and philanthropist have helped raise $200 million for various local nonprofits over four decades.

Crandell admitted to Noozhawk that he has a selfish reason for doing all that he does for the community.

“Deep down inside, I want to be liked. No, I want to be loved, and now I’m comfortable to admit it to myself,” he said. “For a long time I hid behind the community saying that they need my help, which is true. But if you scratch deep enough you’ll find that most of us are looking for eternal life, or something of the equivalent, and we are certainly looking for the good will and affection of our fellow man and woman.”

The dining room overlooking the stunning Santa Barbara Harbor was the perfect setting for this special occasion, inside a wood-paneled room filled with sailing trophies, historic books and cherished photos of esteemed SBYC members dating back to 1872.

Everyone gathered around the guest of honor exchanging hugs, warm handshakes and many, “Hey Larry, do you remember when,” stories that were often followed by big smiles, eager nods of acknowledgements and bouts of shared laughter.

The room was playfully decorated to glorify everything Crandell as each table included personalized memorabilia of him with placemats, auction paddles and miniature souvenir cookies courtesy of Parker’s Crazy Cookies.

Additionally, a basketball was passed around for people to sign in honor of Crandell, who has always been an avid sports fan who loved to play basketball. He played at Syracuse University for three seasons and to this day remains a loyal Los Angeles Lakers fan.

Gail Kvistad welcomed the guests to the luncheon and introduced the guest speakers from the Foundation for SBCC, Craig Case and Vanessa Patterson, who talked about the Campaign for Student Success, a volunteer-driven effort to raise funds for SBCC students.

The foundation contributes scholarships toward academics and athletic programs, book grants, in-class tutoring, single-parent support and child-care programs that are designed to remove obstacles in the path of motivated students and help them succeed and continue to pursue their dreams of a college education.

More than 650 SBCC students received $680,000 in scholarships for tuition, books, supplies and other expenses from the foundation, which works daily to raise much-needed funding with help from more than 5,000 generous donors, including Crandell.

“Larry’s generosity to the foundation will help to ensure 90 students receive scholarships,” Patterson said. “What is a better gift than that? It’s a lifetime gift to our students that will keep on giving.”

SBCC student Sam Terrell, 23, president of the SBCC Honors Society and a club member of Phi Theta Kappa, an international honor society for two-year colleges, expressed his gratitude to the foundation and Crandell for helping struggling students receive scholarships.

“Most of the money raised through the foundation goes to scholarships so people who are homeless or come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds can attend SBCC and have a more well-rounded subsidized education,” said Terrell, a political science and international relations major who plans continue his studies and transfer to a university next year.

In preparation for the “Roast and Toast,” Crandell was positioned in a chair next to the podium, surrounded by fans and well wishers, and the man of the hour was all smiles as he faced a verbal firing squad with a bright gleam in his eye. Guests lined up, including Robyn Parker, Chuck Slosser, Paul Didier, Steven Crandell and Cynder Sinclair, conjuring up a series of outlandish true stories, comedic insults, esteemed praise and heartwarming tributes.

Sinclair coined Crandell as Santa Barbara’s favorite charity auctioneer, having emceed more than 500 events alone since 1963, and helping to raise millions of dollars for local nonprofits, including the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Club, the PARC Foundation, Transition House, the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation and, of course, the Foundation for SBCC.

Staring gleefully at Crandell, Sinclair proclaimed, “I’m going to do what you hate the most, Larry — sing your praises. Mr. Santa Barbara at 90 years young inhabits and personifies that role as if you were born to it.”

Sinclair also revealed a little-known secret that Crandell will not go anywhere without his McDonald’s gold card, proclaiming that he treasures it “like an Oscar,” and “he loves to use it to get a free happy meal.”

In response and never one to be outsmarted, Crandell pulled his wallet out and flashed his beloved McDonald’s Gold Card, waving it around the room as the room erupted with hoots, whistles and laughter.

A brief live auction commenced over lunch, and Crandell donated and auctioned off a special lunch for four at the Coral Casino with, of course, Mr. Silver tongue himself who later received a happy birthday song from guests, followed by cake and ice cream. 

Attendees were also encouraged to pickup a copy of the book Silver Tongue: Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara, written by his son, Steve, who watched with loving eyes as his father patiently autographed the complimentary book for guests upon their departure.

Steve Crandell shared with Noozhawk the joys of working with his father and the sense of deep pride and esteem that the experience brought to him for his father.

Silver Tongue gave me the chance to get to know him beyond my experience as his son, and it taught me that magic happens when we stop to listen and then re-tell another person’s story,” he said. “I learned that Larry had the remarkable ability to appreciate people both for who they are and for who they can be. To honor their present reality as well as their heartfelt dreams.”

Mr. Santa Barbara and the Foundation for SBCC graciously thank the Hutton Parker Foundation for underwriting the cost of the lunch.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.