Like the countless charitable events he had emceed, the chuckles kept coming during a Celebration of Life for the late Larry Crandell at The Marjorie Luke Theatre on the campus of Santa Barbara Junior High School.
The auditorium was nearly filled to capacity Saturday, as family, friends, members of the community and local dignitaries turned out to remember the man known simply as “Mr. Santa Barbara,” who died Aug. 30 at age 93.
“Larry had a long and extraordinary life full of connections and spiced with humor,” said his son, Michael Crandell.
In-person and video tributes from family and friends recounted fond memories of meeting Crandell and humorous anecdotes of everyday moments when he imparted wisdom.
In between speakers were clips of Crandell videotaped over the past 15 years, during which he discusses everything from his reputation to his family to the value of humor. The montage was assembled by Kate Carter, founder and president of the nonprofit LifeChronicles, which puts together end-of-life messages and messages for the future.
Three of Crandell’s longtime friends emceed the event: Tom Parker, president of the Hutton Parker Foundation; Joe Howell, a partner at Howell, Moore & Gough; and Bill Macfadyen, Noozhawk’s founder and publisher.
The lineup of speakers, either on stage or in video, included sons Michael and Steven; retired Boston Globe publisher Steve Ainsley, who was publisher of the then-New York Times-owned Santa Barbara News-Press in the 1990s; Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara; Kate Carter; frequent emcee Andrew Firestone, principal at StonePark Capital; Oscar Gutierrez, senior producer of TVSB; philanthropists Gerd and Pete Jordano; Nikki Katz, founder of the Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation; retired Santa Barbara City College President Peter MacDougall; Donna Christine “D.C.” and Michael McGuire, who were introduced to each other by Crandell; Ernesto Paredes, executive director of Easy Lift Transportation; McDonald’s franchise owner Dave Peterson; K-LITE deejay Catherine Remak; philanthropists Anne and Michael Towbes; Ron Werft, president and CEO of Cottage Health; and the Crandell Cronies, a group of friends dedicated to working out weekly with their namesake.
In one of his video appearances, Crandell attributed his boundless affection and reflex for supporting others to his single mother, Jane.
“He was always happy, always excited, and just thrilled about life,” Peterson said in a tribute.
Capps talked of Crandell’s prowess as a fundraiser.
“I soon discovered that if you were responsible for organizing an event, trying to raise money for your nonprofit, your organization, it was a real mark of distinction to get Larry Crandell to be the emcee — because then you could advertise as such and know it would be a guaranteed success,” she said.
Crandell was born on April 5, 1923, in Lynn, Mass., and grew up in Newark, N.J.
He served as a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator in Europe during World War II after volunteering to fight when he was still a teenager. He went on to earn his bachelor’s degree and play basketball at Syracuse University, and married his late wife, Marcy, in 1950.
Nine years later, Crandell moved to Santa Barbara and launched a long career in real estate and an even longer career as one of the city’s most iconic residents.
In his early 50s, he made his name and found his calling as a volunteer fundraiser for local charities.
One estimate puts the amount of money he helped raise for Santa Barbara County charities and nonprofit organizations at more than $200 million.
Among the organizations he assisted over the years are AllforOne Youth & Mentoring, Arthritis Foundation, Channel Islands YMCA, Douglas Family Preserve, Goleta Teen of the Year, Hospice of Santa Barbara, Marymount of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table, Santa Barbara PARC Foundation, Teddy Bear Cancer Foundation, Transition House, United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, Westmont College and dozens of local public schools.
“He is such a personality that these traits could have been successful anywhere and in anything he did in life,” Parker said. “So what did he choose? It seems like his destiny was Santa Barbara. And his destiny was to make a difference in people’s lives.”
There were a handful of things that made each event for Crandell, Howell explained: the audience, their laughter and applause, and his being the center of attention — the latter a frequent source of the speakers’ jokes.
Macfadyen and Paredes spoke of Crandell’s role as a mentor in their careers.
“Winning and success are great, but it’s the people in our lives who really matter,” Macfadyen said of wisdom Crandell imparted. “Make those who can do nothing for us feel important and valued.”
Like the events he led in life, the remembrance was also a charitable fundraiser, with donations benefiting local students, chiefly children from single-parent families, through the newly established Larry Crandell Fund at the Scholarship Foundation of Santa Barbara.
Attendees also picked up copies of Steven Crandell’s Silver Tongue — Secrets of Mr. Santa Barbara, and the reception that followed was catered by McDonald’s — a favorite destination of Crandell.
Crandell was preceded in death by his wife, Marcy, in 2008, as well as a daughter, Ashley.
Survivors include sons Larry Jr., Michael (wife Sunny) and Steven (wife Kathleen Clancy); a daughter, Leslie; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.