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Memorial service held for Angwin's activist, environmentalist, Duane L. Cronk

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Reflecting on the photographs of Angwin activist Duane L. Cronk

Friends and family of Angwin's Duane L. Cronk viewed many of Cronk's photographs during his memorial service on Sunday. The Angwin environmental activist died at the age of 93 on Feb. 20.

A memorial service for environmentalist, activist and Napa Valley community legend Duane Cronk was held Sunday, April 22 at the Scales Chapel of the Pacific Union College Church in Angwin. Friends and family gathered to remember the life and times of one of Angwin’s cherished citizens.

Cronk, who died on Feb. 20 at the age of 93, was remembered by many with stories of his life, for his friendly nature, his keen photographic eye, and his commitments to community and conservation.

Duane Cronk

Angwin’s Duane Cronk was one of the founders of the Land Trust of Napa County when it was formed in the living room of Si and June Foote in 1976.

“He was a Renaissance man,” said John Tully as he retold Cronk’s history of growing up in hard times in Wisconsin with anecdotes about Cronk and his sister walking along the railroad tracks, looking for potatoes to bring to the supper table. Tully also told a story about a young Cronk who split the cost of his first bicycle with his parents at the age 12.

He recalled Cronk’s service in the Army Air Corps near the end of World War II, his college career, and his substantial accomplishments in public relations in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.

But it was his personal work after his retirement from his award winning career in public relations that the attendees remembered most vividly at the memorial.

Harold Kelly and Duane Cronk

Harold Kelly, left, and Duane Cronk were honored in 2016 for being two of the founders of the Land Trust of Napa County, which held its 40th anniversary party in June at the Joseph Phelps Winery.

For instance, between 1993 and 2015 Cronk and his wife Mary compiled and published the much appreciated Angwin Telephone Book which one attendee said she still cherished. Others remembered that Cronk would often greet them with “I’ve got a story for you,” and that although the actual stories could no longer be recalled, Cronk’s style and friendliness always made every encounter memorable.

A slideshow of snapshots taken of Cronk during his life was accompanied by music played by Kendra Cronk. This was followed by tributes from members of the community.

Cronk’s community activism was legendary. Neighbor Kelly Anderson recalled “Duane was a fantastic communicator,” writing “ceaseless white papers” which he sent onto the Napa County Board of Supervisors.

Napa County Assessor John Tuteur recalled that during the “Save Rural Angwin” campaign – of which Cronk was a founding organizer — Cronk was most encouraging to the members when things looked darkest. “He had a steady hand in hard times,” Tuteur remarked and had a long history in support of conservation efforts.

These efforts included the Napa County Land Trust, Angwin parks, Napa’s Kennedy Park, as well as the “Save Rural Angwin” 2012 Measure U campaign which ultimately failed voter approval.

One of Cronk’s five sons, several other attendees and Tuteur also speculated that Cronk would support today’s Measure C, and he connected his father’s zest for conservation to their family’s Saturday Sabbath Walks through the forests of Angwin. According to the younger Cronk, it was his father’s familiar lesson that, “You can be for something without being against something else.”

After the memorial service, a reception was held in the Fireside Room where many photographs taken by Cronk were on display. Cronk and his wife, Mary, moved with their five sons, Clifford, Bruce, Brent, Loren and Andrew, to Angwin in 1962.

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Tom Stockwell is currently a staff writer for the St. Helena Star. He is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and has been a working journalist for a variety of technical publications as well as a consultant for numerous wineries in the Napa Valley.