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Angwin resident Duane Cronk, a staunch environmentalist, dies at 93

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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.

Duane L. Cronk, Angwin resident and one of the founders of two environmental groups, died on Feb. 20 from complications of heart valve surgery. He was 93.

In June 2016, during its 40th anniversary celebration, the Land Trust of Napa County, honored Cronk and Harold Kelly, two of the group’s founders, who gathered in 1976 in the living room of Si and June Foote. One of the group’s first tasks was to protect Napa’s Mount George, which the Footes owned.

On Thursday, Doug Parker, Land Trust president and CEO, said he was glad “we had the opportunity to acknowledge him there. He was one of the first board members during the formative years of the Land Trust and always since then has had a strong interest in conservation.”

Parker added early on in the Land Trust’s history, Cronk took on the organization’s publicity and outreach, including writing the newsletter. In doing so, he helped “establish the Land Trust in its formative years and get the word out.”

Save Rural Angwin

Cronk and Angwin resident Mike Hackett were two of the founders of Save Rural Angwin, a group opposed to Pacific Union College selling its land in Angwin for a housing development. “There wouldn’t have been a Save Rural Angwin without Duane Cronk,” Hackett said.

The group began 15 years ago and Cronk served on the steering committee for the group as did the late Volker Eisele.

Hackett said attending those meetings was very interesting because both men were “heady politicans. Volker had the stronger personality, but watching them go at it in these meetings was uncomfortable for me. But Duane was never bothered by it,” he said. Cronk said that was how the two men got along.

Brent Cronk, one of Duane and Mary’s five sons, wrote the obituary for his father. In it, he said, “Duane was a ‘big picture,’ long-term thinker with a passion for politics. He loved to get involved in political campaigns, slow growth issues and local environmental and agricultural land preservation groups such as Upper Napa Valley Associates.”

Save Rural Angwin was his “last cause,” the son said, “with the SRA team claiming success less than a year before his death.”

Hackett said Duane Cronk campaigned for various candidates, including Supervisor Diane Dillon, Guy Kay, Mel Varrelman and for slow-growth county measures, including J and P, the 2016 version of the Watershed and Oak Woodland Initiative and most memorably for Measure U.

“One thing that stands out most significantly to me is that during the Measure U campaign (in 2012), he made a sandwich board for himself and he would stand at the corner of Highway 29 and Redwood Road in Napa every afternoon during rush hour. All by himself. He was already in his late 80s and he would stand there, wave at people and urge them to vote ‘yes’ on Measure U. I was always touched by that,” Hackett said.

Measure U, which required a county-wide vote, would have rezoned land in Angwin and would have allowed the expansion and modernization of a sewage treatment plant on Howell Mountain Road. In the November 2012 election, Measure U failed with 60.48 percent of voters casting “no” ballots.

Four years later, during a 2016 campaign, Cronk went door-to-door, stood in front of markets and collected 350 signatures for the Watershed and Oak Woodland Initiative which the county rejected for legal reasons. “He was a phenomenal guy,” Hackett said.

Cronk born

in Wisconsin

In his written obituary, Brent Cronk said his father was born Sept. 15, 1924 in Stevens Point, Wisc., where he attended grade school. After high school, he served in the U.S. Army near the end of World War II and attended Emmanuel Missionary College, where he met and married Mary Cronk. Together, they raised five sons: Clifford, Bruce, Brent, Loren and Andrew.

In 1950, he graduated from Denver University and 13 years later, he earned his Master of Arts degree from American University in Washington, D.C. He spent his career in public relations and opened his own firm specializing in the heavy construction field, writing for many publications.

The Cronks moved to Angwin 1962 and Cronk opened an office in San Francisco, where he handled public relations for contractors who built the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, among others.

After retirement, Cronk sold local real estate by obtaining a broker’s license. He kept his broker’s license active for more than 20 years, passing the licensing exam for the final time when he was 92.

Brent Cronk writes, “All his life Duane loved books. He could spend hours in a bookstore. His house was filled with books – on shelves and in stacks. A visitor to his home would often leave with a book from Duane under his arm. Photography was another of Duane’s passions. He used it in both his work and for pleasure. Photos covered the walls around the book shelves, and gifts to friends and loved ones often consisted of a picture he had taken.”

Angwin Telephone Book

From 1993 to 2015, Duane Cronk and his wife Mary compiled and published The Angwin Telephone Book, which was put out every other year. According to a March 2006 story written by former Star reporter Carolyn Younger, the Angwin phone book was “a labor of love,” she wrote. “Why else would anyone spend the thousands of hours required to collect names, verify addresses and phone numbers, (Mary Cronk’s job), scare up ads, take photographs for them, design them and write essays to fill any blank pages?”

When the Cronks took over production of the phone book in 1993, it was already 31 years old, having started by Lyle and Ruth McCoy.

Duane Cronk was also publisher of an online newsletter, The Angwin Reporter. His last report was from Jan. 18, when he wrote about his experiences at UC Davis Medical Center. “In the midst of the effective complexities of the first treatment regimen, you may find hot cereal unappetizing or room-temperature puree-of-turkey unpalatable. But then you will be brought a drink of Cold Water. And it may well be this, the simplest of care, that kicks you back into life,” he wrote.

His son wrote, “Duane had a lifelong interest in storytelling and photography. As anyone who has met Duane knows, he always had a joke or story to share. Storytelling was part of his soul and he never hesitated to share a story or joke, even with a total stranger. ‘I’ve got a story for you’ is a phrase many will miss.”

Duane “was always willing to help out and was a staunch environmentalist. He was an example for all of us to follow in that many people get more fearful as their life closes in as they age. He continued to grow and became more courageous as he aged,” Hackett said.

Brent Cronk said the details of a memorial service for his father will be announced soon on “The Angwin Reporter” website, Condolences may be sent to Mary Cronk and her sons at P.O. Box 707, Angwin, 94508.

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st