Josh Crews would have loved Tristram Shandy. Knowing Crews, he’d have read the book, maybe more than once. He’d have been drawn by the full title of the 18th century classic: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Crews was all life, he was all opinion, he was all books: he was rarely seen without one. Like Tristram Shandy, he never told one story if he could tell a dozen instead. His was bound to write his own books. But like Yorick, one of the two most important characters in that book, he died just as his life story was beginning: Josh Crews, as native a son as sons get in Flagler County, as visible and popular a son as they get, usually from his domain behind the bar at Woody’s Bar B-Q in Palm Coast, was killed last November 21 when his car flipped on U.S. 1 near Otis Stone Hunter Road. He was 34. He left a void still gaping in innumerable lives he touched.
“Life,” his long-time friend Joe Rizzo, co-owner of Woody’s, said, “is not the same without him. I don’t know, I can’t imagine, I couldn’t even begin to tell you the thousands of times I thought, man if Josh was here, or wondered what would Josh do. It’s one of those things that will never change.”
From time to time the void, or at least some of it, is filled in the most remarkable ways.
- Donate to the Josh Crews Fund Through the Education Foundation
- Buy Tickets for the Masquerade Ball on Oct. 28.
- Tickets are also available in person at Woody’s and at the Chamber of Commerce, both on SR100 in Palm Coast.
Carla Cline and Rizzo are two of the people who grew up with Crews and were among those who felt his loss the most. Rizzo is co-owner of Woody’s, where the pair worked together for years. Cline understood Crews’ literary side, having a thing for writing herself. Crews and Cline found themselves in an unlikely reunion as part of this year’s Leadership Flagler class (Class 19), the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce’s annual program for people interested in broadening their leadership skills. A centerpiece of the 12-week program is the class project. Participants develop one or two ideas into a community project that makes a tangible difference, for the better, in people’s lives. Last year’s brought the Dolly Parton Library to Flagler, enabling every newborn in the county to get a new book every month until kindergarten.
When Class 19 brainstormed ideas this year, the notion of something approximating a public transportation system came to mind, but was dropped: too big, too unwieldy, and if the county and Palm Coast hadn’t figured out how to make busing work, the leadership class wasn’t likely to do better. Rizzo and Cline months earlier had thought up a non-profit in Crews’ memory that would somehow involve writing and education. That, too, proved unwieldy at the time, but not when it was refined under the banner of the leadership class.
Cline had run a writing contest around July 4 for young students. She also thought of the Tommy Tant scholarship program, organized by Flagler Beach’s Tant family in honor of their son who died an untimely death at 24, in 1998. For 11 years since, the Tant family has organized the Tommy Tant Memorial Surf Classic in Flagler Beach in his memory. “I took what they’ve done,” Cline said, “and with all the people that loved Josh we should be able to something as equally amazing, so that’s where that inspiration came from.”
Cline morphed that idea with her July 4 writing contest and into a similar notion of providing writing scholarships for students in the school district, and grants for teachers who would lead writing programs or contests in the spirit of Crews’ attraction to writing. The stories would be judged, the best of them collected and bound, and the books sold, raising more money to keep the grant program going in subsequent years.
The leadership class itself was sold on the idea—that one, and another, led by Jason Johnson of Marlin Consulting: providing refurbished Internet-ready computers to students who can’t afford them on their own. The two projects fostered a little healthy competition between Class 19’s participants, with results.
The Josh Crews Fund is now reality. It’s a scholarship fund with a $5,000 goal. The $5,000 will be matched by an additional $5,000 from Josh Crews’s father, Scott, who said he will continue to match that sum annually as long as he is able, if the program continues. Cline and Rizzo intend to do no less. Rizzo’s membership in the Flagler County Education Foundation, where the Josh Crews Fund is based, gave him the idea of using the foundation’s many mini-teacher grants as one way to leverage the money from the fund into writing programs. The pair met with Diane Dyer, the school district’s curriculum director and at one time Crews’s English teacher, to think up ideas on how to manage the program in the schools.
Some $1,000 has already been raised. To raise the rest, and as part of the leadership class’ project, the class is organizing a masquerade ball at the Hammock on Oct. 28, for $100 a ticket (the price includes dinner and drinks). The money will go toward both projects—the Josh Crews Fund and the computer project (donateyourmachine.org). “We would love for people to wear costumes, creative attire, masques, we’re trying to push the masquerade part,” Cline said. That, too, is something Crews would have appreciated.
Crews was a character of his own making, and re-making, depending on what he’d been reading.
To Rizzo, the Josh Crews Fund and what it enables is a close match between memory as life: “The most important part of this is the spirit of Josh,” Rizzo said. “Josh had a spirit that really was addictive, and it was addictive because of his knowledge that came from reading and writing. You wanted to know more of what Josh had to say because he was so literary. He was well-read, he liked it, did it a lot, it was his passion. If we can carry on anything in his name, reading and writing was probably the thing he was most passionate about, so I think that would be a big honor.”