Howard J. Crager, successful Tulsa businessman, died May 24, 2009 at the age of 92. A memorial service was held on June 25th, 2009, 2 p.m. at Unity Church of Christianity, 3355 S. Jamestown Ave., Tulsa. Honor Guard was presented by American Legion Post 1.
His life reads like a novel. Born in New York City, August 10, 1916, his mother, May, died in the 1919 flu epidemic, when Howard was two. His father, Charles, married his wife’s mother (or mother-in-law), Ida, so that Howard and his sister, Annette, would be well taken care of. In 1932, he graduated from Clinton High School in the Bronx where he was in R.O.T.C. During the next 9 years he worked his way up to an administrative position at Central Hanover Bank.
Howard entered the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer in 1942. In 1944, Captain Crager and his company joined World War II in the D-Day invasion. He is credited with being the first American soldier to enter liberated Paris. Commandeered by the French Forces of the Interior to help them gain control over a supply depot, with only his lieutenant, Captain Crager convinced 600 German S.S. troops to surrender their position on an island in the middle of Paris. He delivered them to the French Army as prisoners of war. After the war, Crager rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Army Reserve, where he served for 27 years.
Before going to war, Howard married Patricia Skinner in Carmel, California. In 1946, they moved from New York City to Washington D.C. where Howard worked at Ourisman Chevrolet, and rose to the position of general manager. Then, in 1957, seeking his own dealership, the Cragers with their two daughters, Joan then 6, and Wendy, then one, moved to Tulsa, bought a truck dealership on 11th Street and renamed it Crager GMC. Later, he expanded and started Crager Ford Tractor. He employed as many as 50 people. The 3 story tall sign-statue “Jimmy Giant” holding a truck was visible for blocks. At the age of 65, he sold the companies and retired.
Throughout his life in Tulsa, Howard contributed to the community. He was well known for writing guest editorials and letters to the editor in the Tulsa World. He was on the boards of several organizations and was president of the Tulsa Ski Club. In his work with The Executive Service Corps of Tulsa (TESCOT), he assisted in the forming, and served on the Board of Hospice of Green Country. In 1976 he spearheaded the effort to bring to Tulsa, the American Freedom Train, a bicentennial museum on rails. He originated a Tulsa tradition with “Americans March for America” as part of the yearly Veterans’ Day Parade to allow anyone to march in support of their troops and their country. He was also chairman of the Education Blue Ribbon Panel. He gave slide shows to children and adults about his war experience and his adventures.
Howard was a fanatical outdoorsman. He was an avid golfer, tennis player, water and snow skier, hunter, sailor, fisherman, photographer, and horseman. Each family member had a horse and his beloved Tennessee Walking Horse cross was named L.B.J. He finally “shot his age” in golf when he was 84.
He and Patricia traveled extensively, not settling for tour buses and cruises. They trekked on the steppes of Nepal, and communed with mountain gorillas in Zaire. Their most infamous trip was in 1989 (age 72) to Antarctica aboard the Bahia Paraiso, an Argentine fuel supply ship that sank after hitting underwater rocks. All passengers escaped into the frigid water in inflatable rafts because the life boats were inoperable. It became the worst environmental disaster in the history of Antarctica.
A month after celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary, wife Patricia, died suddenly. At that very moment Howard was undergoing heart bypass surgery. He recovered both physically and emotionally. Soon-after he enrolled in Oral Roberts University to finally pursue his life-long dream of obtaining a college degree. He moved to Ottawa, Canada and completed his degree in Political Science, graduating from Ottawa University at the age of 80. He then moved to Florida to fish, golf, and sail. For the past 5 years he has lived in Bonita Springs with his companion, Ingeborg Loempel. He died peacefully, in his sleep, while on a cruise in the Caribbean. He left this earth on a boat in the ocean; and days before the parent company of his own business, General Motors, declared bankruptcy. In death as in life he had impeccable timing.
Howard Crager was courageous, always honest, fair, and loving. Anyone who crossed paths with him knew that he was a force to be reckoned with, a truly great human being.