Charlie Crane, chaplain of the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson, learned how to do domestic chores at an early age.
"My father was a sharecropper (in rural Arkansas) and my mother had 12 kids," he said. "I'm the fourth -- the first four were boys. My mother wanted a girl by the time I was born. She said she'd make the fourth one a girl whether he liked it or not.
"I grew up kind of a houseboy. I learned to cook when I was about 7. I fed the chickens. I did a lot of the domestic things around the house."
Crane, 71, said his family was "very poor. My dad was continually looking for another place he could go where he could make a better life for his family." That chance came during World War II, when his dad moved to California in 1942 to work in the Oakland shipyards. After two years, he sent for the rest of the family to join him.
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But in 1948, the shipyard closed. Because the only other job he knew well was farming, Crane's dad moved the family to Dos Palos; Merced County was a place the family could pick cotton, Crane said.
He's written a book about his life, titled "Image of a Black Father" (Xulon Press, $13.95). In it, he talks of the lessons learned from his father, as well as from the Rev. William Yaeger, Crane's "spiritual dad," who "taught me how to live and love across racial barriers and not lose my identity."
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Family: Wife, Sherry, 65. Children, Kurry, killed by a drunk driver in 1982 at age 19; Shawna, 43; Charlita, 40; Shdari, 35. Six grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Background: Joined the Army in 1954 and served in the Panama Canal Zone. Returned to to Dos Palos "until I fell in love with a girl who lived there. She came to Modesto to be in nursing school. I got a room here and started washing cars for Bill Hughes auto sales. In 1961, we were married."
Education: Associate of arts degree from Modesto Junior College; bachelor of arts from Simpson Bible College, San Francisco; master's degree in Christian education from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno
Career: United Parcel Service from 1966, 20 years. In May 1980, founded and pastored Greater True Light Bible Church in west Modesto, 20 years. Started group home (Uncle Charlie's Home) for boys ages 12-17 in June 1985; closed in 1997. Chaplain with Hospice for two years.
Future: "I'm going to work as long as I'm healthy. I do want to go on speaking tours. Hopefully, my book will get me into speaking engagements around the United States."
Greatest challenge: "To give people hope. The Hospice House is a short-term place. They come when they have days to weeks to live. When people are told they have only a short time to live, they quit looking for a brighter day tomorrow. I try to give them some hope, that a sad goodbye here will be a happy hello in the next life. I have to try to give them hope in an eternal life."
Greatest passion: "I love people. When I can do anything to help a person advance in their spiritual or physical life, that is my passion -- to give joy to other people."
Personality: "Pretty jolly, outgoing. I don't meet any enemies. I think I'm kind of humorous; I laugh a lot. I think smiling a lot makes me a young 71 instead of an old 71."
Spare time: "I have a foster son and a wife, and most of the time we'll go eat out or do something at home together. We watch a lot of the reruns of the old sitcoms like Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, and the spinoff of that, Mama. I like that kind of stuff. I love football a lot. I plan to watch the playoffs this weekend."
"Leading the Way" runs twice a month and profiles faith leaders -- ordained and lay -- in our community. To suggest someone, send the name and contact information to Sue Nowicki, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352-5256 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.