Remembering Charles Crane, Class of 1938

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

School of Law


Charles E. Crane, 100, Mott, died Sept. 13, 2014, at the Mott Good Samaritan Society. Mass of Christian burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. MDT Tuesday, Sept. 16, at St. Vincent's Catholic Church, Mott, with the Rev. Charles Zins and Deacon Ervin Schneider officiating. Military Honors will be afforded by the Taylor-Skartvedt American Legion Post No. 71 of Mott. Per Charlie's wishes, cremation will take place after the funeral service, and a private family burial will be held at a later date at Sunnyslope Cemetery, Mott.

Visitation hours are from 1 to 5 p.m. MDT Monday at Evanson-Jensen Funeral Home, Mott, followed by a Wake Service at 7 p.m. MDT at St. Vincent's Catholic Church.

Charles Edward Crane was born on June 12, 1914, to Van and Georgia (Kilbourne) Crane at the family home in Mott. He had two siblings—Dorothy Louise, and Bruce Herbert. He attended school in Mott through his junior year in high school, when his father moved the family to Grand Forks. Charles finished his senior year and graduated from Grand Forks Central High School. During high school he played both trumpet and trombone and played both basketball and football.

He attended the University of North Dakota from 1932-38 during which time he engaged in a pre-law curriculum for two years and then obtained his law degree after three additional years of study. In 1939, after completing his legal studies he ran for and was elected to office of the State's Attorney of Billings County and resided in Medora. His initial monthly salary as State's Attorney was $50 plus a $50 warrant (a promise by the County to pay). During his term as State's Attorney Charles prosecuted an escaped convict who murdered the county Sheriff.

In 1941, he left North Dakota and moved to California, where he worked for Lockheed until the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, that began his involvement in World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and found himself as a Private in the 4th Platoon, Company C of the 26th Combat Engineering Battalion in training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. In an April 15, 1942, letter to a friend in California, Charles created a picture of the beginning of his World War II experience and his love of smoking a pipe. He wrote: "I have just arranged myself in about as comfortable a position as a soldier can get in—my slippers on, pipe in mouth, and sitting on my bunk writing this letter on the bottom of a chair, in the barracks at above-named Fort. Having just finished showering and shining my army shoes I feel quite without responsibility for they will tell us when to go to bed and when to get up tomorrow."

Following his basic training, he was sent to Officer Candidate School in Florida from which he graduated with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. His unit was shipped overseas, arriving in Glasgow, Scotland. He ultimately served in England, France, and Germany during the War. Not being mechanically inclined, Charles admitted his assignment to an engineering unit wasn't ideal. However, he occasionally did get to serve as defense counsel for soldiers being prosecuted for military and civil crimes. In England, he defended a soldier accused of murder in a three-day trial. Charles said, "I put up a good defense, but the verdict came out against the defendant and he was sentenced to die by hanging." He was anticipating being sent to the Pacific theater in 1945, but was spared that experience when the war ended in August of that year.

Charles returned home to Mott after the War and joined his father, Van Herbert Crane, a pioneer lawyer, in the practice of law. During his time in Mott, he noticed a young nurse named Shirley Maercklein. They were formally introduced at a dance at Bannons Grove, east of Mott—the date being arranged at Charles' request by Shirley's older brother Muggs Maercklein. Shirley recalled that first date: "Truthfully, I wasn't that excited but soon realized what a wonderful man he was. I'm very grateful that we found each other." They were married on Sept. 17, 1950, at Saint Vincent's Catholic Church in Mott by the Rev. Herman Mandry, who, Charles recalled, doused his bald head liberally with holy water. They quickly got to work contributing to the post-war baby boom. As Charles would later recall the timing of the arrival of his seven offspring, "One in 51, Two in 52, Three in 53..." Over the next 64 years of their marriage, Charles and Shirley raised their five sons and two daughters and were blessed to see their children's children's children. He was called "Captain" by his brother, Bruce, for many years.

Charles and Shirley enjoyed a rich social life. They played bridge, attended the annual Fireman's Ball, and enjoyed parties with their friends (the Trousdales, Skroms, Mehrers, Bloedaus, Diedes, Biebers, Lutz's, Hardmeyers, Bohns, Huismans, Maerckleins, Zichs, Gratz's, Hankins, and many others), most of whom are now deceased and are greatly missed.

Charles was a lover of golf, Dixieland jazz, "big band" music, good (and poor) bourbon, and the occasional ribald limerick. Over the years he was active with the American Legion, Lions Club, and Masonic Lodge. He served five terms as State's Attorney and occasionally as County Judge for Adams County. During his career he examined thousands of abstracts and became known as one of the best title attorneys in the State of North Dakota. He received his 60-year plaque from the North Dakota Bar Association in 1998. His son, David Crane, joined him in the practice of law at the Crane Law Office in 1982. After retiring, Charles continued his involvement with Crane Law Office for many years, during which he enjoyed getting the office mail and exchanging jokes with Fred Everhart at the Post Office.

Charles was preceded in death by his parents, Van and Georgia; his older sister, Dorothy Hunt; and his younger brother, Bruce.

He is survived by his wife, Shirley; and his seven children, Robert (Retha), Stephen (Janice), David (Peggy), Roderick (Cindy), Brian (Suzanne), Marsha Cowles (Kevin), and Alicia Voss; as well as 17 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren (with two on the way).

Charles' legacy includes his family and the multitude of friends that have valued his generosity and kindness to his community. At the celebration of his 100th birthday this past June 12, he was surrounded by his family and loved ones and received well wishes from many across the country whose lives were affected by this extraordinary man—Our Dad... Our Captain.