Lanterns light the way just enough to carry us through darkness. Sturdy and dependable, we reach for them because we need direction.
Ronald Crutcher has been that lantern his entire adult life.
There was a time, however, when others carried the light for him.
Born into a tenant farming family in rural Williamson County in the post-World War II era, Crutcher’s educational future could have been much different.
School books had to be purchased by students at local stores back then, so a trip to Franklin’s Main Street was a necessity that his grandmother, Marie Hicks, made happen. She also arranged for him to attend first grade at Lipscomb Elementary, a school he would one day partially demolish and rebuild.
How Crutcher got to Franklin Grammar School, Battle Ground Academy, and Vanderbilt University is more complicated and the subject of his memoirs Crossing Creeks, Bridging Rivers and Laying Cornerstones.
The crux of his early life story is about trusting lanterns of wisdom, until time and circumstance signaled Crutcher to be the lantern.
This first happened in Vietnam when worked with the Army’s 35th Engineering Group around the Bay of Cam Ranh. Solving construction problems during armed conflict prepared him for leadership when he returned home.
The mentoring he received from respected engineer Roy Slaymaker in the seventies, as a young hire at Nashville’s venerable Foster and Creighton Company, developed his business acumen and project management skills.
While at Foster and Creighton, renovating Vanderbilt Stadium and building the first Nashville Convention Center were foundational to his career.
In the eighties, when Becky Schwab Sharber was elected county schools’ superintendent, building plans for four schools required her immediate attention.
They were all elementary schools - Trinity, Crockett, Walnut Grove and Bethesda - in potentially high growth areas of the county, Sharber explains.
Robert Ring, then county executive, suggested she talk to Crutcher, who had just help establish The Parent Company in 1984.
Larger construction firms were interested, but Crutcher brought something to the table she felt was important.
“I told the (school) board we can either be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond.” She felt a small firm would provide the critical, personal guidance the board needed.
That was the beginning of his longtime association with county building projects. His legacy may be the new courthouse, which just happens to be a stone’s throw from the former Dan German Hospital where he was born in 1945.
In the 1990s, when Dr. Ronnie Griffith, headmaster of BGA, guided the institution’s first relocation in one hundred years, Bob Sarratt recalls a meeting he and Crutcher had with Griffith and renowned Nashville architect Earl Swenson at the headmaster’s residence on Everbright Avenue. Today, Sarratt serves as president of The Parent Company, but at the time he was Crutcher’s new hire.
When Swenson turned to Sarratt, the junior representative at the table, and asked his opinion about site work at the new campus, Sarratt remembers feeling put on the spot. But Crutcher, he recalls, showed him the confidence only a seasoned leader can offer a young professional.
“Ronnie always saw the bigger picture” when it came to professional relationships. “He was one of the most understanding bosses I ever had.”
Witnessing Crutcher’s stewardship of the client’s investment, even beyond project construction plans, offered Sarratt a vital lesson in management.
“Crutcher always went the extra mile when it came to working with our owners and clients, looking out for expenses beyond the construction project.”
Denise Carothers, who directs the work of The Boys and Girls Club here, has learned from Crutcher’s volunteerism for many years, as the two have worked on countless projects together.
“I don’t know whether I find the projects for him or he finds the projects for me,” she jokes of her friend and mentor. “He’s an ideal community role model.”
In 1996, Crutcher joined the board of directors of the Club about the same time he was forging a vision for Habitat for Humanity here.
Both organizations involve creating a better future for young people impacted by circumstances beyond their control.
Crutcher, true to his upbringing, does not seek attention, but he does seek mission.
“He’s always giving back, whether through Rotary or Boys and Girls Club, through Habitat for Humanity, the Franklin Housing Commission or the African American Heritage Society.”
Crutcher learned early that it is people who light the way, which is one reason he spends so much time ensuring others have the start they need in life.
His construction career naturally led him to a passion for housing for those who can least afford it. In 2006, he helped guide the building of a small neighborhood near Main Street where Habitat for Humanity homes are nestled on Good Neighbor Road, Helping Hands Street, and Unity Circle.
He was shocked when the organizers created a neighborhood entrance bearing the name Ronald Crutcher Estates.
“It takes a person with a builder’s heart to do what we do, enjoy it, and make it a passion,” Sarratt emphasizes. “Ronnie has a builder’s heart.”
Pam Horne, a writer and editor, worked with Ronald Crutcher on his memoirs. Crossing Creeks, Bridging Rivers and Laying Cornerstones is available at Landmark Booksellers, Bound Booksellers, or by visiting Crossing Creeks, Bridging Rivers and Laying Cornerstones by Ronald Crutcher | BookShop (bookbaby.com).
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