Ronald Franklin Crary, innovative evangelist and businessman who founded Country Life Natural Foods which are sold in Adventist food stores across the Midwest, died Sept. 13, in Grants Pass, Ore. He was 83.
His son, Tim Crary, said the cause of death was due to complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Ron opened his first vegetarian cafeteria and health food store in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1967, called Life Line Health Center. It was hardly the typical restaurant, according to a newspaper article with the headline, “The meat is bogus, the devotion isn’t.”
The restaurant served no meat or animal products and displayed a sign that declared No Smoking. At each of the tables were religious tracts. And, perhaps one of the most surprising features of the restaurant were the prices – there were none. Patrons paid what they thought they should.
Ron and his wife Sylvia served delicious but healthful food and conducted five-day plans to help people stop smoking, as well as vegetarian cooking classes. A bakery was built behind the restaurant and inspired the development of a granola called Almond Delight. When sales grew too big for the facility to handle, Ron and his team built a factory back at Oak Haven. This effort eventually grew to become Country Life Natural Foods in Pullman, Mich.
Before long, the restaurant’s success caught the attention of others who asked Ron to help establish Country Life Vegetarian franchise restaurants. He began traveling around the country and, by the mid-eighties, there were 28 Country Life restaurants operating worldwide. Each was a base for outreach and evangelism in its city. Many came to know Christ as a result of eating at the restaurants, attending cooking classes and Bible studies. Today, there are still five Country Life restaurants operating – two in the Czech Republic, and one each in France; Keen, N.H.; and Columbus, Ga.
Ron Crary was born on Dec. 24, 1934, in Madison, Wis., an only child to older parents. He attended public school and got started down a wrong path. By the age of eight, he already had a police record and, by 13, was on probation. His parents struggled to know what to do with him and finally found distant relatives willing to take him in.
Otis and Ardith Crary, Seventh-day Adventists, were very kind to him; after staying there for some time, he was encouraged to attend Wisconsin Academy (WA). He chose to be baptized there, but still struggled with his old life.
One night after vespers, he went out by the powerhouse next to the creek that flowed through the campus. With tears streaming down his face, he looked up at the stars and cried out, “Oh God, help me!” He heard God tell him, “I will never leave you nor forsake you. I have a work for you to do and, if you are faithful, you will have a place in My kingdom.”
He graduated from WA in 1953 and went on to attend Emmanuel Missionary College where he met and married the love of his life, Sylvia Yoder, in 1956. After college, Ron and Sylvia taught school at Clearwater Lake, Rhinelander, and Hylandale Academy in Wisconsin. They then moved to Oak Haven in Pullman, Mich., with their young family to work in the new ministry starting there.
As the restaurants thrived, Ron, in later years, opened Country Life Vocational Academy in Portage, Wis., to give young people a place to learn a trade. Over 20 homes were built in the community with the students doing most of the work.
In 2009, Ron retired to Dunlap, Tenn.; around that same time, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He and his wife grew to miss having their grandchildren next door and, in 2015, moved to Grants Pass to be near their youngest son, Tim, and his family again.
The last two weeks of Ron’s life were spent in and out of the hospital with double ear infections, then pneumonia. The final blow was a broken hip, which was more than he could bear. He went to sleep peacefully at home with his family surrounding him.
“We miss his great sense of humor but are thankful for the example of service to others that he left us,” said his son, Tim. “We look forward to a happy reunion on ‘that great gettin’ up morning.’”
Ron is survived by his wife, Sylvia Jean Crary, their four children, Mark and Janell Crary, of Columbus, Wis.; Andrea Crary and Fred Lehmann of Renton, Wash.; Faith Ann Charaba and Kenny McMahan of Harrison, Tenn.; Tim and Stephanie Crary of Grants Pass, Ore.; 11 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
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