The oldest is an octogenarian from Tucson, Ariz. The youngest, a toddler from San Diego.
They are just two members of the Crowe family in Buffalo for a family reunion. But this isn’t your afternoon-at-the-park reunion. This is an event held every three years by the Crowe family, whose patriarch was a coach for the old Buffalo Bills, and whose matriarch was named mother of the year.
It’s a five-day event, and 135 family members are renting dorm rooms at Hilbert College, where they are having three meals a day. You might see them at Canalside or Niagara Falls this weekend, and they’ll also be having their usual talent show, and catching up with each other.
Thursday they took two buses to Eden, and spent the afternoon at the family “homestead” on Sandrock Road. That’s where Clem Crowe, who played football for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame and who coached the old Buffalo Bills of the All America Conference in 1949, and his wife, Mary, who was named mother of the year in 1974 in New York State, spent three decades and raised their 10 children.
And judging from the stories their children told about them, growing up on the farm was memorable, and filled with love. Third, fourth and fifth generations sat under a tent listening, laughing and asking questions while the members of the second generation recalled growing up Crowe.
“My mother and father, any time in my whole life that they talked to me, they talked in a calm tone, without exception,” said Jim Crowe of Hawaii. “And their words were always encouraging and positive.”
That was true when his brother Dick broke a window with his feet, and Mike, of Rochester, fired a gun in the house when he was in fifth grade. He said squirrels used to get into the farm house, and he was “encouraged” to go out and harvest them.
“If I saw one I would shoot it and Dad would cook it, we’d have it for breakfast,” he said.
But one day he brought the gun in the house and forgot to put the safety on. He was fiddling with the gun, and it went off, blowing holes in the couch, drop-leaf table and wall.
He started screaming, and his mother came down. But he did not get in trouble.
“They were so thankful that no one was killed, I was told, ‘That was a silly thing to do,’ ” he said.
Six of Clem and Mary’s children are still living; Mike, 69; John, 74; Ann, 80; Jim, 83; Katy, 84, and Joann, 86. Joann could not make the trip, so she watched Thursday’s festivities live-streamed on a computer. Four siblings are deceased: Richard, Pat, Beada and Robert.
Joann texted the group, and told them that on her 18th birthday, Grandma Mary said “Stand please, and we will have a beer together.” They did, and then did a little soft shoe together.
When daughters Joann and Katy had a double wedding, Mary made the cake, frosting it the night before with a cigarette in one hand, frosting in the other, oblivious to the commotion around her. And Clem went to their room, hugged them, and said, “I will miss you both.” And then he kissed them, and he cried.
When Clem and Mary died, they left money in trust to their children on the condition they get together every three years, and they have. Reunions have been held across the country, as the family, which now numbers more than 150, has grown and members have moved.
While Crowes have not lived on Sandrock Road for more than 30 years, the family was invited back to the farm by owner Christina Abt. One day, when she was working in the garden, she found a high school class ring and traced it back to Mike. The connection was made, and the family stopped by for its reunion in 2000.
This year, Pat and Cortney Crowe of Orchard Park, the only members of the family living in the area, enlisted Abt’s help again to have the get-together in Buffalo. There were letters and proclamations declaring Thursday Crowe Family Day in New York State, Erie County and Eden. Former Buffalo Bill and Notre Dame alum Ed Rutkowski brought letters to the family from current coach Rex Ryan and the Bills Alumni.
Clem Crowe was one of the “Seven Mules” – the line that blocked for the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame, under famed coach Knute Rockne, and coached in college and for the Canadian Football League, winning the Grey Cup in 1951.
And he didn’t let notoriety fill his head, or that of his children, if a story by Jim Crowe is any standard.
Crowe said he got his name in the paper when he helped win a basketball game for his high school team. The headline said, “Clem Crowe’s son stars,” and he was proud of it, and showed his father.
“You know what? Get your friends to give you a whole lot of clippings of that,” Clem told his son. “You take a stack of those, and a dollar, and you can get a cup of coffee.”