Mourners bid farewell to county’s top official

Crabiel remembered for love of family, public service


Hundreds of family, friends and colleagues of David B. Crabiel gathered to mourn the loss of the longtime county government leader last week in Milltown, where he lived his entire life.

Crabiel died at the age of 78 at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick Dec. 1. He spent 48 years as an elected official for his borough and county, serving most of the last 30 years as a member of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders, including 12 as its director. He had been reelected to a new term one month prior to his death.

A large crowd attended Crabiel’s funeral Mass at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ on Main Street in Milltown Dec. 4. The funeral home owner was given a service in keeping with the standards he set for his business, Crabiel Home for Funerals, which he operated since 1956.

Funeral attendees included municipal officials from many area towns, as well as Gov. Jon Corzine and U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6). After the funeral, Corzine said Crabiel had a great deal of goodness in him, which spread to his family, friends and community over the years.

“He was a tremendous public servant,” Corzine said.

Pallone said Crabiel was many things to many people in Middlesex County, which Crabiel often referred to as “the greatest county in the land.”

“He made it the greatest county in the land,” Pallone said.

Freeholder Deputy Director Stephen “Pete” Dalina noted the overwhelming number of people who came out to pay their final respects to Crabiel at the service.

“I think it was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen in my life,” Dalina said. “Dave was well loved by a lot of people in this county, as well as the state. They all came. He did a lot of things for the people of Middlesex County.”

During the service, Pastor Richard H. Weyer said memories of Crabiel would help to sustain his loved ones, who are grateful for his life and contributions. Rev. Weyer even credited Crabiel for giving him the opportunity to become pastor of St. Paul’s church.

“He used to call me his spiritual advisor,” the pastor said.

He said Crabiel’s family and friends can best embrace their memories of him by being inspired to humbly follow their calling, as Crabiel did during his life.

“David made every attempt to do that and I am certain if he could speak to us today, he would ask us to do likewise,” Weyer said.

Dave J. Crabiel, sone of the late freeholder director, and Paulette Wahler, Crabiel’s daughter, gave eulogies, despite their father’s predilection towards funerals without eulogies, emphasizing religious tradition.

Wahler said Crabiel would have been humbled by the presence of more than 1,000 people who showed up for the viewing over two days at the family funeral home. She described her father as a wonderful and caring man who taught his family to always be honest.

When the family went to their house by the beach in Seaside Park, Crabiel would take two cigars out with him and go for a walk. He would smoke one cigar during the walk to the beach and the other during the walk home, Wahler said.

Her father, she said, was a deeply religious man, but said he respected all religions and did not wear his religion on his sleeve. He had an alter at home, where he said prayers at night, she said.

Crabiel held his first Jewish funeral at his business in 1956 after a rabbi proposed the idea, so local Jewish families did not have to travel to New York for such services, Wahler said. The family has developed a good rapport with the Jewish community over the years, she said.

David J. Crabiel recalled his time as his father’s young apprentice at the funeral home. He said his father taught him that each funeral service was the most important one they were ever going to do.

Crabiel was also devoted to his wife, Mary, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, his son said. David J. Crabiel said his father took up fishing because he took a liking to it, and when they did not catch anything, Crabiel would say, “At least we didn’t get skunked.”

“I don’t think he really liked fishing,” his son said. “He knew I loved it.”

David J. Crabiel said the county lost a great public servant, and the community lost a friend, but his spirit lives on in the hearts of those who he knew and loved.

The freeholders will reorganize on Jan. 6 and are expected to name a new director at that time. Until then, Dalina is serving as acting director.

Joe Spicuzzo, chairman of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization, said Monday that he had not received official confirmation as to who the board may appoint to the vacant seat on the freeholders board. There has been speculation that South Brunswick Councilwoman Carol Barrett, North Brunswick Councilman Ralph Andrews or former Edison Councilman Charles Tomaro are being considered as possible successors.

“I’ve heard several names,” Spicuzzo said. “I haven’t been notified in writing about anybody right now.”