Friends and colleagues are remembering Cindy Crowe as a passionate proponent of education who found ways to give back to the community even as she dealt with a terminal disease.
Crowe, 50, a longtime Westerville Board of Education member, lost her battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, Saturday, July 12.
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m Saturday, July 19, at Heritage Christian Church, 7413 Maxtown Road. The family will receive friends following the service.
Crowe was involved in community organizations aside from the school board, among them the Westerville Education Foundation, Rotary Club of Westerville, Education Committee for the Westerville Area Chamber of Commerce, Westerville Alumni Association and Westerville Parks Foundation Committee.
She also participated in Ohio Reads, Character Education, Kids Voting USA and Read Across America.
Outside of Westerville, Crowe was a delegate of the Ohio School Boards Association and was president of the Central Ohio School Boards Association.
"She was so involved and wanted to give back to the community," said Marlis Byrns, a longtime friend. "She was an extraordinarily loving person. She loved bringing people together to help her passions. She was a catalyst for so many things."
Her friends said she always smiled and they found her tenacious and loving energy inspiring, pushing them to do more and live life to its fullest.
"She had a presence that was magnetic. She was kind, loving, passionate, loyal and an activist. People were attracted to her fun-loving personality," said Tracy Davidson, a long-time friend and vice president of the school board. "Cindy made me want to be a better person and strive for more out of life."
In March 2013, Crowe was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease where motor neurons that travel from the brain to the spinal cord slowly fail. It eventually results in paralysis.
Crowe lost her mom to ALS when she was 15.
"I was petrified of ALS, as was my whole family," Crowe said in an interview with ThisWeek in June 2013. "I didn't really want to look at the reality of it: There is no cure."
After her diagnosis, Crowe visited doctors at Cornell Center of Research in New York and allowed medical professionals to study her case and evaluate the disease. She participated in various trials and treatments in the hope of finding a cure.
"She allowed medical personnel to work with her and how to figure out the disease," said the Rev. Rick Vilardo, who served on the school board and Westerville Rotary Club with Crowe. "That's just really looking into the face of the disease and saying 'I'm going to use you and help other people to make a difference in other people's lives.' "
Her passion for education directed her to inform the community about ALS. She and her friends established the nonprofit Crowe-Wentzel: Winning the ALS Fight With Cindy, which aided her efforts in ALS education and fundraising. With the help of Byrns and Davidson, Crowe involved others in those efforts.
"She still wanted to be in the public and living her life to the fullest," Byrns said. "She was a lover of life."
Crowe earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Indiana State University then spent her life devoted to public education.
As a member of the Westerville Board of Education, she founded and sustained anti-bullying efforts with Challenge Day at the high school, and advocated for early intervention in reading and math and reasonable teacher-student ratios in the classroom.
"I have no intention of leaving until I can't speak any more, because education is so important to me," Crowe said in June last year.
Though her mind was as sharp as ever, she ended her 14-year term as a school board member this May, when the disease's progression forced her to step down.
"Words cannot explain just how much Cindy meant to our schools and community, and how much our schools and community meant to her," Westerville schools Superintendent John Kellogg said. "Though her presence around our district will be missed, her impact on education in our community will be felt by generations to come."
Vicki Jarrell, a friend of Crowe and former principal of Emerson Elementary School, also lost her brother to ALS. Jarrell said the community will continue the work to educate others about the disease and search for a cure.
"The most important thing to know is that we're not done," she said. "Cindy's dearest wish was to find a cure, not only for herself, but for her family and for everyone. We're not done."
Davidson said when Crowe went public with her diagnosis, "It was the first time for many community members to experience ALS up close.
"After watching the disease progress in her, they will never forget. I have to believe that this lasting visual will inspire our community to continue the crusade against ALS."
Crowe is survived by her husband, Alan; her two sons, Brandon and Tyler; her parents, Robert and Evelyn Wentzel; brothers, Dan Wentzel (Molly), Sam Wentzel (Vickie), Mark Wentzel (Mary); sister, Linda Jones; father-in-law, Leon Crowe; mother-in-law, Becky Crowe; brothers-in-law, Tom Crowe (Carol) and Dennis Crowe; sisters-in-law, Susan Kranz (Greg) and Karen Crowe; 17 nieces and nephews and 24 great-nieces and great-nephews.