He could surprise you with his odd clothing and food choices, and his off-beat humor was legendary.

Kevin Crowley once met a Delaware County official and said the woman beside him was his wife. She wasn't, the official learned days later.

After beating cancer a few years ago, Crowley swore off processed food, eating only what he could hunt or grow, including venison, groundhog, wild turkey and squirrel.

Crowley, 61, died of a heart attack earlier this month at his rural property in Morrow County. After failing to return home, he was found beside his tractor, its engine still running.

His unexpected death leaves a void at People in Need of Delaware County, the agency he led as director for 20 years, which serves those in or near poverty.

"He was the heart and soul and face of PIN," said Jim Lewis, vice president of the organization's board.

Crowley stories vary, but a consistent theme is his commitment to those needing food or cash for clothing, a water bill or rental payment, said Lewis.

"He was very focused on treating everyone with dignity and respect, knowing that all of us could be in the same boat next week," said Lewis, whose wife, Barb, is a county commissioner.

The county's southern townships -- Concord, Liberty, Orange and Genoa -- are among the most affluent in Ohio.

Yet there are pockets of the county where more than 10 percent of the residents live below the poverty level, said David Green, board treasurer of PIN.

"It's a continued struggle to get funding," he said of PIN's $1 million budget, half from in-kind donations for programming and food-pantry provisions.

PIN also is one of the Mid-Ohio Foodbank's 650 member agencies, receiving 1.6 million pounds of food last year, half of it fresh produce. That's about 2 percent of Mid-Ohio's distribution, said Jon Cardi, a Delaware County resident and Mid-Ohio board chairman.

He recalled Crowley's personality as "quirky, yes, but also contagious.

"He was extremely passionate about the work he was doing, said Cardi, a Berlin Township resident.

Crowley's death brings a renewed focus to those in need, said Commissioner Gary Merrell, who held up a personal check for PIN and challenged all county employees to do the same at a recent meeting.

"I just think it's an appropriate thing to do for somebody who was so dedicated to our county," he said.

A Kevin James Crowley memorial fund has been created, Lewis said.

"Our goal is to raise $700,000 for an endowment so that we won't run short on people we serve," he said.

Crowley's thrift and recruitment acumen will be missed. Four full-time employees were supported by individuals who gave 13,000 volunteer hours last year, Lewis said.

Almost 20,000 meals were distributed in December, and fresh produce was doled out to 150 families one day a month for nine months in 2017. One-time payments for prescriptions, eyeglasses or dentistry were regular.

Of the county's 250 evictions last year, PIN intervened in 40 percent. More than 90 percent of those cases were resolved.

"Kevin was the guy who would get on the phone and negotiate for an extra 30 days," said Lewis.

PIN Deputy Director Randy Bournique, 62, will replace Crowley. He called the job "an immense task" and noted that Crowley "gave so much, knew so much and was so well-respected."

"The real challenge for us is making sure all of the bases are covered ... there are probably a million small details that Kevin took care of on a daily basis."

Donations may be sent to People in Need, PO Box 962, Delaware 43015, or may be made at its website, delaware peopleinneed.org.

dnarciso@dispatch.com

@DeanNarciso