Gilbert McCutcheon of Alexandria can think of great things to say about Vienna resident Fred Crabtree. Friends for more than 30 years, McCutcheon first met Crabtree through volunteering at Frying Pan Park in Herndon. McCutcheon was interested in providing youth programs for the park, and Crabtree was the Park Authority board member who, through a series of lucky acquaintances, not only helped create the youth programs at Frying Pan Park in Herndon but helped acquire much of Frying Pan's parkland.
"Fred's a wonderful person. He's always thinking about what he could do for somebody else," said McCutcheon, who later became a member of the Park Authority board himself. "He's always been interested in the children."
Those sentiments about Crabtree have been expressed by hundreds of grateful current and former residents of Fairfax County, who have known Crabtree through Little League or the Fairfax County Park Authority. Even more praise came upon Crabtree this year, as the Town of Vienna recognized Crabtree for 50 years of service to the Vienna Little League. The state Little League tournament will be played this summer in honor of him, in the Vienna ball fields Crabtree helped create.
"He has been called a symbol of Little League, and rightly so," said Bill Cervenak, chairman of Vienna Little League.
Yet Crabtree, who says his age is "anywhere between 1 and 99," insists that all his contributions to Little League and to the county's park system have been successful only due to the efforts of many other citizens who have helped him through each opportunity.
"The Little League has grown and grown in the state of Virginia," Crabtree said. "I've just been a small part of it."
Crabtree's involvement with Little League and parkland began through his son, who played in Little League for two years. In 1955, Crabtree started volunteering for the Vienna Lions Little League, becoming its president two years later. Back then, teams played on a small field in Vienna's Glyndon Park.
A connection, the first of many fortuitous ones throughout the years, told Crabtree to ask Steve Yeonas for money to rebuild the ball fields. Yeonas agreed, giving the Town of Vienna several parcels of land.
"We worked really hard and built one really nice field," Crabtree said.
YEARS LATER, when the state highway department called to say it needed some of the parkland for Route 66, Crabtree worked with Yeonas and another landowner to consolidate three parcels in southwest Vienna for ball fields. Those parcels became Yeonas Park and South Side Park.
After a few years of serving the Vienna Little League, then Vienna mayor Guy Wilson asked Crabtree to start a program for girls. Recruiting a former professional women's softball player as the coach, Crabtree created the Vienna Pigtail Ponytail Girls Softball program. Registration for its premier year took place at the fire station, and more than 300 girls showed up.
"I couldn't believe it," Crabtree said.
Shortly afterward, Crabtree created a basketball program for boys 9-12, through Vienna's recreation department. Crabtree won awards for the girls softball program in 1970 and for the basketball program in 1971. A year later, the Vienna Little League honored Crabtree by naming one of the ballfields in southwest Vienna after him.
"It was such a nice thing for them to do, it really was," Crabtree said.
THROUGHOUT the years that Crabtree volunteered with the Vienna Little League, he also became active with the Fairfax County Park Authority. After being elected to serve on its board, he made it his mission to acquire parkland for the county. Through his Little League connections, he knew landowners who were willing to contribute land to the county. In almost all of the acquisitions, he became involved in the planning process for those parks, as well as in any historic preservation for buildings on those parks. Through a landowner whose son was in Little League, Crabtree acquired two parcels of land for the Park Authority, which would later be known as Nottoway Park. He also helped acquire parcels that made up Oak Marr Park in Oakton and Frying Pan Park in Herndon. The Kidwell Farm adjoining Frying Pan Park was also added to the Park Authority's roster, due to Crabtree's efforts.
"I was pretty set on getting a lot of property while it was still available," Crabtree said.
Because of his interest in children, some parks would have child-friendly attractions, like the children's trains at Burke Lake Park and the carousel at Lake Anne. Those pieces were added because of Crabtree's interest in antiques, according to longtime friend and fellow Park Authority board alumnus John Mastenbrook. The antiques came from an acquaintance of Crabtree's, Mastenbrook said.
"He just knows a lot of people in the area," Mastenbrook said. "He has his ear to the ground."
INDEED, it's to those connections that Crabtree credits his success in acquiring park land for Fairfax County.
"It isn't what you know, but who you know," said Crabtree.
To illustrate his point, Crabtree related the story of how a woman left all of 21 acres of her property to the Park Authority in 2000. Crabtree regularly met with the woman, mowing her lawn and talking with her over dinner. The property, which includes a historic home, is located off Beulah Road.
"It's just knowing someone," Crabtree said. "I just got several pieces of property from knowing people."
But Crabtree's friends suggest that it's his demeanor that helps him relate to people.
"Fred always maintained close contact with people in the community," Mastenbrook said. "Fred has a rapport with the people. He always kept people in the loop."
Mastenbrook added, "He brings to every endeavor energy and enthusiasm."
Cervenak agreed. "If I ever live that long, I hope to have his energy, to have his outlook, to have his mental acuity," he said. "He's a man who could be sitting on the porch, yet when I met him 10 years ago, he was still working in the fields, and loving baseball and imparting that love to kids."
Throughout the years, various local and national community organizations have heaped accolades on Crabtree, honoring his volunteerism. An award from a national sports magazine in 1965, another award from the National Parks and Recreation Board of Commissioners in 1979, another award, given by President George Bush in 1989, and various county, town and civic honors have been bestowed upon Crabtree over the last 40 years.
In addition to the acquisition of the Beulah Road property in 2000, his most recent contribution to the community, besides the usual volunteer service he already performs, was the creation of a softball program for disabled children in 1996. That program currently has about 31 children participating from all around the county.
"You just get more enjoyment from working with those types of youngsters," Crabtree said.
As the summer approaches, Crabtree intends to wrap up his service to the Little League, so he can spend more time with his wife.
"I don't think I would have lived as old as I have if it wasn't for Little League baseball," he joked.