Stephen Ray Cripe was the second child born to Orval Ray “Pete” and Helen E. Cripe on August 6, 1953, in Sturgis, Michigan. His parents raised Rhonda Eileen Cripe, now Williams, and Steve on a 160-acre farm in southern Michigan, located between Sturgis and Centreville.
When asked about her family, Williams says:
“Daddy spent a large part of his career working for American Can Company in Elkhart, IN. He only obtained his GED certificate but was he smart! He could figure out anything and was driven to do so. He fixed our cars, tractors, lawnmowers, and chopped wood. My Mom earned two Masters degrees, won numerous “Teacher of the Year” awards as a high school English instructor and was creative around the house. If she saw an outfit that she liked, she would study it, cut a pattern out of newspaper and sew it for herself. She made the majority of my clothes and they were nicer than anything in the stores.
My parents were frugal having been raised during the depression. They rarely hired anyone to do anything. Daddy renovated our 100-year-old farmhouse, built furniture, and planted a huge garden every summer. Mom would take the surplus from the garden and can or freeze the food for the winter. I worked with her and Steve fed the cattle and chopped wood, lots of wood for our fireplace.
In 1968, I went off to college and around that time Steve moved with our parents to Elkhart, IN, where he attended high school. He may have taken a woodworking class in high school, but I’m not certain. He was clearly talented but danced to the tune of a different drummer. So much so, he was expelled from high school in his senior year for (ironically) setting off firecrackers in the girl’s restroom. He later received his GED certification.
He followed my parents to Marathon, FL, around 1972 and bought, renovated, and lived in a 42-foot then a 32-foot cabin cruiser. He married Dayle Brenda Waters and they lived on the water for about seven years before divorcing. He was a self-employed woodworker and honed his craft hand building ornate wood interiors for sailboats and yachts in the Caribbean among other wood repair jobs.
Steve would work all winter, and then spend the summer with his wife sailing the Bahamas. My parents had a 40-foot cruiser as well and together they would anchor in the Bahamas. They each had a dingy, would “spear” fish for food, explore the islands, read books and generally relax.
Our parents taught us that if we were going to do anything, we should do it right, and take pride in what we did. They also taught us the Protestant work ethic… ”First you work, and THEN you play.”
Steve’s woodworking talents became well known in South Florida. Once, when a movie studio was shooting a Charles Bronson movie in Miami they needed a specific, difficult to build prop, and they commissioned Steve to build it for them.
Steve worked almost exclusively with exotic woods and reworked the inside of boats. But he dabbled in making furniture, and other things that fascinated him. He made a handgun, and a working cannon, that currently is in our living room. Steve had a real knack for working with his hands. AND, the quality of his work was excellent.
Steve had wealthy clients who would fly him to the northeast US coast to sail their boats to Florida. They spent time on their boats and enjoyed their extended stays in Florida while Steve commandeered their vessels. He was also the captain of a large boat and took it from Florida to South America with a crew that reported to him.
He also did a stint as a Merchant Marine. He really hated reporting to others, but he did a second ‘term’ at my dad’s urging. My dad told him it was an excellent way to see the world.
Around 1983, he relocated to North Carolina for a year or so and lived in the beautiful wooded countryside with my parents. They moved there because after thirty-some years of boating, much of it in the tropical sun, my dad was prone to getting skin cancer. Steve and my dad built a large garage for my parent’s home. He dated a woman who was an artistic photographer. They had nice adventures motorcycle riding around North Carolina taking pictures.”
He then moved back to Miami, Florida, where among other things he worked as an apprentice to a fireworks dealer.
Next: Self-Taught Luthier