Donald Eugene Crum was well known for his popular produce stand along East Andrew Johnson Highway.
Crum’s friends say “Donnie,” as he preferred to be called, was a good and generous person.
Several friends and neighbors braved Saturday’s chilly temperatures at Crum’s produce stand near Hix BBQ in the 1200 block of East Andrew Johnson Highway in an effort to sell off the remaining fruit and vegetables in Crum’s inventory before donating what remained.
“Donnie didn’t like to see produce wasted, and we thought we would come up here and sell it and just do what we could,” said Marcus Key, a close friend who worked alongside Crum for many years.
No one could have anticipated Saturday would be the last day of operation for the Best Yet produce stand that had stood at the spot along East Andrew Johnson Highway for the last 10 years or so. Crum, 58, was killed Thursday afternoon in a three-vehicle collision on West Andrew Johnson Highway at Twin Barns Road involving a Greene County Schools bus.
Crum, a lifelong Newport Highway resident, was in his van at a stop sign when it was struck by a pickup truck that had been hit by a school bus turning onto Twin Barns Road.
One of two children aboard the bus suffered apparent minor injuries. The school bus driver and an adult aide were injured and taken to a hospital. The pickup truck pushed into Crum’s van rolled onto its roof, but the driver was unhurt.
Crum died in the crash, which remains under investigation by the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Key, who worked daily with Crum at the produce stand and helped him on his two farms, was still trying to reconcile the fact his friend was gone on Saturday.
“He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Key, who began working with Crum about nine years ago.
Crum’s next-door neighbor Charles Higdon and his friend Diane Ripley, who also knew Crum well, were among those serving customers Saturday at the Best Yet stand.
“We’re selling out. We’re selling everything we can and donating the rest to churches,” Higdon said.
Higdon lived next door to Crum on Newport Highway for 25 years.
“Donnie was a good guy. He would give you the shirt off his back if you asked for it,” Higdon said. “He’s going to be missed.”
Proceeds from Saturday’s sales will be given to Crum’s family. Crum’s sister was on her way from Texas to look after her brother’s arrangements, Key said.
Arrangements for Crum are being handled by Kiser-Rose Hill Funeral Home. Crum’s passing was so sudden that his friends were still coming to grips with the reality of his death.
“He was a great neighbor. We did stuff together all the time,” Higdon said.
Crum owned two farms on Newport Highway, including a smaller farm where he lived and the family homestead property down the road. Crum grew cabbage, bell peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables and also raised beef cattle in addition to operating the Greeneville produce stand and a similar stand in Piney Flats in Sullivan County.
“It ain’t really sunk in on me. I worked with him every day. He was like a brother to me,” Key said. “He was the best friend I have ever had, he sure was. We did everything together.”
Key recalled how he met Crum about nine years ago. Before the metal-framed produce stand was built, tents stood on the site. One windy day, the tents were blown from their moorings. Crum asked Key to help recover the tents and put them back up.
The men became friends and Key began working at the produce stands and helping Crum on his farms. He would ride with Crum to South Carolina, where some of the produce sold was purchased.
“Everything was quality. He wanted it set up to his specifications,” Key said.
Key said Crum generally kept to himself, but often showed a compassionate side.
“He was good to everybody. These homeless people who would walk up and down the bypass, he would stop them and he would give them a bag of food,” Key said. “Donnie was a good guy. He never met a stranger.”
Kay said everyone who worked at the produce stands got a ham from Crum every Christmas, along with candy and nuts.
Key, Higdon and friend Jay Johnson began dismantling the familiar metal-framed and roofed produce stand Saturday afternoon.
Crum had many loyal local customers, along with many others just driving through town on their way to Knoxville or Gatlinburg who would stop at the produce stand, Key said. Some were shocked to learn of his passing Saturday after stopping to pick up produce.
Ripley helped a steady procession of customers bag up apples, oranges and vegetables. She showed a visitor photos she took last summer of Crum and Key on one of his farms, standing proudly in front of a lush crop of Sudan grass he grew to feed his cattle.
“Donnie had me take that photo so he could prove how tall it was,” Ripley said.
One thing about Crum that impressed Ripley was his kindness to others.
“He was a good man. He cared about people. When he said something, he meant it, and if you were good to him, he was good to you,” Ripley said. “He helped a lot of people and people didn’t know that, but he did.”
The way in which Crum lost his life is unsettling to those who knew him, she added.
“When you don’t get closure, you can’t say goodbye,” Ripley said. “He’s just gone and it leaves that gap here.”
Johnson also worked with Crum.
“I helped him up here some. I have to say he was always good to me,” Johnson said.
Key was unsure Saturday if someone else might open another produce stand at the location. He looked away toward the snow-covered mountains on the horizon, pausing momentarily in thought.
“We aren’t promised tomorrow. You are promised today when you get up and tie your shoes, but you’ve got to be ready when the Man calls,” Key said. “He was right with the Lord. I am sure going to miss him.”