Faces in the Crowd: Ron Croskey

October 14, 2019

Ron Croskey’s Bravery Award

By Gene Bodnar

A friend of mine, Mike Becker, who is a former Police Chief of Clare, recommended that I interview Ron Croskey, who is currently the keyboardist and vocalist in the band “The Real Deal – Blues You Can’t Refuse.” I met Ron at the last concert of the Summer Concert Series at City Park, which, unfortunately, was cancelled due to rain, but I did manage to schedule an interview with him for the following week, which took place at the Pere Marquette District Library.

Ron was born in Dearborn in 1953. He spent his youth attending schools in Dearborn, graduating from Edsel Ford High School. Starting at the age of 10, he took accordion lessons until the age of 15. In high school, he formed his first 4-piece band, playing at parties and high school dances. He played basketball in his 9th grade. In 12th grade, he was a Golden Gloves boxer who trained and sparred in his senior year. This resulted in a semi-final match at the Detroit Fairgrounds. During this match, he received a punch that opened a gash that normally would have required multiple stitches; however, he refused to get them, choosing to let the wound heal by itself. He continued to box after this incident but never told his mother. At the time of his graduation from Henry Ford High School in 1971, Ron was also known as the Class Clown.

After graduation, he played in “Rusty and the Spring Fever Band,” which typically played 4 nights a week, helping him pay his way through college. He attended Henry Ford Community College, where he acquired an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice, with a minor in Psychology and Sociology. Immediately after this, he attended Michigan State University, graduating in 1976 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, with a minor in Sociology.

At the age of 21, while he was still attending Henry Ford Community College, Ron submitted an application with the Michigan State Police. Due to a discrimination lawsuit that consumed much of the state’s time, Ron was required to take the exam on two separate occasions. After the second exam was completed, he passed with 98%.

During this same period, Ron joined a band called Fantastics, a band that played ‘50s and ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll music. He performed here from 1973-78.
Ron married in 1976. The marriage produced a daughter and two sons: Amanda, 40, who has 6 children and is a grocery store manager in Wisconsin; Stephen, 38, who is a computer programmer and networker; and Timothy, 35, who had two children and is an equipment operator in Traverse City. The two sons live together.

In February of 1978, Ron entered the Police Academy. After finishing the 16-week curriculum, he graduated in May of the same year. After graduation, he began his career as a Michigan State Trooper at the Mt. Pleasant Post, where he worked until 1981. In that year, he was transferred to the New Baltimore Post, where he worked for a year and said he had a “great time.”

If a State Trooper worked in a Detroit post for one year, it was policy to give that Trooper two years of service credit for each single year of actual work, which allowed quicker advancement in seniority than a Trooper who worked elsewhere. It could lead to bypassing other Troopers with lesser actual seniority. So, Ron opted to work at a Detroit post for the following 4 years.

In 1986, Ron began working at the Houghton Lake Post. In 1989, he was the first Trooper to drive a new 1989 Mustang – a new car powered by an 8-cylinder, multi-port, 5-liter, fuel injected engine, which was capable of speeds in excess of 130 miles per hour. It had no bubble light atop the vehicle, so motorists didn’t realize it was a police vehicle. It was also capable of instant power, taking off much quicker to catch a speeder.

On September 14, 1995, Ron had a life-shattering experience. A gas station manager in Gaylord reported that two vans pumped $27 worth of gas, then took off fast without paying. The manager got their license plate numbers and reported them to 911. Ron was patrolling the area when he received the report.

Ron spotted the two vehicles at the Hartwick Pines rest area, reported back, and requested back-up. Two deputies arrived. Initially, all the officers only expected to escort the gas thieves back to the gas station to make sure they paid what they owed. However, a check of the vehicles’ license plates revealed that they were stolen vehicles.

Deputy Paul Smith approached one of the drivers, Joseph Lira, who opened fire, shooting Smith, striking him in his bullet-proof vest but still shattering several of his ribs. Lira then moved swiftly to Ron’s vehicle, which was parked ahead of the deputy’s vehicle. He fired two shots into Ron’s left groin area, then moved to the other side of the vehicle, pumping another shot into Ron’s chest at his nipple. Ron was wearing body armor, but the last bullet essentially incapacitated him. Lira tried to escape into the forest, but Deputy Niederhouse shot him with a full charge of 00 buckshot, thinking he killed him.

All in all, Ron says there were 63 shots fired during the incident. Lira did recover and is currently serving a life sentence in a Michigan prison.

Ron spent 9 hours in an operation that required a team of 35 surgeons, doctors and nurses. The bullets had wreaked havoc on many of his internal organs, including his lungs, intestines, bladder, and other organs.

After the operation, he spent the next two years in recovery and in painful therapy. In January of 1997, he received a Bravery Award from the Houghton Lake State Trooper Post. In October of 1997, he was given a mandatory Disability Retirement.

For a time after his recovery, Ron worked installing seamless gutters, but he says that was “a young man’s job.” For a period of about 10 years, he played the keyboard for the “Night Shift” band. Ron says they performed way too many gigs, constantly busy all the time, so he opted out.

In 2000, he met Ann, his future wife. They met at St. Cecilia’s, where they both were chaperones at various events. They married in 2010, which resulted in Ron gaining a stepson, Ryan, 36, who is an iron worker in Arkansas with two children, and also a step-daughter, Jenna, 33, a Registered Nurse in Midland with two children.

Today, Ron works for Win Stuff, a company that supplies coin-operated machines filled with toys that, if you’re lucky, you can grab one with a big movable claw. The current business is called Crane Sanity.

Three or four years ago, Ron joined “The Real Deal – Blues You Can’t Refuse.” He is their keyboardist and one of their vocalists. The band is very well-known in the area and usually attracts large crowds. Other members include:
TOM HOUSE – on guitar
DAVE SCHAFER – on saxophone (also owner of Bob’s Tires)
ED TOMASKI – on bass
FRED WOOD – on drums
RON SCHAFER – sound man

In the name of the members of the band, Ron says he would like to thank everyone who supports them. He certainly loves performing in it. They will soon be performing at the Danish Festival in Greenville, and in another gig in Grand Rapids. In the near future, they expect to create a CD of their music as well as a portfolio.

Finally, Ron owns 80 acres in Freeman Township. The land is currently being developed as a deer habitat – a place for deer herds. He is presently building a 40’ by 80’ steel structure on the land.

Personally, I am greatly impressed Ron Croskey, and I feel honored to have briefly told his story.

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