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Votto takes dying man under his wing

It was less than a month ago that Jeff Crews went to a local hospital’s emergency room with persistent digestive problems and an overall disconcerting feeling that left him — in the words of Colleen, his wife of 34 years — “not feeling like himself.”

On June 11, the 62-year-old Centerville grandfather and ardent Cincinnati Reds fan was diagnosed with Stage 4 Giloblastoma – an aggressive, malignant brain tumor.

“The doctor said, ‘You can do surgery and radiation and chemotherapy and it may buy you a year, but this is going to get you,’ ” Colleen, a nurse, recalled late Tuesday afternoon. “Jeff and I had talked about this before and he looked at me and said, ‘I’m trusting you to do the right thing.’

“So we decided not to be real aggressive with it. We came home and had hospice care. We’re Christian, so we thought we can’t lose here. We’d pray that (the tumor) would go away, but regardless, he was going to his maker.”

Doctors gave Jeff four to six weeks to live.

He lasted just over three, dying late in the afternoon on July 4.

And yet Tuesday Colleen was saying: “We couldn’t have asked for more. We enjoyed these three weeks with him to the hilt.”

For instance: Some of Jeff’s buddies rented a limo and took him down to Athens for a day of celebration. Another day a pal took him to the new casino in Cincinnati. There were a couple of poker parties with friends here. An aunt and uncle came from Indianapolis and took him to dinner at the Pine Club.

Although a Colonel White High School grad, he went to a Chaminade Julienne reunion because, Colleen explained, “he knew everyone there.”

Then there was the morning Jeff got up and made the whole family — Colleen, their three kids and daughter-in-law and the three grandchildren — his breakfast specialty, homemade pumpkin waffles shaped like Mickey Mouse and slathered in butter and syrup.

Yet, the experience that everyone still savors came July 2.

That’s the day the family found out some of the best hospice workers don’t wear nurses’ uniforms or clerical collars, but a baseball cap with the wishbone C of the Cincinnati Reds.

Jeff’s daughter Abby once played preteen softball with April Trebnick, whose family has treated Reds star Joey Votto like a son over the years.

Votto — as did a dozen other players — lived at the Trebnicks’ Nutt Road home when he played for the Dayton Dragons and for several years after that remained close to the family, especially April.

With the help of another friend, Jess Litscher, Abby contacted April and asked if Votto might be able to get her gravely ill father some tickets to a game.

Votto then turned in an MVP performance. He got the family passes so they could be on the field at Great American Ball Park for batting practice, then lined up great seats not far from the dugout.

Colleen said the Reds staff, stadium personnel, and especially the other guys on the field were just as kind.

“Our mouths were hanging open, it was awesome,” Colleen said. “Todd Frazier — he’s so cool. He came over and talked and after that he was tapping balls to us like a golfer. Dusty Baker came, too, and posed for pictures and signed autographs and then Joey came and visited with Jeff a long time.

“He gave him a signed bat, took pictures and listened as Jeff — he was pumped up on steroids and was quite talkative — went on and on.”

She said Votto eventually took her husband under his wing and helped settle him down to enjoy the experience.

Little did the family know there was more to come.

They slipped out and went to dinner just before the game, then sat down to watch Homer Bailey pitch. Last September Jeff and Colleen had attend the game in Pittsburgh where Bailey threw his first no-hitter.

Then as they sat there Tuesday — well, actually by the end they were up and cheering wildly — they watched him throw his second no-hit game.

“Can you believe it?” Colleen said. “We were out of our minds. Jeff said, ‘It just can’t get any better than this.’ ”

Actually, it did get even a little better. On the way home, he made the family stop at a UDF so he could get an ice cream sundae.

The next morning, July 3, the whole family was still buzzing about the experience. That evening, though, Jeff started to have problems. He still had a bit of breakfast on the Fourth of July, but his headaches became more persistent.

His entire family was with him then and “by 5 p.m.,” Colleen said, “he was gone.”

Tonight at 6, there will be a memorial service for Jeff Crews at Benham’s Grove in Centerville. In lieu of flowers the family asked that contributions be made to the youth department of the Dayton Gospel Mission at 64 Burns Avenue just a few blocks south of downtown.

Jeff did volunteer work there and loved helping the kids in need.

“We discussed this before he died and he said he thought that would be perfect,” Colleen said. “Just perfect.

“These last days he thought about everybody else and ended up comforting the people who came to comfort him. He was a rock. He was pretty marvelous.”

And so, too, were many of his last days.

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