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SMITH: Hanna's band of brothers without its Father

Published: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.

Walter Linares and J.T. Trainor aren’t actual brothers, but try telling them that.

Aimless and trouble-prone as adolescents, both are doing extremely well in their 20s and proudly regard themselves sons of Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center and its now former director, Father John Crews.

“We’re all practically brothers,” said Trainor, 24, and the holder of a master’s degree in finance, of the fraternity of Hanna graduates. A customer service rep for Exchange Bank, he said the bond that links Hanna boys and graduates to the live-in reform school, to each other and to Crews “is something you can never fully describe to someone who’s never been there.”

Neither he nor Linares, who’s 28 and the sales and marketing coordinator for the Sacramento Kings basketball team, can judge with certainty the allegation that Crews engaged in sexual misconduct with a boy long before they were born, and before the priest took the helm at Hanna.

But both said they cannot believe it is true.

“It’s like, no way,” Linares said. “He’s our father figure, our hero.”

Trainor said, “He’s been the turning point in so many young people’s lives. He’s saved so many people. It just doesn’t add up to me. I could never believe it to be true.”

ARRIVE AT HANNA as a defiant and probably scared 13- or 14-year-old, Linares said, and “Father is the first person you meet.”

He and Trainor said it was Crews who for nearly 30 years sat a boy down, welcomed him and asked if he would sign a pledge, a contract, to follow the rules and to work hard to become a better person.

“He’s funny as hell,” Linares said. “And also he makes you feel like you’re making a huge decision in your life.”

Having grown up tough and largely unsupervised in San Francisco, Linares said Crews declared to him that he would be provided all possible assistance with the difficult challenge of changing his life.

“I instantly felt loved and cared for,” Linares said. Recalling that for years he wasn’t at all certain about his next meal, he said that at Hanna, “I was kind of able to be a kid.”

He said he also learned about responsibility and endeavor, and about treating others respectfully. For much of all that, he credits Crews.

“He’s such a big part of Hanna,” Linares said. “He’s the glue.”

To the boys and the staff, “he was like The Beatles. Everybody loved Father Crews.”

AND CREWS REMAINED a present force in the boys’ lives long after they left Hanna.

“He helped me get into college and he helped me get through,” said Trainor. Both he and Linares went to college — and grad school — with financial help from Hanna with letters of recommendation from the widely respected Crews, who in addition to his work at Hanna was a 25-year chaplain with the U.S. Naval Reserve.

“Father came to my graduations, both of them,” Linares said. “There were about 50 people, all Hanna-related, at my graduation.”

Trainor said he took advantage of Crews’ counsel and encouragement throughout college and right up until his sudden departure from Hanna.

“He’s been there for our family every step of the way.” Trainor said. “He’s one of the family, really.”

He said that from the moment more than a decade ago that he signed the vow to pull his weight at Hanna and work to become a better person, Crews “has upheld his end of the contract to help me become that person.”

Though they don’t know what to make of the sexual-misconduct complaint, Crews’ subsequent resignation has Trainor and Linares fearing that they’ve seen him for the last time and that the life-changing Hanna Boys Center has lost an extraordinary man.

“He was supposed to marry me,” Linares said, “and baptize my kids.”

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