The story of one man and his commitment to helping others
On Feb. 23, a SCOUT driver named James Eugene Cruz-Crossbuck passed away, and the campus mourned.
His presence driving the large Student Campus Community Transport (SCOUT) vehicle was often noticed, but usually ignored. However, the man behind the wheel – who wore a smile on his face and carried a story to warm the heart – will unlikely be forgotten by the many students he had helped during his long career at Fresno State.
Those who knew Crossbuck called him Jim E, and many of them believe his passing leaves a hole that can never be filled.
As a SCOUT driver working with the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD), Crossbuck’s duty was to help transport students with disabilities to their classes around campus.
Students he helped said he went above and beyond the call of duty, acting as a friend and mentor when they were going through rough times, sharing stories and telling jokes.
Crossbuck even handed out his personal cellphone number, telling the students to text or call whenever they get to campus and he would be there right away, cutting out the time students usually spent waiting to speak with a representative of SSD.
Fresno State student Courina Hughes met Crossbuck after she tore ligaments in her ankle when she was in Army ROTC at Fresno State.
“He always encouraged me,” Hughes said. “He was probably the one to get me through my whole injury, trying to get back into ROTC.”
When she later hurt her lower back after recovering from her ankle injury, Hughes said Crossbuck called her every day and asked how she was and if she needed help.
She said Crossbuck called just to ask, “Hey, do you need a ride? How are your back and your ankle feeling?”
For his students, Crossbuck would always go out of his way to help.
“He might not have been a teacher and made a difference that way, but he encouraged people when they were hurt to stay positive and get over that injury,” Hughes said.
Not long before he died, Hughes said she noticed Crossbuck acting differently, even forgetting her name.
“He was under the weather the week before he passed,” she said. “I could see that he wasn’t all there.”
Hughes heard that one afternoon, Crossbuck was asleep in the office and an officer asked him to go home because he looked sick. Hughes said he told them, “If I go home, I’m afraid I’m going to die.”
He passed away that Saturday at age 68.
Crossbuck was born in Fresno on Oct. 12, 1944. He was the oldest among four siblings.
He led a stoic life. His guiding principles were taught from an early age by his grandfather, said Courtney Cruz, Crossbuck’s daughter.
“My grandfather raised his family with a great deal of honor, duty to service and just standing up for what you believe in – just basically try and do what is right,” she said.
It was this mentality that convinced Crossbuck to follow his best friend, Mark Carter, into the Army and later, into Vietnam.
Crossbuck joined the service in September 1963 with Carter. They went through training together, and when Carter decided to go to Vietnam, Crossbuck left Special Forces training and switched companies so that his friend wouldn’t have to go alone.
“They were friends since junior high — over 50 years. They were more like brothers,” Cruz said.
Crossbuck joined the 101st Airborne Division, and for three years he completed dozens of jumps into the jungles of Vietnem.
“He loved being a paratrooper. He took so much honor doing that,” Cruz said.
To be a soldier during war meant bravery and sacrifice, and few knew that more than Crossbuck.
It was in the jungles of Vietnam where he became exposed to the powerful and deadly defoliant, Agent Orange. The chemical would eventually haunt him all his life before ultimately taking it.
Crossbuck was in Vietnam for three years. He decided to leave the military after the United States pulled out.
Cruz believes her father did this because he felt that the sacrifices by the soldiers and people of Vietnam were worth it, and when the country ended the war, he felt that not enough had been done.
“That was really hard for him to deal with,” Cruz said. “Dad was the kind of person who [believed] if you start something, you finish it.”
After the war, he became a deputy sheriff for Fresno County for more than 10 years as part of the search and rescue team for areas around Shaver Lake.
Crossbuck married his first wife Isabelle, and they had two children, Rocky and Jamie. They divorced, but in 1978 he married Cruz’s mother, Donna, and they had her and her older sister Misty, now Misty Veas.
He went through a second divorce in 1982, and he was forced to care for his daughters alone, with Courtney at 1 and Misty at 4 years old.
In 1984, Crossbuck returned to school at the age of 39, majoring in kinesiology at Fresno State. He also coached at various grade schools, ran cross-country and participated in wrestling and track.
Crossbuck had a passion for learning. He was a professional student, Cruz said, taking classes whenever he could.
“He was a single parent taking care of us, working jobs, so he took the classes where he could,” Cruz said.
A Native American from the Navajo tribe, Crossbuck participated in pow-wows, where he performed flag ceremonies such as color guard, as well as took part in traditional dancing.
“He just loved to attend them and he knew so many people, so it was like a social gathering for him,” Cruz said.
The last one he participated in was for the New Year’s celebration at the Fresno Convention Center.
When Crossbuck eventually graduated from Fresno State, he utilized his experience working with search and rescue to become a private investigator, finding missing or kidnapped children.
“He would recover children for their families,” Veas said.
When he wasn’t looking for missing kids, Crossbuck taught CPR, first aid and AIDS education at the Red Cross, something he did until the week before he died.
He loved to teach, Cruz said. Crossbuck decided to get a teaching credential at National University.
In 1997 he took a job teaching criminal justice classes at Sierra High School in Tollhouse.
“He loved to help young people. He found many different ways to make differences and to influence people,” Cruz said.
Several years after starting the job, his health began to rapidly deteriorate.
Crossbuck had diabetes and was in two single-car accidents after falling asleep at the wheel during the long drive to the school in Tollhouse from his home in Fresno.
Cruz said her father was disappointed when he realized he could no longer make the trip to teach at the high school.
“I think he missed it,” she said. “I think he missed being around the kids. He liked being a teacher.”
Crossbuck found a new calling, however. His love of helping others brought him to one of his favorite duties in a long history of careers: being a SCOUT driver.
“If he found something that he really liked where he can do good and help, [he would] be loyal, because that is who he was. It was his heart,” Cruz said.
When he got the job as a SCOUT driver, Veas said “He really came alive.”
Fresno State student Erica Hernandez said she met Crossbuck during the worst time of her life.
Having multiple sclerosis, Hernandez found it difficult to get to her classes. But she was always relieved to see Crossbuck’s cart roll around the corner.
“It helps a lot because it’s already difficult having to depend on people,” Hernandez said. “You can’t just walk somewhere and be on time if you wanted to.”
Crossbuck was not one to just drop off his students and drive away. He always made sure they got to their destination – no matter what.
“There were times when I could barely walk upstairs to get to some of the classes here,” Hernandez said. “He would help me, even though there’s a rule that they’re not supposed to.
“That helped a lot.”
Fresno State instructor Faith Sidlow met Crossbuck through Hernandez. Sidlow said he would give her rides out to her car.
“He was just one of these people who had this spirit and made people happy,” Sidlow said. “And I think it made him happy knowing he was helping people out.”
Maggie Simms, SCOUT coordinator, said that students were always appreciative of Crossbuck. One student went a little further than expected.
“One of our students, who was especially appreciative of what Jim E did for him, had a plaque made thanking him for his service and all he does for campus,” Simms said. “And that was really special, too.”
The plaque will be placed in the SCOUT cart that Crossbuck drove.
Janice Brown, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, said the outpouring of phone calls after Crossbuck’s passing was a surprise.
“That usually doesn’t happen in a campus this big,” she said.
Crossbuck’s funeral service was at 10 a.m. on March 9. Cruz and Veas said they expected around 150 people to show up. But when they began receiving notices that others were passing around the funeral date, they knew to anticipate a few more.
However, they didn’t expect the type of gathering seen at the Salvation Army Family Services church that morning.
The pews were filled with family, friends, veterans, students and many others whose lives had been touched by Crossbuck. People lined the walls, filled the foyer and spilled out into the parking lot outside.
Both Cruz and Veas have two lifetimes worth of memories of their father. But one date has been burned into their memories: Jan. 23, the first time they saw their father – the toughest man they knew – cry.
“He said he wanted to live as long as our grandfather did, because he was 90, but knew that his body wasn’t going to let him,” Cruz said. “He wanted to be there for us, and he was worried about leaving us.”
The source of Crossbuck’s unhappiness, Cruz believed, was that he wasn’t able to continue being around for them.
“He kind of apologized to us a little bit, not regretting going to Vietnam, I think he felt conflicted,” she said. “He was talking about duty and service and going to Vietnam, but then he came back with Agent Orange. And he said, ‘and this has been my life.’
“I think he was angry with that, because he really wanted to live. He wanted to live.”
His daughters told him that they were happy he decided to serve his country.
“We told him how honored we were that he was our dad, and how proud we were of him,” she said.
Crossbuck asked them to always be there for each other once he was gone. He told them how proud he was for them.
“That was the first time I ever saw him cry in my whole life,” Cruz said.
They reassured him that he raised two strong daughters, and that they will be OK.
He said, “I know.”