John Stewart Croucher

John Stewart Croucher, a retired hospital assistant engineer and World War II naval veteran, died of a stroke Tuesday at Gilchrist Hospice Care. The Bel Air resident was 90.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, he was a graduate of the old Thomas A. Edison Vocational School on Howard Street. Many years later, he completed adult night school at City College. He also studied physics at what was then Essex Community College.


Family members said Mr. Croucher was an accomplished machinist and worked at the Flynn & Emrich foundry on Holliday Street in downtown Baltimore in the early 1940s. For many months during World War II, he was divwen a deferment from military service because he was considered a vital employee.

After being deferred twice, he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to the USS Schmitt, a destroyer escort converted to a high-speed transport. An engineer, he operated boilers, oversaw the desalination of seawater and operated the ship's machine shop. He was acting chief of the engineering division and saw service in Pearl Harbor, Borneo and Japan. His ship was also used to bring troops home from the Pacific.

After the war, he returned to Flynn & Emrich. In 1948, he became a civilian employee at the Fort Howard Veterans Administration Hospital, where he worked for more than four decades. He retired in 1991.

At the VA hospital, he initially made orthopedic braces and other devices for the disabled.

"This was the happiest time of his employment. He worked with all kinds of metals and cloths and canvases," said his wife, the former Josephine "Josie" DiStefano, who worked as a secretary at Fort Howard. "He was so successful in the development of these appliances and braces, he was asked to work at Johns Hopkins Hospital at night making tools and instruments."

Mr. Croucher worked four hours in the evenings, designing and making special instruments for use in Hopkins' operating rooms. A few of his works made it into medical journals, his wife said. In 1952, the American Medical Association listed two of his inventions. In 1954, he was credited with a mechanical hip extension.

"He was methodical in what he did," said a brother, Herbert E. Croucher of Essex. "When he bought something, it had to be perfect. When his car came out of the shop, he inspected the mechanic's work, and that had to be perfect. When he bought a pair of shoes, they had to fit just right."

After his marriage in 1960, Mr. Croucher transferred to the VA hospital's engineering division and became a planner-estimator. He did cost estimates for equipment installation and worked on the restoration of hospital buildings and housing units on the federal property in eastern Baltimore County.

"John Croucher was passionate about his family," his wife said. "He was a gentleman in every sense of the word. He was quick to offer help to neighbors, especially the older folk. He mowed their lawns, shoveled their snow and fixed plates of food for the elderly."

For many years, he lived on Mayfield Avenue in Belair-Edison. He then moved to Harford County.

He enjoyed fishing at Ocean City and crabbing in the Chesapeake Bay. He also liked barbershop quartet music and watched sports.

Services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Schimunek Funeral Home, 9705 Belair Road.

In addition to his wife of nearly 52 years, who later became a registered nurse and midwife, and his brother, survivors include three sons, Stewart T. Croucher of Alpharetta, Ga., Melvin J. Croucher of Essex and Todd L. Croucher of Fallston; two daughters, Kelly J. Naumann of Bel Air and Terri C. Spagnolo of Glen Allen, Va.; another brother, Melvin C. Croucher of Baldwin; and 13 grandchildren.