In Passing: Craig Steven Palonen
Craig would have loved the word polymath, as it describes the Renaissance man that he was. That was Craig. He was curious and interested in everything and never stopped learning. After graduating from UCSB in 1969 with a degree in biology, and while pursuing a master’s degree in business at Cal State, Long Beach, he discovered his love of construction. He worked in the trades while in college, gained his contractor’s license in 1973, and embarked on a long and successful career in real estate development.
Craig was a creator. He built numerous projects, single family homes, subdivisions, condominiums, office developments and other income-producing projects in Ventura, Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, Lompoc, Buellton, Canyon Country, and Grants Pass, Oregon, completing 23 projects in 24 years. But he also tirelessly pursued other interests, continuously taking Spanish lessons, voraciously studying his monthly science magazines, playing his piano at least once a week; he always found time for tennis, racquetball, golf, or skiing, with his best buddies.
Dancing was a pursuit of Craig’s. He and his wife, Marjorie, met 45 years ago at the Yankee Clipper, dancing of course. A few years after they married it was Craig’s idea to take weekly dance lessons to learn how to dance all the smooth and Latin dances. They continued that weekly dinner and dance date night until just a few years ago. As the dance dates waned, he and Marjorie pivoted and started the Parkinson Association of SB weekly dance/exercise class for people dealing with the disease. It started with four couples and expanded to up to 25 participants twice weekly with two teachers. The class has continued on Zoom and a Hispanic class is in the works. Craig’s devotion to the organization led to two terms as president and membership on the board for many years. PASB was a place where he found comfort, support, and friendship in his battle with the disease. His ever-stoic attitude and warm smile inspired those around him.
Craig’s interest in plants and biology began where he was born in Los Angeles, spending his early years in his beloved Grandma Mumu’s garden. He came back to his biology roots in the form of community involvement as a board member at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden and as a docent at Lotusland. He created a magical garden at the family home in Montecito. A wooden bridge stretched over the creek to the garden and featured his whimsical rock cairns and wooden sculptures, carved by Marjorie’s father. He spent hours tending to the tropicals he propagated along the stone pathways, and his experimental coffee orchard. He loved creating room-like areas in the garden, patterned after Madame Ganna Walska’s Lotusland. His belief system seemed to rest in the wonders of biology.
Craig was a guiding light in the eyes of his two sons, Tye and Nicholas, never overtly describing right behavior but practicing it. They saw in him a man of honor, always patient, fair, and incredibly kind. They shared in the experience of mentoring a young boy through the Fighting Back Youth program, as well as hosting a student from Spain one summer. Craig, Tye and Nick were members of the YMCA father-son Indian Guides program where they all met lifelong friends. Nick remembers his dad making time to support every activity he participated in; “I love you to pieces,” Dad would say with a nightly kiss on the forehead. Craig created opportunities for his sons to experience the world of hard work and play by restoring an RV park in Oregon one summer, kayaking on the Rogue River, boating through the San Juan Islands, traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia, Mexico, Hawaii, and many countries in Europe. Craig instilled in his sons the benefits of physical exercise and the joy of sports. Tye and Craig played many rounds of golf together at home and on vacation. Nick took up karate and had a regular Saturday session and lunch at Stacky’s with his dad. The boys saw in Craig the value of true friendship, demonstrated through his solid cohort of friends from early school days, college, and the lifelong friends in the community he loved. He exemplified how to be a father and a husband and modeled the right behavior in the gentle and generous caring of Marjorie’s parents in their later years.
Marjorie’s mom, Terry, called Craig “that Greek God” the first time she met him. She was right. He came to dinner to meet the parents – he was tall, tan, and incredibly handsome, with tons of curly, blondish hair and a full beard. He was ambitious and hardworking, just what George and Terry Mullen thought was perfect for their daughter. He was also a gentleman, taking Marjorie to an elegant dinner at Pelicans (now Cava) on their first date. She loved that he said things like, “let’s rendezvous at 7:00.” She was smitten. They married in 1977. He was the real deal, the complete package, adventurous, fun-loving, intelligent, he knew something about everything, the stars, geography, building a house, business, and politics, the botanical names of all the plants in the garden, or how the human body functioned, and he loved to dance. She picked the right door and he said yes. He called her “Babe” the entire 45 years they were together, and she loved that. He was generous, compassionate and she passionately loved him with all her heart. She loved that he was loyal to his friends and family, that he was devoted to his mom and grandmother, and that he had unconditional love for his sons.
Craig Steven Palonen was born in Los Angeles, California on October 26, 1947 and passed away on July 24, 2020. He was preceded in death by his Grandma Mumu, and his parents Genevieve and Amo Palonen, and Marjorie’s parents George and Terry Mullen.
He is survived by his wife Marjorie, son Tye and wife Chanel, son Nicholas and wife Nikki and grandson Phoenix, sister-in-law Kitty Bell and husband Russell, brother-in-law Johnny Mullen and wife Kim, brother-in-law Michael Mullen and wife Pam; nieces Angela Chan and husband Bernard, children Peter and Mady, Nicole and husband Mack, children Bear, Kendry, August, nephews Connor Mullen and wife Ned, Preston Mullen, Landon Mullen, Corbin Mullen and wife Kylie, Tanner Mullen. Also the puppy, Sophie-girl.
The Parkinson Association of Santa Barbara always appreciates donations of any kind. Info: P.O. Box 6254, Santa Barbara, California 93160-6254