Ronnie “Poncho” Gean Craig

Ronnie “Poncho” Gean Craig

Ronnie “Poncho” Gean Craig

Mount Vernon

Ronnie “Poncho” Gean


passed away

unexpectedly on Jan. 17, 2023, a month shy of his

69th birthday at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. His last act of

generosity was to give the gift of life to at least three other persons through organ donation.

Ronnie was born and lived most of his life in Linn and Jones County in Iowa. He was the third of four children born to Bonita “Bobbie” Adaline Lucas Craig and Hershel Dewitt Craig. He was born on Feb. 28, 1954, in Marion, Iowa.

When Ronnie was 10, the family moved to Monticello and it was there that he was given the nickname, “Poncho,” a name that followed him throughout life. He graduated from Monticello High School in 1972, although the class of ‘73 have frequently given him honorary member status.

Ronnie was bright and a lifelong reader but formal classrooms after high school were not his friends. He may have shown up to class on two separate occasions at the University of Northern Iowa before his passion for music took him to Minneapolis to attend Brown Institute of Technology to become a disc jockey. However, it wasn’t long before he missed his home and his mother’s cooking… he hitchhiked his way back home before ever gracing the radio waves, but after choosing a cool DJ name, Syrian Stone.

Working in car sales his whole life, he was at various car dealerships including: Zimmerman BMW, Miller-Harries Datsun (Jim Miller Nissan), Cedar Rapids Dodge, Bruce McGrath Pontiac, Cedar Rapids Toyota, Griffith Ford (Carroll, Iowa), before he landed at Duffy’s Classic Cars and made that his home, working there for over 28 years. His vast classic car knowledge, giant smile, humor and personality will be greatly missed at the dealership and beyond. Ironically, Ronnie was pretty hopeless under the hood. He wasn’t a guy who knew how to work on cars, but his knowledge was unmatched. He loved learning about them, driving them and helping clients realize their dreams through collector cars. He had plenty of road breakdowns, though, including a 1960 Corvette that caught fire, a number of cars that broke parts in very inconvenient locations, and a hood flying off almost clipping his head in a convertible. He sold thousands of vehicles and met thousands of customers through the dealership and at car events.

As a perk to his career, it was a joy for him to bring a classic car home to “test out.” However, more than just a car guy, he was also a loving husband, father, and grandfather. Driving around Mount Vernon in a ‘66 convertible Mustang with his wife, Joni, was just one of the ways that Ronnie stayed young.

Ronnie and Joni (Joan Helmrich) were married for over 42 years. They married on July 5, 1980, in Ryan, Iowa, with a “reception following at the bride’s parents farm”. It was presumed that if you were invited, you knew the way to the party. And it was a grand party. More than one guest commented on how neither the bride nor groom had stopped smiling.

This smiling bride and groom had their fair share of ups and downs. An up was settling in their cherished small town of Mount Vernon, Iowa, in 1989 after sampling a few other small towns. Many dear friendships started there and it was home base to Ronnie and Joni. Another up was building a dream home in 1998 on a couple acres just outside of Mt. Vernon, a place that was the venue for many many parties and family events over the 25 years that they lived there. Ronnie and Joni had an open-door policy and many a morning guests could be found sleeping on couches, chairs and spare beds.

There were downs: Ronnie and Joni’s first child, Jarod Paul, was born and died on the same day, Nov. 15, 1985, five years after they married. Heartbroken at the loss of a child was an understatement for Ronnie and Joni both of whom professed that they wanted their legacy to be a houseful of children. Another down was Joni’s breast cancer at an age when Rachel and Adam were still in elementary school. At that time, Ronnie lamented that “I won’t be able to do this without her.” Thankfully, he didn’t have to as she survived the diagnosis. Another down was an accident that left Ronnie’s son, Adam, with quadriplegia in 2016. Ronnie was one of Adam’s on-going and back up caregivers, a role like so many other giving roles, that he accepted gracefully.

Joy was a huge part of Ronnie’s life. Three years after the death of Jarod, Rachel was born and their youngest, Adam, followed in 1990. To say that Ronnie liked his children is the understatement of the year. He was the quintessential parent who automatically lit up at the mention of the kids. He was unabashedly proud of them. He loved them and he loved who they loved. Adam Laborde (Rachel’s husband) aka “Coach” and Jayne (Adam’s wife) would say that he treated them as one of his, holding back no love or deserved, but kind, critique.

Ronnie loved life and had many passions that made him a great conversationalist and one of the persons at any event who was fun to sit with and chat. He loved music, poetry, his children and grandchildren, friendships, Iowa basketball, laughing, theater, beer, cars, road trips, history, dancing, singing and anything his children or grandchildren were interested in. Above all, he cherished people. Anyone who was near him could feel that. Over the past few days, many of his nieces, nephews and Rachel and Adam’s friends referred to their struggle with his passing as connected to the feeling that “he was like a second father to me.”

On multiple occasions, Ronnie said the best decision he ever made was marrying Joni. Joni was his compass and strong hold, knowing from the very beginning he would always make her laugh.

If there was ever a human who was built for grandparenting, it was Ronnie. The world stopped for the grands whenever they were present. Adeline, age 5, and John, age 3, knew that Grandpa would stop whatever he was doing and whatever he had planned to play with them, sled down the hill, read a book, dance, or play a game. They were never “too much” for him. They were everything to Ronnie.

Once one of Ronnie and Joni’s Mount Vernon friends said, “It’s impossible to go anywhere with those two where they don’t know someone.” It’s true. Ronnie’s life was filled with friends and friendship. There are thousands of pictures with Ronnie and his partners-in-crime. Ask them to tell you “Ronnie stories.” They will start and won’t stop and you will be having some of the biggest belly laughs of your life.

Ronnie joins these others on the other side: his son, Jarod Paul Craig; parents, Hershel and Bobbie Craig; his brother, Samuel Lynnwood Craig and his wife, Beverly; his parents-in-law, Casey and Dottie Helmrich; and his great-nieces, Jacie and Alison.

He is survived by his immediate family including his wife, Joni Craig of Mount Vernon; daughter, Rachel Laborde and son-in-law, Adam, their children, Adeline and John of Mount Vernon; his son, Adam and daughter-in-law, Jayne of Chicago, Ill.; sister, Juanita Fee of Atlanta, Ga.; brother, Roger and Nancy Craig of Council Bluff; in-laws, David Helmrich (Linda) of Villa Park, Ill., Daniel Helmrich of Sierra Vista, Ariz., Stephen Helmrich (Deb) of Columbus, Ohio, Randy (Louise) of Robinson, Iowa, Julie (Lisa) Helmrich of Milwaukee, Wis., Thresa (Rod) Saunders of Cascade, Iowa, Tony (Joellyn) of Robinson, Iowa, Barb (Mike) Nemeth of Fairfax, Iowa, and Jeanne (Gary) Taylor of Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Additionally, Ronnie is survived by his 33 nieces and nephews, Samuel’s two daughters, Amy and Chandra; Juanita’s two sons, Ken and Charles “Chuck”; Roger’s four children, Natalie, Nicole, Janelle and Conner; Dave’s four children, Jenny, Sarah, Marc and Joe; by Dan’s three children, Leigh, Cory and Jason; by Stephen’s three children, Steve, Jessica and Amanda; by Randy’s two children, Brenda and September; Thresa’s two children, Andrew and Beth; Tony’s four children, Rick, Justin, Aaron and Heather; Barb’s three children, Jenna, Casey and Keegan; and Jeanne’s four children, Hannah, Holly, Emma and Michael.

Visitation will be on Friday, Jan. 20, from 3 to 7 p.m. with a Funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, at 11 a.m., both at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Mount Vernon, Iowa. Father Dennis Juhl will officiate the services.

For his car crew, Duffy’s has shared that despite it being January, they are throwing caution to the wind and organizing a caravan of old cars in memory of Ronnie. The caravan will be leaving Duffy’s at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 21, and will be driving to the funeral service together.

A gathering toasting Ronnie will be held following the funeral at Mount Vernon Creates from noon to 6 p.m. with libations and nourishment – bring a story to share, a poem, a song, a guitar or just you.

Those unable to attend are invited to watch the Funeral Mass via livestream. Please find the livestream link on Ronnie’s Tribute Wall and share your support and memories with his family at under obituaries.

Memorials may be sent to the family or to Hope Community Foundation made payable to: “Hope Community Foundation FBO Adam Craig” at 2600 N. Mayfair Road, No. 200, Milwaukee, WI 53226.

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