He loved to talk and had a huge heart. Locals share stories of N.J.’s Famous River Hot Dog Man.

He had a heart that was as big as anything.

That’s how a close friend of Greg Crance, ubiquitous for his role as the Famous River Hot Dog Man, described him in the wake of his death on Monday from COVID-related complications.

“He was very passionate about his business and did everything he could as far as the (Delaware) River goes to clean it,” said Wes Siegel, a resident of Delaware Township. “I know him and his boys and his employees once a year would go up and down the river and clean all of the garbage that they would find.

“I’ve seen it a couple of times in person — they would come back with a boat filled with garbage bags.”

Crance was the owner of Delaware River Tubing, Inc., a tubing, rafting, canoeing and kayaking business located in Alexandria Township that has offered summer excursions on the river since 2002. Crance operated a hotdog stand on a platform stationed in the middle of the Delaware River beginning in 1987.

Each summer, tens of thousands of people travel from across the state and beyond to spend a day tubing along the Delaware. Delaware River Tubing received the President’s Award in an annual marketing competition conducted by the New Jersey Travel Industry Association in 2017.

Yuuji Crance, Greg’s son and operations manager of Delaware River Tubing, previously told NJ Advance Media that he is uncertain of whether or not the business will continue to operate this summer in light of an ongoing legal battle with the state, which began after the company lost a concession agreement granting it access to the Delaware River from state park land.

However, he said the Famous River Hot Dog Man platforms on both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania sides of the Delaware River will continue to operate even if the tubing business closes.

The owner of Discount Auto Parts & Repair in Kingwood Township, Siegel met Crance while working to repair the buses used to transport tubers to and from the Delaware River. They grew to become close friends, celebrating nearly every Thanksgiving together for the past six years.

“He was a huge talker,” Wes said. “You almost sometimes had to cut him off and say, ‘Hey listen Greg, I got work I got to do here. I got to get going.’

“But I always felt bad doing that, because he always had something to say.”

In addition to reflecting on their close-knit friendship, Wes also expressed his appreciation for how Crance’s business positively impacted the local business community.

“Mostly people from out of state (visit Delaware River Tubing) — and the town gained a lot of revenue from that, in my opinion,” Siegel said. “I gained revenue just in my shop from that too.”

Cindy Kunnas, executive director of the Greater Lambertville Chamber of Commerce, also drew attention to Crance’s influence on the local economy.

“I’m very sorry to hear about the passing of a member (of the chamber),” Kunnas said. “He was an important part of the economy for the river town. His tubing company and selling hot dogs from his island — it was an iconic part of the river.”

Echoing Kunnas, Laura Pointon, president of the Frenchtown Business & Professional Association, said Crance’s impact on the region was “immeasurable.”

“We see all of the different people it brings to the area just to go tubing — people who would have never heard of Frenchtown or Hunterdon County, they’re coming here just because of the marketing reach that company had,” Pointon said.

She added that the organization will support the company should it continue to operate this summer, and expressed her admiration for Crance’s commitment to its success throughout his life.

“I’ve been in Frenchtown since 2008, and I’ve never talked to him. But I’ve seen him numerous times, probably close to daily fueling up the boat and the hot dog boat … and you always see the blue t-shirts,” Pointon said. “And to see what he dealt with with trying to keep his business running … he was fearless.”

Karen Haller Siegel, Wes’ mother and another resident of Delaware Township, said Crance was “one of the kindest people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing.

“He cared so much about people and always made sure they had a fun but safe time on the river all while overcoming the many obstacles in his way,” Karen said. “Greg was a pillar of the community and will be greatly missed.”

Grant Hawley has worked at Delaware River Tubing since 2017. He performed different odd jobs at the company before Crance helped him get his boating license in 2019.

He recalled how Crance taught him how to spot rocks in the Delaware while he was training to become a boater, labeling the memory one of his favorites of a boss who did “everything he could to keep his business afloat.”

“Greg and the company were great,” Hawley said. “Greg always would be there to help out, and was very understanding with any issues that were happening, and do anything in his power to resolve them. He was a good man.”

Stacy Tuzik, a resident of Kingwood Township, also shared one of her most treasured memories of the business — seeing the blue buses travel through the streets of the town each summer.

“I appreciated the way he helped friends and families celebrate summer together,” Tuzik said. “A river trip can really slow down life … People get to make eye contact and belly laugh and enjoy the blue sky and green trees.

“I know the tubing business was controversial … but that was one perspective,” she added. “Building memories for people is another perspective (and) the focus that I choose.”

A GoFundMe page has been established to raise funds to help the Crance family pay for memorial service and medical expenses. Over $1,000 has been raised as of Wednesday afternoon.

“Greg was a beloved husband, father, and grandfather and his larger-than-life personality was a staple in the community,” the page reads. “We hope, as a community, we can help his family get through this difficult time.”

A viewing for Greg Crance will be held this Sunday from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Decker-Givnish Funeral Home in Warminster, PA. The event will also be live-streamed on the funeral home’s Facebook page.

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Caroline Fassett may be reached at cfassett@njadvancemedia.com.

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