After her mom’s breast cancer came back with a vengeance, Maggie Crane remembers telling her that she was going to throw her a New Orleans second-line parade at her funeral.
“Now that would be a fun way to start a party!” her mom laughed.
On Sunday, hundreds waving parasols, red carnations and Mardi Gras beads poured out of St. Peter Catholic Church in St. Charles, where the funeral was held for Rhonda Kay Weber Crane, 63.
They followed the music of the lively Funky Butt Brass Band to Magpie’s on historic Main Street, where Rhonda Crane operated restaurants over the past 35 years and shared her love for others through good food, good music and good wine.
“She was a pillar of Main Street, to be certain,” said Maggie Crane, 37, of St. Louis.
Magpie’s was Rhonda Crane’s first and last restaurant, making her the longest single owner of a business on the cobblestone street full of restaurants, bars and shops, according to a proclamation awarded to her by the city of St. Charles.
Over the years, Crane also opened The Cats’ Pajamas gift shop, Magpie’s Bakery & Creamery, and River Star Cafe, where Chuck Berry once played on the piano.
Second-line parades are descendants of New Orleans’ jazz funerals but continue today as moving block parties, led by a brass band and open to anyone who wants to join in with dancing and singing.
Rhonda Craneloved the cuisine and culture of New Orleans. She and her friends took annual trips to the city’s jazz and French Quarter festivals, her daughter said. She hosted raucous Mardi Gras parties with her partner, Mike Aubuchon, complete with costumes, gumbo, jambalaya and corn bread muffins.
Rhonda Crane chose to open a restaurant on Main Street because she loved the quaintness, said her daughter. “She knew that there were very few ‘Main Street Americas’ left, and she wanted to be a part of it.”
She found a small basement space for sale that was move-in ready with 10 tables, chairs and restaurant equipment. She sealed the deal by letting the owner sample her food. She named it Magpie’s, the nickname of her then 2-year-old daughter.
Nearly 10 years later, the restaurant moved to its current spot at 903 South Main Street, where customers enjoy quiche, soups and flatbreads during the day and a dinner menu after 5 p.m. And, of course, cocktails.
Her then-husband and brother-in-law laid the large brick patio, where local musicians play Thursday through Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons in the summer. She often hired Big Mike & the Blu City All Stars and Miss Jubilee, who also sang at the funeral.
Her recipes were featured in Gourmet magazine, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other publications. At her funeral, she wanted some of her favorites: shrimp, grits, lasagna, hearts of palm salad and bread pudding.
Rhonda Crane was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2017, which was followed by a bilateral mastectomy and chemotherapy, her daughter said. The metastasized cancer returned in August 2018.
She loved traveling, including her annual trips to New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where she died July 8, just days after she checked off “watching fireworks over the beach” from her bucket list.
Equal to her culinary skills, Rhonda Crane was known for her warm and vibrant personality; and a deep and unconditional love for her friends, family and employees.
“A ‘mom’ to many, her love and zest for living influenced countless lives,” her obituary read. “Rhonda hardly knew a stranger. She searched for and encouraged the best in people.”
As she made the nearly 1-mile walk behind the brass band to Magpie’s, Maggie Crane carried her mom’s ashes in a shiny gold box.
She smiled, “She likes a good parade.”