Former Mayor John Criner was remembered by friends Friday for his passionate love of Enid. Criner died Wednesday at the age of 78.
“John always worked hard for what he thought was best for Enid,” said Kip Miles, former owner of Miles Music and a member of Enid AM AMBUCS. “He did what he thought was right. When he took on a job or project, he was in 110%. He was all for it.”
Former Enid city manager Eric Benson, who worked with Criner when he was mayor from 2007 to 2011 and became good friends, said Criner was “fearless” and showed “very strong leadership in the face of criticism.”
Benson said the period Criner was mayor saw some of the biggest advances in Enid in terms of sales tax growth, development and infrastructure work.
“He wasn’t afraid to be straight up with you,” Benson said. “If you want leadership, you better find a John Criner.”
Benson said he and Criner didn’t always see eye to eye on projects, but they always would talk things out, never leaving a discussion with hard feelings.
“We would sit down and work out the issues,” Benson said. “John loved Enid. He did not have to do what he did.”
Miles said Criner was the best business manager he’d ever known.
Criner moved to Enid in 1973 to manage the Woolco store, building it into one of the most profitable stores in the company. When F.W. Woolworth closed the Woolco chain in 1983, Criner helped convince Hobby Lobby to open a store in Enid. Criner was manager of Hobby Lobby for 22 years before retiring in 2005.
“He didn’t care about being popular,” Miles said of his friend. “He just wanted to do what was right.”
There isn’t anyone more loyal, more sincere or who had a bigger heart than Criner, Miles said.
“First and last, he was my friend,” he said. “I am heartbroken he is gone.”
Criner was born in Tulsa in 1942, and graduated from the University of Tulsa with a business degree. He died Wednesday in Kingwood, Texas, where he had moved to be closer to his son, J.R.
“As a father, he was one of my best friends,” J.R. Criner said. “He took the time and guided me in the right direction.”
Criner’s funeral will be 10 a.m. June 19 at North Garland Church of Christ, where he and his late wife, Cheryl, were longtime members. She preceded him in death in November 2020.