For Michiganders, the end of the holidays marks the real start of winter: those long, cold, gray months that compel many of us to find any excuse we can to stay toasty inside. Custodian Jason “Jay” Crofton, on the other hand, looks for every opportunity not only to get outside, but to stay there. Just sitting. For hours. But he’s got a good reason: he’s an avid ice fisher.
Sundays are a different story. That’s when Crofton can be found heating things up as a drummer, bassist and vocalist in the band at Christ Temple Baptist Church in Ypsilanti. If you happen to work in the Administration Building, you may get to hear about these pursuits as Crofton goes about his afternoon shift there. For the rest of the campus, here are some highlights.
U-M is a family business
Crofton was part of the Environment, Health and Safety team at UM-Ann Arbor for a decade, primarily working at U-M Hospital and the Cardiovascular Center, before transferring to UM-Dearborn in 2020. He was a baggage handler at Detroit Wayne-Metro Airport before that, but U-M seemed like his destiny: Both his grandmothers, as well as his father and several aunts, have all worked at the university — his paternal grandmother for 38 years.
He has a longtime connection on the Dearborn campus as well. At John Glenn High School in Westland, Crofton played tight end and defensive back on the state champion-contender football team, defending quarterback Justin Berent, now a sergeant with UM-Dearborn’s Department of Public Safety.
His grandmother — and silver bass — got him hooked on fishing
Crofton has his maternal grandmother to thank for his interest in fishing. She started him on easy-to-catch species when he was a kid. “Both sets of my grandparents liked to fish, but my mom's mom is the one that got me involved,” he explains. “When I was a kid, we would use cane poles, you know, with a bobber, and we’d catch bluegills and stuff like that. And you would catch a whole bunch of those. Then, she would take me silver bass fishing down on the river when they would run and she’d say, ‘You're gonna catch one.’ As a kid, you’re guaranteed to catch one every time.”
These days, Crofton is more interested in the more contemplative aspect of the sport. When he worked the late shift at U-M and needed to wind down before going to sleep, he’d go to the river and fish in the dark. “It’s literally like a time-to-think, time-to-reflect deal,” he says.
His best friend, who he met working at U-M (and who happens to be Canadian), introduced him to ice fishing, something he’d been eager to try. “I think it's more of a challenge,” Crofton says. “Open water, if I'm in a boat or if I'm on shore, I’m casting here, I’m casting here, I’m casting here. They call it fan fishing. Trying to find where they’re at.”
Fishing on frozen water takes things to a whole new level: “I’m drilling the hole, and now I’ve got to take my fish finder and walk around and see if I can find them and then, once I find them, that doesn’t mean they're going to stay there.”
Crofton says he and his friends are “hardcore” and have been known to stay out on the ice for up to eight hours. Sounds cold, right? “Yeah,” he agrees. But with the right gear and a shanty to duck into, “it's not as cold as people think.”
He got the funk
Sundays almost always find Crofton indoors, playing drums, or sometimes bass, and singing in the church band. The largely self-taught musician also DJs at private parties. He gets his love of music from his father and shares his dad’s preference for ’70s artists like Ambrosia, Michael Franks, Steely Dan, Chicago, Parliament-Funkadelic and Earth, Wind & Fire. He describes his DJ style as “all over the place,” but his favorite era typically gets a nod with artists like George Benson or Bill Withers alongside contemporary musicians, like Lizzo. “With DJing, you always have to stay current,” he says.
He also runs sound for other musicians at churches and clubs around town. So if he’s running sound late into Saturday nights and then jamming at church on Sunday mornings, when does he sleep? Crofton laughs as if the answer is obvious. “When you get done,” he says.
Article by Kristin Palm