Man for all seasons

Barbara LawlorMan for all seasons deve felkley

Dave Felkley’s favorite time of the year is summer, fall, winter and spring and all the days or weeks in between each of them. In other words, he loves every minute of his life, which he considers a gift to be savored over and over again.
When people ask him how he is, he replies that he is “great,” that it is a beautiful day in the neighborhood, no matter what the weather is, no matter how much pain he is in. “There are no bad days,” says Dave. But in the past year, he has learned that some days are better than others.
Dave has Stage 4 cancer. Although the doctors don’t know when his time on earth will end, they do know that there is no cure, just pain management. Dave might be here for Christmas, when he is Santa for many; he might be here for the Frozen Dead Guy Festival, when he announces the Rocky Mountain Oyster Eating Contest; he could be here to take the seniors for a slow walk on snowshoes, or to greet the burst of wildflowers in June. The doctors can’t predict the week or the day that the cancer will overcome his body’s ability to continue, but they do know that Dave will live each day to the fullest. That’s who he is.
Most people in the Nederland area recognize Dave as the white-bearded guy on the scooter, the announcer for most Ned events, the leader of hikes all year round, an advocate for the area’s senior citizens and the guy who says “Ho ho ho” non-stop for at least two weeks during the Christmas holidays. Maybe they wonder where he has been, what he has done, and who he was before he became who he is.
Last Sunday, November 10, Dave sat in the apartment he lives in on Navajo Trail outside of Nederland. He is surrounded by stacks of books, pictures of landscapes he has hiked in, outdoor gear earned from some of his announcing gigs and bottles of pills. Most of them contain his cancer meds, but one is filled with steel balls so “I can keep my bearings.” Another is filled with round, multi-colored glass orbs, so “I always have all my marbles,” and one is an outlet plug so he can turn himself on when feels energy-challenged.
He looks through photo albums and stops at the picture of himself at nine years old, in a checkered sport coat, a bow tie and a lacquered pompadour, standing behind a microphone. He speaks of how a lifetime announcer comes to be.
Born in San Francisco on September 11, 1939, Dave has vague memories of the Golden Gate Bridge and foghorns. His father was a preacher in a Congregational Church, the first church in Japan Town, where Dave was born. His parents had met at Heidelberg College in Ohio and then moved to Berkeley, where his dad enrolled at the Pacific School of Religion. Although he was a preacher’s son and spent much of his town in his father’s church, Dave never became part of the religious community and his parents didn’t push him.
“I grew up in the church and participated in its activities out of respect and the small town expectations,” says Dave. His father was good-looking and projected the power that preachers are heir to. Dave usually lived next door to where his dad worked.
In the spring of 1941, the family moved into a new position with a church in Morningside, in Inglewood, near Los Angeles. At this time, many of the Japanese Americans that the Felkleys knew were being evacuated to internment camps and some of them left their family artifacts with Dave’s family, hiding them in the garage for safe keeping until the Japanese families could return.
“I remember the air raids, the blackouts and, being on the West Coast, the fear of Japanese submarines. We heard sirens all the time. I remember we were in a church in Burbank when the war ended, the news coming from a big upright radio. I was six years old and everybody was happy and it felt wonderful.”
Dave attended Emerson Elementary School in Burbank, which was almost rural at that time. Army camps were set up two blocks away for the military to practice war games.
In middle school, Dave was involved in church youth groups and says he began to see the organizational problems in the church. The Felkleys were poor, although it didn’t feel that way. Dave was hired by the church to mow lawns twice a week and work in the garden, for which he was paid $10 a week—a fortune to him. He saved most of that to buy his books.
Christmas was a work holiday for the family and home life was incidental. His mom was the choir director, so she was busy. Yearly presents consisted of underwear and socks and maybe a toy or two.
Dave was a good student. When he was five, he needed glasses and has worn them ever since. In fact, he doesn’t like have his picture taken without them. Because of his poor eyesight he wasn’t much of a reader, so he used his imagination and listened to the radio.
In junior high, although he was never an actor in a show because he couldn’t remember his lines, he was often the master of ceremonies. When he was 10 years old, he was a known extrovert; and by high school, public speaking and math were his favorite subjects. He was always the class president and earned straight As.
By ninth grade, the family moved to Catalina Island, 26 miles from the mainland, and where Dave attended Avalon High School. He graduated at the age of 17, and was the student body president as well as the senior class president. Although he was great at getting up and speaking before a large group of people, he wasn’t good at building things or fixing them. “It was against the law for me to have a tool; it was a felony to have a power tool. I was allowed to diagnose things, but not to touch them.”
After being the valedictorian at graduation in 1957, Dave was accepted to Whittier College and then to Stanford. He worked at Avalon Air Transport to pay for his education and “Dove for the Boat.”
He explains that when a steamship came in, with 2,000 people hanging off the decks, the island guys would dive for the money the tourists would throw to them. He would earn $5 to $10 a day, which was a chunk of dough then. He delivered groceries, chopped ice blocks for boats, and distributed Budweiser beer.
When he was booted out of college, Dave traveled and went into the army. When he returned he had a wife and a son who is now 52. He entered the business world of selling Volkswagens in Columbus, Georgia, and then moved to Huntsville, Alabama, where he owned a dealership. He said he made a lot of friends, but didn’t close as many deals. So he moved back to California, where he worked as a district manager for Nissan. Soon he set up dealerships in New Mexico, Texas and Colorado, which led to his being transferred to Colorado on Christmas in 1971.
Soon he was traveling 50,000 miles a year and realized he wasn’t enjoying it. He became general manager of Boulevard Datsun in Boulder and then sold Mercedes Benzes, competing with Lincoln and Cadillac, in five states, the biggest district in the country. He was living in a rich lane and his body was beginning to feel the effects of sedentary life.
When he was in his late 30s and three brothers and a sister on his dad’s side died of heart disease in their 50s, Dave was a fat man who wore a tie to cover his belly and smoked a lot. On January 1, 1977, while cleaning up overflowing ashtrays from a party the night before, he said “never again” to himself and the metamorphosis began.
He ran, lost weight, got fit and never looked back. In the summer of 1980, he went to work for Frank Shorter, Boulder’s running guru, and ran marathons. In 1981, he came in 22nd overall in the Pike’s Peak Marathon and second in the Masters’ division out of 1500 runners.
“I was a strong animal. I used to run from the bridge at Hesse to Winter Park in three and a half hours. During this time I worked at Born to Run selling hiking boots and then went on to work for Jonathan Beggs at Brown Trout.” The shop was in Nederland, where Rustic Moose is.
In 1991, Dave moved to Nederland. But by that time he had entered the world of announcing. In 197l, he volunteered at the finish line of the Bolder-Boulder and saw a need to let people know what was going on and who was coming in. He announced at the starting line the next year and then for the past 25 years. He never got paid but he has many race event jackets, shirts and shoes. He still announces the annual Neder-Nederland race.
In the 1980s, Dave went from cross-country skiing to snowshoeing. He went to clinics, trained and headed into the woods, where he enjoyed looking around while he moved. He donned the mountain man look rather than the Lycra look, and in 1989 became known as Big Foot and wrote a weekly column for the Mountain-Ear Newspaper, sharing his outdoor experiences with the mountain communities. He edited five revisions of a snowshoeing book.
For the past 13 years Dave has donned his red and white Santa suit and arrived at the Nederland Holiday Market where parents snapped pictures of their children on his lap. But he took the Santa job further and walked around town, visiting shops and then hopped on a bus to Boulder where he brightened everyone’s holiday shopping day.
It was all good. Every minute of it.
In November of 2007, Dave had his prostate removed and recovered. Friends were relieved to see him back on the trails, back in the red and white suit and back behind the mike. At least his heart wasn’t giving out, he said.
In 2011, his energy dwindling, Dave fell into the ranks with his ancestors who were plagued with heart disease. He was scheduled to have open heart surgery. When the Nederland Area Seniors heard about this, they organized a roast, a time to lovingly let Dave know how much they cared about him and wished him well. It took longer to come back from the quadruple bypass, but he still showed up for the events. He just went a little slower. He started snowshoeing again. His face became ruddy with good health look of outdoor activity. But it didn’t last.
In the past year, Dave was diagnosed with cancer. The prostate cancer had metastasized and moved into his spine, his chest and his pelvic area, and his life has taken another turn.
“The doctors said they knew this would happen since the prostate operation. But I’m ornery. I still do exercises, but they are baby steps. I sleep about 11 hours a night. The cancer is in my bones and I have osteoporosis. I am in pain most of the time, but a beer and a pain pill at night helps smooth it out.”
He says he doesn’t have the strength to be Santa this year, but will make a short appearance at the Carousel of Happiness on December 21. He says he will miss the children. Kids 2-4 years old are either fearful or in awe, he says. Kids older than that are skeptical but happy to tell him their wishes, and thousands of parents have photos of him and their children to prove it.
Dave has always written his notes on 3 by 5 cards, and his desk is stacked high with them. He has a joke for any occasion. He has stories of people that have been and still are the heart of Nederland. He says that in the near future he won’t be doing new stuff, that cancer loves stress; but he is hardwired and has plenty of years of accumulated entertainment.
Big Foot doesn’t lie down and pull the covers over his head. He gets out and uses the time he has each day to do whatever feels good at the moment. I live NOW and I have WON, he says. “There nothing more I want to do. I bought a calendar for next year and I am waiting for the snow so I can snowshoe and see how much this twisting body will take. My spine could break but I’m not going to let that stop me.”
Dave says his bout with cancer is no secret and he gives his friends at the senior center a blow by blow account of wins and losses. “I am actually accepting it, not fighting it, but I am going to aggravate the heck out of my cancer. I have learned more about life and myself than I have ever known and this is actually one of the best times of my life. I am going to go down having fun and I am not going to rust out, I will wear out.”
Dave can’t walk to town anymore, but he has his trusty scooter that gets him where he needs to go. It has been 23 years since he has owned a car and says he doesn’t accept rides even if he is asked. He has spent $637.90 in gas—premium gas—in the 11 years he has had it. He is self-claimed ambassador for RTD, and says he has basically learned to live on next to nothing, his social security funds. Riding the bus, according to Dave, is an opportunity to meet people and help them learn where they want to go.
“Most people want to travel, but I’m where I want to be. I visit the trees and flowers and know where they are all year long. I know the land up here and have taken people from all over the world, all over the land here. And best of all, I get to live here.”
Dave says that he is in heaven now so he figures when he dies, he will end up here anyway. He has requested that his ashes be put in three Big Foot Ale bottles; one of which will be emptied on Caribou Hill in the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area; one will be emptied into the Bay under the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco; and the one will be scattered over Catalina Island.
Every now and then, Dave wipes away tears, not because he’s sad, but because the extensive meds make him emotional. He says it’s part of the deal. He also says his projected time line gets pushed back. He is constantly changing the message on his answering machine.
As far as regrets or disappointments, Dave says there are none. “My cancer and I are partners. We have appreciation of life, which is a gift. If you don’t have fun, it’s your own damn fault. Funny, but things don’t go wrong anymore, there isn’t time for it. I know what I’m going to die of and most people don’t, but I still look both ways to cross the street.”
It could be three months, it could be three years. Dave’s heart is good and he could probably live to be 100 if he didn’t have the cancer. He chuckles when he says that the heart surgery saved him for the cancer.
On Wednesday, December 4 at noon, Dave will speak about his life at the Nederland Area Seniors’ lunch and would welcome anyone who would like to hear his story.
It is a story about an amazing life, an inspiring tale of knowing what is important and living that way. It is the story of a life well lived, a man for every season.