My story in 2010:
After his Air Force stint, young New Yorker Bill Ficke landed a job at Allstate
Insurance's headquarters in White Plains, New York. "I saw this gorgeous redhead," he recalled the other day.
"I worked in the back of the building and she worked upstairs. I kept
seeing her walking through and going upstairs to her desk. I found out where her desk was, and she was in claims. So I started
to go by and bring her candy and say, 'Hi, how are you?'"
JoAnn Bury would say thank you. But after this went on for a while, she politely said, "Let
me ask you something. What is your job here?"
Responded Bill Ficke: "I'm the manager in charge of morale. It's my job to go and make
sure all the employees are happy."
"Oh," said JoAnn.
One day, Bill told JoAnn he had some pull on concert and sports tickets, so if she ever needed any...
Finally, she asked if he could get a couple
of James Taylor tickets for her brother. He came through. Then he got up enough nerve to ask if she wanted to go to the Knicks-Celtics
she asked. "You ... and me?"
Yes, said Bill. Okay, said JoAnn.
Next, they went to a Blood, Sweat, and Tears concert.
They were married September 15, 1973.
In 1975, Bill explored landing a franchise for an athletic footwear store.
He decided that if he did it, it needed to be somewhere other than New York. After scouting around, he decided the place to
go was Denver. At first, he was disappointed that the chain he was looking at had decided to go into Buckingham Square, with
another owner already lined up. Ultimately, his contacts and friends told him he should consider going into another new mall,
the Aurora Mall, with his own, non-franchise store. He rejected the suggestion that he call it Ficke's Feet and settled on
Fleet Feet, scrambled, and nervously opened the store. He and JoAnn, of course, moved to Denver, and she transferred to the
Allstate office in the Denver Tech Center. She desperately missed her family, back in upstate New York, but her siblings eventually
moved to Denver, too.
would work at Allstate until 6 or 6:30, come over, and help me close the shop," Bill said. "That was our life for
two or three years. Then business got going and we were able to hire people."
Today, Bill laughs about his business naivete at the time, including the
fact that when mall proprietors asked him if he wanted a 10- or 15-year lease, he not only didn't say it needed to be shorter
than that, he said what the heck, sign him up for 15 years. As it turned out, that was his salvation, because his rent was
far, far lower than the going rate in later years. The sale of Orange Crush T-shirts during the Broncos' first Super Bowl
run was a jumpstart, too. Fleet Feet stores also ended up in downtown Denver and in the Westminster Mall. Bill served a one-season
stint with the Nuggets as an assistant coach to Doug Moe and also did some NBA scouting, and his circle of friends in the
sports world kept widening.
Dan, JoAnn and Bill's son, was born in October 1986. JoAnn continued to work.
Bill eventually sold Fleet Feet and opened Big Bill's New York Pizza.
At Allstate, JoAnn continued to work in claims. Because of his flexible restaurant
hours, Bill worked it so he could be with Dan in late afternoons and served on various committees at his school.
In 1994, JoAnn had felt something on her
neck. Tests showed it was cancer. Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. She and Bill were told it was in its early stages and her prognosis
was uncertain, but not immediately dire. "She asked, 'Am I going to be here for my son's graduation?'" Bill said.
"The doctor said, 'You're going to be here for a long time. I have patients who have lived with this thing for 25 years.'"
Initially, she continued to work, even traveling
to Chicago on a temporary assignment for several months each Monday and undergoing chemotherapy at the Rocky Mountain Cancer
Center on weekends. Her initial round of treatment lasted two and a half years before the cancer was deemed to be in remission.
Reluctantly, because she liked her job and the people she worked with, JoAnn did take a medical retirement from Allstate.
Dan was in the fifth grade. JoAnn became a stay-at-home mother, except for her treatments.
She rode the emotional roller-coaster of treatment, apparent remission, and
more treatment for 13 years, including a stem cell transplant in late 2006. I've seen a letter from her main nurse in her
later treatment at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center. In it, Megan Andersen says:
"JoAnn was a delightful patient. Although she had a life-threatening
illness, he concerns were always directed toward others. When she came into the office, she knew all of the staff members
by name, and spent most of her visit asking each individual how they were doing and what they had been doing in their life.
She was genuinely concerned for the welfare of others and although she was the person with the illness, she was always far
more concerned about the health and happiness of those around her. Additionally, he love of family was intense. She was often
seen in the clinic with other family members, including her sister, brother, father and husband. She cared for them and put
her family members before her own needs and it was obvious how much they loved and depended on her."
She was able to attend Dan's graduation
from Regis High School. She got to see him play basketball for Loyola of Maryland, including in New York. She traveled to
Ireland with her family and took what turned out to be a final trip to upstate New York to be with her father.
She passed away in February 2007.
The JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation honors