My piece on Big Bill and JoAnn:
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
Bill Ficke: "I'm the manager in charge of morale. It's my job to go and make sure all
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 game.
"Who?" 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
York, but her siblings eventually moved to Denver, too.
"She would work at Allstate until 6 or 6:30, come over, and help me close the shop,"
"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
Dan, JoAnn and Bill's son, was born in October 1986. JoAnn continued to work. Bill
sold Fleet Feet and opened Big Bill's New York Pizza.
At Allstate, JoAnn continued to work in claims. Because of his flexible restaurant
worked it so he could be with Dan in late afternoons and served on various committees
at his school.
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
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
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
was a delightful patient. Although she had a life-threatening illness, he concerns were always
toward others. When she came into the office, she knew all of the staff members by name,
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 her.