"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?'"
Bury would say thank you. But after this went on for a while, she politely said, "Let me ask you something. What is your
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.
he got up enough nerve to ask if she wanted to go to the Knicks-Celtics game.
she asked. "You ... and me?"
Yes, said Bill. Okay, said JoAnn.
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.
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.
"She 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.
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.
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.
'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:
was a delightful patient. Although she had a life-threatening illness, her 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, her 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.