Vidakovich: Brothers in spirit
“Within, I do not find wrinkles or a used heart, but unspent youth.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Since the day I met him some 30 years ago, I’ve thought of Bob Willey as a child.
I don’t mean this to sound derogatory in any way. Quite the contrary. It is why I hold him in such high regard.
Brother Willey, as I often refer to him, discovered play at a young age, as we all did. The difference is that Willey, in 66 years on this planet, has refused to let his spirit match his chronological age. Through the tribulations and rewards of a well-respected 35-year teaching career, raising a family with his wife, Michele, and navigating the blind corners and hairpin turns of life, Willey has never lost sight of the fact that when we play, we become children and see things as they do, in their essences.
Willey is a man who has spent the majority of his life helping others, especially young people. He is a family man who adores his wonderful wife and two lovely daughters. There isn’t anything Bob Willey wouldn’t do for them, or anyone else for that matter.
I spent part of last summer helping Willey paint his house. Most of the time was passed by talking and drinking coffee rather than slapping stain to wood. Almost always the conversation would come back to a cherished family moment or a student he was especially proud of. It seemed like he was proud of them all. I enjoyed immensely listening to his reflections on life, teachings and words of advice.
Brother Willey is a distance runner. He loves to run anywhere and with anyone. He can often be seen on his regular running route in West Glenwood chatting up a friend or neighbor as he takes a brief respite before continuing his 4-mile jaunt. Willey has been a fixture at road races in this area for as long as anyone can remember. He loves to try and beat everyone in his age group, but his real happiness comes from getting to talk with, and congratulate, everyone following the competition.
His joy is in being with people of all ages.
Willey’s activities are almost too numerous to mention. I remember the night when he came to the Sayre Park field for a softball game looking a little hurried, but happy to be there. None of us were surprised when Willey shared the events of his day which included a run in the morning, followed by nine holes of golf with a couple of buddies. In the afternoon there was a rafting trip down the Roaring Fork River before rushing home to mow the lawn. And, oh yes, he had play practice with his soul brother, Jack Green, following the game.
Willey’s plate has never been full. It’s been overflowing. That’s the only way he would have it.
Brother Willey called me late one evening a few months back, and he didn’t quite sound like himself. He said he wouldn’t be playing softball this season because the doctors told him he was sick. Always positive, always the fighter, Willey said he and his family were determined to battle this disease and win.
I have no doubts that he will.
It would be easy at age 66 for Willey to be through with combat. Just let him have a standing ovation and sit in a quiet corner where he could drink a beer and give advice. At his age everything is, or should be, settled. No more tests.
This is not the nature of the man I know. The teacher, the family man, the runner, the actor, the traveler, the man who told me last summer his love of coming to the baseball field is the same as when he was a boy. He promised me he would try to play until age 70.
I’m holding him to that.
On a recent visit to Heritage Park Care Center in Carbondale where Willey is recovering from the complications of a stroke, I sat with him, his wife Michele, and his daughter Cassidy. I listened as Cassidy sang a beautiful song to her father before it was time for his appointment in the physical-therapy room. I joined Willey for his therapy and watched as he moved cones, twisted, turned, and was able to stand with the help of therapists.
When it was time for his lunch, I hugged him on the shoulders and said, “I’ll see you soon, Brother Willey.” The lady who was tending to him asked if we were indeed brothers.
“In spirit,” I replied.
There will be a benefit 5K run and walk at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 20, at Glenwood Springs Middle School to help the Willey family with medical expenses. The cost is $20 to preregister and $25 on race day. Anyone wanting to participate can sign up at Sunlight Sports in Glenwood Springs, Independence Run and Hike in Carbondale, or at GSMS on race day. The 3.1-mile course, called the Willey Coyote 5k, will be run on Donegan and Mitchell Creek Road, where Willey logged many of his daily miles.
After the race, the Glenwood Springs Elks Club will hold a lunch from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. All they’re asking for lunch is for a $10 donation which, like the race proceeds, will be given to the Willey family.
Mike Vidakovich is a freelance writer from Glenwood Springs. His column appears monthly in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
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