"I saw this gorgeous redhead," he recalled the other
"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?"
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 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 New York, but her siblings eventually moved to Denver,
"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.
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 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.
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
"JoAnn 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."
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.