In Loving Memory of
Denver Dewayne Mendenhall
Born November 5, 1963 in Denver, Colorado
Died June 7,2007 in Colorado Springs, Colorado
by his Mentor and Best Friend, Ralph A. Zimmerman
I first met Denver in the Summer of 1982. He had been born in Denver, CO and then given up for adoption by his birth mother, Virginia, and was raised in Lincoln, NE by her sister, Betty Mendenhall and husband Cletus. When Denver had turned 18 1/2, he went from Lincoln to Denver to seek employment or whatever. Denver had a cousin, George Hall and had made arrangements to stay with George while he got settled. I had known George through an acquaintance and was introduced to Denver who was looking for work. At the time, I was District Manager for a legitimate telemarketing company and while I did not deem Denver good for telemarketing, I did have a number locator position open that I thought he'd be perfect for. And so, I gave Denver his first real employment opportunity on June 15, 1982. Picture to the left is the earliest picture I have of Denver. It was taken at my house soon after we met.
Denver proved an awesome worker and as reliable and dependable as any employee could be. He was however, having problems living with his cousin George and his aunt and uncle. He asked me if he could stay with me to get a few paychecks under his belt so he could move on under his own way. The last thing Denver ever wanted to be was a burden on anyone. I was alone at the time, seeing a gal occasionally (the wonderful Rev Kathy Marker), and had no real reason to say no.
Pretty much a loner, Denver was quiet and slow to make friends. He made one in me, though. As we got to know each other while he was living with me, we discovered that we had more interests in common than I thought is was possible. The list of things we found in common is as long as an arm. Perfect matches!! Movies, type and especially 3-D, rock music, camping, hiking, watching a sunset, amusement parks, fireworks, football, a walk in the park - even many of the types of foods we enjoyed. were on common ground. Needless to say, we got along just fine.
Denver had epilepsy, that was not controlled by medication, nor was there any cause found over the course of years of treatment by many different neurologists. An so, it was my pleasure to pick Denver up every time he had a seizure. Many times, I'd have to leave work to go where he was to take him home so he could sleep it off. Sometimes, the seizures were slight, and if they happened at work, he'd be able to go back to work. Denver worked hard and gave every employer 110%, knowing that someday he'd let them down. The last full year that Denver worked, he lost 28 days due to his seizures. Thank God for understanding employers! No matter what, I always had to be close by and available. Many thanks to all of my employers who were very kind to understand my situation with Denver.
During the course of the 25 years that Denver and I shared a wonderful life, he had 7 to 10 seizures a month! One month he had 30 and the longest time without seizures was 87 days. There was always the disappointment with each one but Denver never ever gave up wanting to be as good a friend as he could and as good an employee as he could. Denver has glowing recommendations from every employer he ever worked for and this testament to his life is my recommendation for the one of the very best people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and I thank God daily for the wonderful life we had together. I would not have traded those 25 years for anything . We traveled to Alaska, Mexico, Canada, and the 4 corners of the US. We went camping all over Colorado, and never missed an amusement park or a 3-D movie! I am convinced we were soul mates brought together by God's grace as he knew each of our needs and fulfilled them. Denver gave my life meaning and purpose and I gave him stability, guidance and of course, I was a care giver that he needed as well as a friend.
In 1994, Denver stopped driving after he wrecked 3 cars due to his seizures. Thankfully, no one was ever hurt but Denver. He loved driving and had been delivering pizzas for several years. I know it was very difficult for him to accept, but he never complained and found other work easily. Of, course, I had to provide transportation most of the time but that was never a problem for me.
Most people have some dreams or goals they can never fulfill, but not Denver. As a teenager and perhaps younger, he was infatuated with amusement park rides and spent much of his time building rides from pop sickle sticks, wooden kitchen matches and paper. As he got older and money became available through hard work, he expanded on what his childhood dreams were and built many rides by hand, as well as seeking out plastic carnival rides. Then he meticulously enhanced each ride with florescent paper so the rides would be beautiful under a black light. Then in 2004 he started to create a park out of all his rides and insisted that they all work with one motor and he did it all with paper, cardboard, plastic and string. It sits today in my living room and is a tribute to someone who would simply not give up. Many times during construction, a seizure would ruin all of the days work. Yet, once again, Denver never complained and persisted, always with a smile. Here are but a few pictures of the work he did..
So, in a very great way, Denver was lucky to have achieved a life long dream before he died. It was always a work in progress and he left much unfinished, but it still looks awesome and still works like a charm. The pictures simply do not capture the full beauty of his work. All of this with no more than a 7th grade education and 7 to 10 seizures a month! Bravo, Denver. I just wish there was a way for more to enjoy it. Everyone who has even seen his work, was simply blown away by it. There is a short video of the park in motion on YouTube.
Through the years we made many acquaintances but because of his epilepsy which was always embarrassing, and Denver's inability to make friends on his own and the huge difference in our ages, we made very few real friends. And because taking care of Denver was in essence like a second job, I spent many years mostly ignoring family and friends with the exception of my parents. For everyone I've ignored, I am truly sorry but perhaps by reading this, you might get a clue as to why. Denver was special to my Mom and stepfather, Sid. In fact, two days before he died, my step dad, Sid had called me mainly to ask about how Denver was. He had a seizure the day before when we were all supposed to get together for a breakfast. When I called Sid that day to say that Denver had had a seizure, I suggested that he and I go alone and Sid replied "No, it wouldn't be any fun without Denver". The phone call I got two days before he died was the last time I ever talked with Sid and his main concern was Denver.
Denver was diagnosed with a head and neck cancer in October 2005. The cancer was right at the base of his brain and inoperable. There was simply no way to get to it. Then on his 42nd birthday, November 5, 2005, Denver became sepsis, was taken to the emergency room and they called the Chaplain for me. He was not expected to live through the night. Thanks to three brilliant doctors, Dr. Ernster, Dr. Hoffflin and Dr. Shaw, Denver's life was spared. But, he wound up with a trach and a peg tube and spent 10 days in a drug induced coma while his body stabilized. He was in the hospital for nearly a month and came home at a weight of 80 pounds on oxygen and needed a nurse every day to continue to administer very strong medicine through a pic line.. The decision was for him to spend 2 weeks at home to get some strength back and then begin radiation therapy to fight the tumor. Denver was to spend the rest of his life getting most of his nourishment through his peg tube. The 1st round of radiation was completed in February and Denver benefited greatly from it. The summer of 2006 was good to us. Denver had lost feeling and taste in most of his tongue but he did for awhile regain the ability to drink liquids and enjoy some food. He regained some weight and we had hopes this would last while. But it did not. There was another round of radiation and 4 weeks of chemotherapy still to undergo but this stubborn tumor just kept advancing. When the pain got severe, we contacted hospice who put Denver on morphine to control his pain and he administered it himself through his peg tube as needed. At least he was pain free but the last 6 months he pretty much lost interest in everything and we took things day by day. Towards the end Denver started having severe bleeding episodes from his nose and mouth and we made the decision after two of these severe episodes that one more would lead to a hospice inpatient stay where they could manage the bleeding and the pain. A week later and Denver finally passed on to be with his Heavenly Father. His passing was pain free and very peaceful. We talked not of death or the hereafter, nor were there any long goodbyes. We each knew what was in our hearts and that was sufficient. Denver faced death with much courage. He always had a smile, and gave a thumbs up. He never complained and always said "I'm OK" even when I knew he was not. I never thought it was possible to miss someone so much and time does not heal the emptiness. Two weeks to the day after Denver passed away, I had an accident at work that led to loss of my left leg above the knee. So, now I have new challenges to face that keep me somewhat occupied. I'm just happy Denver does not have to deal with it also. God does have a plan and I can feel his loving grace in all that has transpired. My birthday is June 6th and it was not marked by Denver's death. God and Denver waited one more day. Denver spent nearly all of his adult life being scared to death. Scared of when the next seizure would come without warning. Scared of how he might hurt himself ( he was twice burned badly while working at Pizza Hut - one time kept him out of work for 6 months), or what damage he might do or what event a seizure might interrupt. And then being scared that something would happen to me leaving him alone. Be not afraid any longer, my friend. May you rest in peace, God loves you and so do I. YOU were absolute proof that Angels do walk on earth - we have only to learn to recognize them.
The pictures below are more recent, taken within the past 5 years or so.
Denver also liked to draw and sketch. Here's but a few of his works.
Denver self- described himself this way:
Sometime after he passed away, I found this in his stuff - written on a card I'd given him and put in a place where I'd find it: