Despite tragic obstacles, Dave Ege always pushed forward
January 2, 2010
Oak Creek — The last few years of Dave Ege's life were undoubtedly difficult, but to see him maneuvering around Oak Creek in his electric wheelchair and talking to anybody who passed by, it wasn't always clear the struggles he faced.
Ege died Nov. 13 from tumors that had taken over his body. Before that, Ege had become paralyzed after a wall fell on him at a construction site in Steamboat Springs in 2006, making him a quadriplegic who could move only his hands and head. But despite the major setbacks Ege faced since moving to Routt County in 2002, he remained the same man with the same spirit, said his wife, Eve.
Eve Ege said that after she got the call that Dave was in the hospital after the 2006 accident, she raced to his side and remained there throughout many surgeries in Denver and his recuperation in the intensive care unit.
She couldn't help but worry. The man she had married in 2004 was kind and caring, but after he had his teeth knocked out, hip shattered and vertebrae broken, she wasn't sure what their future held. Eve's mother also was ill at the time, and it was clear even before Dave's accident that she would not be alive much longer. When Dave awoke in the hospital and spoke for the first time, Eve said the first thing out of his mouth was, "How's your mother? Is she still with us?"
Yes, Eve told him, she was still alive. Dave's second question was asking what had happened to him.
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If anything, Dave Ege became more involved in the community after his accident. When Oak Creek residents rallied around him with benefit fundraisers, meals and caring words, Ege decided he needed to repay that kindness.
So he ran for a seat on the Oak Creek Town Board in 2008 and was elected.
When Ege joined the Town Board, Mayor J Elliott appointed him one of the two police commissioners at a time when the town was struggling with its police force. Elliott said Ege's varied background gave him insight into many areas of town management.
"He came on the board when we were having problems with our police department, and he was able to bring his wealth of experiences to the table and show where the problems were and how they needed to be dealt with," Elliott said.
Ege met with many residents as he worked to fix the Oak Creek Police Department, which some said used overly tough tactics. Even though it was an emotionally charged issue for the town, Elliott said Ege managed to come through it without making enemies.
"They were just people who strongly disagreed," he said. "It was hard to be an enemy of Dave's. He was a mellow, easygoing guy."
Even after Ege resigned from the Town Board in September as his health deteriorated, he stayed active, Elliott said.
"He was there until the last minute; he was still calling me a week before" he died, Elliott said. "Dave is just a hell of a guy. As sick as he was and as beat up as he was, he took the time to volunteer and help the town out."
Before moving to Oak Creek, Ege worked as a salesman in Grand Forks, N.D. That is where he met Jerry Stormo, a co-worker who became a lifelong friend.
Stormo said the position on Oak Creek Town Board was appropriate for Ege, a man Stormo knew as a good writer and eloquent speaker. He said Ege's stubborn streak might have helped him, too.
"When he had a thought in his mind, he stuck to his guns and he didn't back down easily. But that was Dave," Stormo said. "If he believed in a thing, he'd just push it right to the limit."
After Stormo learned about Ege's accident, he said it took him a while to figure out how to respond. He sent cards and letters, but the friends only started talking again about 1 1/2 years later, when Ege called Stormo.
When one of Ege's cousins, who also was a friend of Stormo's, died in North Dakota, Ege and Stormo got to meet again. By that time, Ege had faced cancer once already, but the most recent checkup revealed that he was healthy.
"He had a good attitude no matter what," Stormo said. "I was looking at all he had gone through, and he was still Dave."
That was in March. In August, Ege began experiencing pain in his throat and chest, and doctors found tumors throughout his chest. A later test found another large tumor in his brain. He sent a text message to Stormo, and when they talked, Ege said he wanted one thing: for Stormo to come visit him.
"I said that's not tough, I was planning on doing that anyway," Stormo said.
He was nervous about coming to Oak Creek, but it was there that he had the two best days of his life.
"It was a very uplifting experience for me," he said. "It probably changed me in respect to a lot of things I think about."
A lifelong musician, Stormo wrote four songs in five days after his visit, each inspired by being around Ege.
"Every car that went by waved, and people stopped, and it was like, 'Have I gone to "Northern Exposure"?'" he said.
Life was full of adjustments as Ege went through the seven months of recovery from his accident and then continued treatment for cancer. The home that Dave and Eve Ege shared in Oak Creek had to be remodeled to be accessible for Dave's wheelchair, and when he became a town trustee, a sitting space was set up in the bedroom so that even when Ege couldn't leave the house, he still could talk to people about town business and hear their concerns.
Ege was an avid horseback rider for much of his life. He and Eve would often take long rides along trails above the town and in the Flat Tops. The couple also took tours across the state on Ege's Harley Davidson. They often fished and hiked in the South Routt area.
When that was no longer an option, they had to find new ways to create adventure, Eve Ege said.
"He definitely adjusted to it and definitely found a way; we found a way as a couple to move forward with our lives and have adventure in our situation," she said.
Eve Ege said that during Dave's recovery at the Craig Hospital in Denver, he saw many young people who also had suffered neck injuries. Seeing them made him appreciate that he had lived a full life before he broke his neck at age 47.
After the accident, Eve Ege quit her job as a surgical technician and spent nearly all of her time as a caretaker, working only a couple of small jobs around town since 2006.
The couple spent months searching for the right handicap-accessible RV and months searching for the money in their budget. Once they got the RV, the first trip, which was planned for a week, stretched to five weeks as Dave, Eve and Eve's children traveled across the county to national parks. Dave and Eve Ege decided to write comprehensive reviews of national park sites for people with disabilities, defining what was possible at each location based on what kind of wheelchair equipment the person used.
"That was something that we were both really excited about and realized was needed real quickly when we went to national parks," Eve Ege said.
But Dave Ege's cancer diagnosis kept the park reviews on the back burner.
Ege's ashes now sit on a dresser in the bedroom he and Eve shared, waiting for spring. Then, Eve will take half of her husband's ashes and scatter them in the couple's favorite parts of the wilderness. She'll bury the other half in Oak Creek to create a place for family and friends to visit.