The following story appears courtesy of Mile High Sports contributor Terry Frei. Read more of Terry’s work at www.terryfrei.com.
For years, Big Bill’s New York Pizza in Centennial has donated ALL proceeds from open to close on 9/11 to the JoAnn B. Ficke Cancer Foundation. Contributions can be made without going to restaurant as well by clicking here.
But how did it all start? Terry Frei tells you here:
After his Air Force stint, young New Yorker Bill Ficke landed a job at
Allstate Insurance’s headquarters in White Plains, New York.
“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?'”
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?”
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.
Then he got up enough nerve to ask if she wanted to go to the
“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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.”
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.
The graphic below represents the work that was done during the 2018 Day of Giving. Please join Mile High Sports in supporting this amazing day at Big Bill’s New York Pizza at the corner of County Line and Holly in Centennial.