By the time Rebecca took to the podium to speak, it was getting close to 10 p.m.; the bonfire was tall and burning brightly against the backdrop of the evening to her right. I had heard great things about Rebeccah from Dave for as long as he worked for her, so I knew WHO she was; But I met her for the first time before the evening got started, right outside the gated entrance of our backyard, where I planted myself with the guest sign-in book and notecards for the Valhalla Fire-Round.
She presented as a polished professional, definitely polite, maybe a bit shy or reserved, dressed in a stylish pantsuit. I hoped she was comfortable with public speaking, so she didn’t kill what I hoped would be an evening of the ever-forward momentum of our Viking, warrior, funny, or fire vibe. I thanked her for coming, being such a kind friend to Dave, and welcomed her to our backyard Valhalla with a wave of my arm. Her words are in Italics. I have edited in parenthesis for clarification as needed.
“Good evening. I am Rebeccah. I had the great privilege of working with Dave at San Bernardino Valley College in the Office of Disabled Student Services (DSPS) for many years. I had known Dave briefly when I worked at California State University, where he earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees. I remembered him as a smart, committed student. Dave was a C5-6 (this is a technical term indicating which vertebrae were damaged C for Cervical-the neck area, and the number 5 and 6 vertebrae counting down from the base of the spine) quadriplegic, but when you talked with him, you forgot all about that. He was a focused student, confident, handsome, and charming. When you talked with him, you knew he was going to be a success. When I hired Dave as a counselor shortly after he finished his master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, it was a decision I never regretted. Dave brought so much to our department and to our college.
Two things stand out when I think of Dave—his sense of humor and his deep commitment to students.
We laughed a lot in DSPS. Dave had a great honking (the crowd laughed at this description. I say seal bark-but honking works too) laugh that was infectious. He loved to kid with everyone—staff, students, faculty. It broke the ice and made him approachable.
He used to scare me sometimes; when between appointments, he would doze off, resting so completely, and so without motion, I would stand in his door and listen for breathing sounds. “Dave. Dave. Dave,“ I would say, with increasing volume. Ultimately, I would have to poke him to see if he was ok. “Baclofen*!” he would exclaim, simultaneously waking and explaining. “Thank god, Dave; I thought you were dead!” “I’m not.” “I see that.” And he’d laugh that laugh.
Dave loved his job. His responsibility was to provide academic and disability adjustment counseling to students with a broad range of disabling conditions. He worked hard at it, learned everything he could, making course adjustments as he learned, and honed his counseling skills.
Dave had an edge on just about any other counselor. As a person with a disability, he had been there, so he had built-in credibility it took most counselors years to build. Dave knew what it meant to navigate the academic environment with a severe mobility disability. How do you read if you can’t turn a page? What do I do if there’s a test? What happens if my classroom is on the second floor and the elevator is down? Dave had been through all of it. Students would see him in the lobby, and, thinking he was another student, register astonishment when he rolled into his office and called them in. He had a rock star status with students. At registration time, when the lobby was full of students, many would wait an extra hour or so to talk to the guy in the wheelchair.
When the college partnered with the state Department of Rehabilitation to start the WorkAbility program, which helped college students with disabilities to become employed, Dave was a natural choice for the lead instructor. He dove into the subject matter, helping students to make sound decisions about their careers, complete employment applications, practice interviewing, chase down job leads, and prepare for life after college.
When I think about Dave’s career in counseling at SBVC, I think about the countless students he helped to succeed—whose perspectives he changed just by being who he was. Dave was a mentor, a role model, and a life force. I was lucky to know him, and the students at Valley College were lucky to have his guidance and his expertise. I’ll miss him dearly.“
*Baclofen was a muscle relaxant Dave took to reduce the muscle tremors that are typical of quadriplegia.
Rebeccah didn’t know ANYONE at our Viking Funeral but our celebrant, Dave. I really admired her desire to get up and speak to a big Valhalla full of strangers-but I understood that desire of being compelled to speak about Dave. I loved getting to know her through her brief account of her time working with Dave that evening. She stepped up to the podium and “brought it,” so to speak; she glowed, and laughed and had us laughing. I don’t know why I expected something like data to come out of her mouth, but she was a great speaker, the audience related and engaged with her beautifully. She was funny and warm. Dave adored her, and it was obvious to me after experiencing her presence why.