BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND
I still don’t believe it. I might never believe that one of my best friends is gone. I loved Dave like a brother and always will.
I met Dave almost 40 years ago as a high school freshman and we remained great friends since then. I just talked to him in June. We had plans to go camping earlier this month. And now Dave is gone.
How do we keep the memories alive of those whom we loved and lost? We tell stories. At a time like this, we tell funny and moving stories that almost bring him back to us like he was a short time ago. Amidst our grief, we remember all of the good things that Dave did and said—and just the sheer “Dave-ness” of having him around that made everything better. If you knew him, close your eyes and take a moment and think of your own “Dave stories.” If not, think of your own loved ones.
I bet you now have a smile on your face. If we tell enough stories, it’s almost as if Dave or our other loved ones are still here. And I believe in my heart that those who leave us are always with us on Earth in some strange and wonderful way that we can’t understand as temporal beings.
I want to share some stories and memories of Dave. Some are silly. Some are moving. I hope none are boring. When I received the terrible news that Dave had passed away as I was standing on a busy street in Louisville, Kentucky, the one I thing that I vowed to do was to tell his story and celebrate the greatness that was my friend. But, if you knew him, you don’t need me to tell his story. You probably have a long list of your own memories and grace notes that ameliorate some of the pain you feel. As a writer, I would love to hear your stories and add to the fond memories that I have of Dave. In the meanwhile, I hope that you won’t mind if I share some of my own memories.
Dave and I first met as 14- or 15-year-olds at Luther South High School. We were in German class together. I remember our teacher, Mrs. Oesterreich, telling me mid-class not to comb my hair. Boy, have times changed (says the bald guy). Why I was combing my hair in the middle of learning about umlauts, saying hi to Uwe in German, and how to sing Nena’s “99 Red Balloons” in Deutsche is another story.
German class is my first memory of Dave, but I don’t think we really got to know each other until we became high school science aides for a teacher named Mr. Witt. Dave and I connected immediately. After getting our work done, our crazy imaginations went to work. We named ourselves “Martyrs Without a Cause” and began getting up to no good in the science office. One time, we hid dozens of hard candy balls in each folder in Mr. Witt’s file cabinets, as well as placed them on window ledges and bookshelves and in the grass outside his window. Then we taped celery to the ceiling. Another time, we somehow found huge, wide rolls of paper and industrial-taped them from ceiling to floor in order to create a maze in Mr. Witt’s tiny office. We continued to up the ante, with no response from Mr. Witt (who was such a good sport). We were always gently pushing boundaries. We were idiots. But fun idiots. One day, our school’s principal surprised us amidst our frivolity and sort-of-sternly asked us to stop the hijinks. I think we received a much longer disciplinary rope because Dave’s dad was a teacher at Luther South. If not, I’d still probably be in Lutheran jail.
The Army, a Road Trip, and the Land of Enchantment
After we graduated from high school, Dave enlisted in the Army and did his basic training at “hot as hell” Fort Sill in Oklahoma, as he put it, and then served at Fort Carson, Colorado. He once told me that he and his motor pool comrades would work hard during the week, but would drink four 4-packs of wine coolers each night on the weekends out of sheer boredom. Oh, the Bartels & Jaymes days! But Dave was about a lot more than just having fun. He was an excellent illustrator and continued to develop his talents during this time.
High school friends often drift apart after graduation, but Dave and I stayed friends. In the pre-Facebook, long-distance-phone-calls-are-expensive days, we wrote letters back and forth. It sounds like something out of the 1800s, but that’s what we did to stay in touch. I still have his letters. A few gems:
July 12, 1987 (Oklahoma during Army boot camp): “I thought all this physical training and drills would make me into a really big brute, but so far the only change is a nasty sunburn. We had classes in self-defense—real martial arts stuff. I feel like a real lethal weapon.”
September 8, 1987 (Oklahoma during advanced training after boot camp): “My hair is growing back REEEEEEEALLY slow. Damn. And they even made us cut it all off again for bootcamp graduation. Assholes.”
October 31, 1987 (Colorado): “My room is designed for 3, but there’s only 2 in here. We can put whatever we want in here. So we’re going to put a sauna, a mirrored ceiling, and, of course, a 2.5-car garage. Sure….P.S.: Don’t join the Army.”
After his discharge from the Army, Dave returned to Chicago and lived with his parents and attended the American Academy of Art.
In 1990, Dave and I took our first road trip across the country. 12 states in 14 days. We were free in the wilds of the American West. We went to Badlands, Yellowstone, Arches, and Grand Canyon National Parks. We both fell in love with that region, especially the amazing Anglo/Native American/Latino culture of New Mexico. I promise you that I’m not getting paid by the New Mexico Bureau of Tourism when I say this, but visit the Land of Enchantment. It’s a spectacular place. Dave was enchanted by New Mexico and moved there with his first wife in the early 1990s. He lived there for nearly a decade. I visited them twice a year, and Dave was kind enough to always keep one cat-free room (I’m allergic and he had six cats) for me at his house. I loved my time visiting Dave and his wife. We’d hike near the top of the Sandia Mountains, where there was still snow in early June or head to the area’s art galleries, and then go to Perea’s in Albuquerque for chili rellenos and sopapillas. Because my friends had to work sometimes, I’d take side trips for a day or two on my own to Arizona or to some of the amazing Native American pueblos around Albuquerque.
In 2000, Dave returned to the Midwest, got a divorce, and moved in with his beloved grandfather (Herbert Heil) in Mequon. (A story of its own could be written about Dave’s love for and his relationship with his grandpa.) Within a year or two, Dave met Cynara at an art show opening in downtown Waukesha. I remember him saying that he was enamored with her despite the fact that she had a boyfriend, who soon became her ex-boyfriend.
In the 2000s, Amy and I got married (2001…Dave was one of my groomsmen), Dave and Cynara got married (2003…what a beautiful wedding…I was honored to be one of his groomsmen), Dave and Cynara had twins, Ira and Lindy (2007), and Amy and I had our son, Liam (2010). (Cynara is a wonderful person, and I’m so glad that Dave got to spend the last almost 20 years with her.) These were busy times for all of us new parents. I’d visit Dave and Cynara on the way back from educational conferences in Madison and Steven’s Point. Dave and Ira came to Chicago for one of Liam’s birthday parties. It was a long distance friendship that worked. When we got together after months, it was as if we’d seen each other the previous week.
The Camping Years
In 2014, when Liam was four and Ira was seven, Dave and I started a tradition of taking the boys camping each year. It was a great way for us to spend time together in nature (which we both loved), but also a way to build a relationship between our sons that I hope lasts until they are old and gray. We first camped at Lake Kegonsa State Park in Wisconsin, but the nights were filled with train whistles and the beach and the lake covered with bright green muck. So, we moved on to Kohler-Andrae State Park, a beautiful Wisconsin park on the shores of Lake Michigan. This was our outdoor headquarters for most of our camping adventures in recent years. Our campsite was five minutes from the lake. Sometimes we’d head into nearby Sheboygan for lunch, a walk around the city’s charming marina, and a visit to Deland Park to view the recovered portion of the Lottie Cooper, a schooner that capsized off Sheboygan in 1894.
In 2019, we camped at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I’m so glad that I was able to share one of my favorite outdoor destinations with Dave and Ira. We had such a great time camping at the 12-Mile Beach Campground on bluffs overlooking Lake Superior, kayaking on Beaver Lake and Little Beaver Lake, making dinner together as the kids played on the beach, and sitting around the campfire at night. Dave loved to smoke a pipe as he cooked for us on his little charcoal grill or just sat around the fire. I’ll always remember the sweet smell of the pipe smoke and the look of peace he had as we sat together. Sometimes we’d stay up so late talking by the fire—the Milky Way so vivid overhead and the waves noisily crashing on the beach below us—that we’d be exhausted the next morning when the kids got up. But it was worth it!
Then the COVID pandemic hit, and our regular camping trips stopped. Instead of camping in 2020, we took an all-day kayaking trip on Nippersink Creek at Glacial Park in McHenry County, Illinois. We took the year off last year, but had reservations to camp at Kohler-Andrae this month. Unfortunately, our Nippersink Creek kayaking trip was our last outdoor adventure together.
I last saw Dave on October 17, 2021. He came down to Chicago, saw our new house, hung out in my backyard, and also had a few drinks with me at a nearby brewpub. I’m so glad that I have the memory of him sitting in my flower-filled yard and enjoying a beer (okay, multiple beers) at Printer’s Row Brewing. I think of him a lot recently as I sit admiring our wildflowers or watching the world go by from a sidewalk seat at the brewery.
What’s left to say? A lot, if you don’t mind. Sometimes, it’s hard to summarize your friends, but if I had to tell the story of Dave, I would say:
He was an extremely talented artist…but you knew that. Dave was a stained-glass artist whose work is internationally loved. I wrote the following about him for a story about successful friends that I published a few years back: “Everyone should get a chance in their lives to see Dave at work in his studio. When I think of a true ‘artist,’ I think of Dave. Many of us (including me) talk about being devoted to their art and sacrificing for it, but he walks the walk, or ‘cuts and paints the stained glass’ if that’s the better analogy.” According to the website of his last employer, Gaytee Palmer Stained Glass Studios, Dave restored windows by many world renowned artists including LaFarge, Tiffany, Heaton, Butler & Bell, Mayer of Munich, Zettler, Emil Frei, Munich Studio, and Connick.
David was the incoming president of the American Glass Guild. He was very proud of his work with the guild and excited to take on its leadership. Before he passed away, Dave spent the week at the guild’s annual conference at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York. It must have been wonderful for him to be around so many talented fellow artists and immerse himself in his beloved world of stained glass. Dave’s wife Cynara and the guild have created a scholarship program, the David G. Fode Emerging Artist Award, in his honor. (See the end of this essay for more info on the scholarship.)
Dave’s work brims with imagination, whimsy, a wonderful and offbeat view of the world, vivid colors, and wild creativity, and it will serve as his legacy in homes, libraries, churches, and synagogues in the United States and beyond.
He had an offbeat sense of humor like me. Dave liked goofy jokes and voices (such as pompous TV anchorman voices). He often called me “Mr. Morkes” when greeting me and used a mock news anchor voice. It always made me smile. In one letter he sent me while in the Army, Dave said the following: “Anyway, I’ll tell you a little something…something” [“something” was in tiny print]. I laughed out loud after reading this letter recently after so many years. Dave also loved acts of frivolity and gentle anarchy. If he was here and heard me say “frivolity,” he would probably repeat it several times with that special glimmer in his eyes that he always had. A last comedic memory of Dave: one late night when we were in our 20s, we decided to go through a fast-food drive-thru. Dave decided to drive the car backwards through the drive-thru because he said he always wanted to do so. The look on the fast food workers’ faces was priceless.
He was a man of action. Dave could not just sit there and do nothing. Sitting still made him crazy, unless he was working on his art. If I visited Dave at his house or when we were camping, he was always moving. As we hung out, he’d be cleaning up, dumping garbage cans, making the next day’s lunch—and I’d either be walking behind him as he went from room to room or standing by the kitchen counter. It reminded me of myself. He was a driven person with a great work ethic that helped him attain what he wanted in life.
He was thoughtful and gentle. Dave remembered birthdays, anniversaries, and other important milestones. Sure, he could breathe fire about things that he cared about, but he was kind, open, understanding, supportive, and a very good listener—traits that are lacking among many men. For the young men reading this, don’t be a typical guy, be Dave.
He was dependable. Unlike many people, Dave was always on time, always did what he said he would do, and was almost always calm and collected in every situation. You could count on him. When I was 21 or so, my friend Carlo and I drove down to see our girlfriends at the University of Illinois at Champaign. Carlo had the bright idea of going 100+ miles-an-hour all the way down there (he had a fuzz buster) to save time. This great idea resulted in us staring at a smoking engine on the side of the road once we arrived in town. The car was kaput, and we were stranded. Somehow—because we’d never thought to take a bus home or rent a car—we got the bright idea (we were full of “bright ideas” back then) to call Dave and ask him to drive the 250-mile roundtrip the next day to pick us up and take us back to Chicago. But he did it because that’s the kind of person he was.
He was a “shiny guy.” My great friend Vanessa once went around a room and pointed out the “shiny people” and those who were not. Dave was shiny. To Vanessa, shiny meant having some sort of crazy lifeforce that made you stand out in the crowd. Dave had that energy. When we would go out, people would notice him. It was the way he carried himself, the way he looked (he was handsome, but didn’t care one bit about that kind of stuff), and had an intangible something that can’t be defined. I think Dave would have made a great 1940s film-noir movie star or perhaps a comedic leading man of the 1950s.
Here’s my last memory of Dave.
In 2019, we set up camp at 12-Mile Beach at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It should be a national park and is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Please keep my secret.
One day, we took our kayaks onto Little Beaver Lake and then Beaver Lake. Sun. Silence. An adventure in the quiet solitude of
the North Woods. Then…the weather abruptly changed. The skies darkened. Huge gusts of wind blew. And a storm loomed in the distance. We were in the middle of the lake and began rowing furiously to get to shore before the winds might overturn our kayaks. We rowed like madmen until we reached shore.
A biblical rain soon followed. Later, Dave looked at me with a smile and said, “I never saw you row so hard in your life!” And then I said the same thing to him, and we both began to laugh. It was one of those small moments of wonder and laughter in a friendship that you take for granted, but treasure once someone is gone.
Dave was one of my best friends, and he will always be so in my heart. I will greatly miss your friendship, Dave, and I will always be a friend to your family. May you find peace, happiness, calm winds, and smooth sailing on the other side.
Here are a few photos from David’s memorial gathering, which was held at the Oconomowoc Lake Club in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, on August 28, 2022.
More Information About the David G. Fode Emerging Artist Award
Aspiring artists need more support in this country, and this award is an excellent way to celebrate the life of my friend Dave and help an aspiring artist reach the artistic heights he did before his death. I will be contributing to the fund, and I hope that you will consider doing so, too.
“The David G. Fode Emerging Artist Award is designed to perpetuate the tradition of the medium he loved by uniting young artists with recognition, mentorship and support through guild exposure and support. Each year, a recipient will be chosen from student glass programs nationwide that support aspiring artists that would otherwise not have the means to work in the medium. The recipient is chosen based on portfolio, level of interest in the field and recommendations from their program directors or teachers. Each winner will be hosted at the annual American Glass Guild conference, presented with an award and have opportunities for internships, valuable networking, committee assignment and general access to the passion and support that typifies the AGG family.”
Click here to make a donation.
Copyright (text, except quoted material) Andrew Morkes
Copyright (photos) Andrew Morkes (The Fode family holds copyright to images of his work.)
Looking for some great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. The book (306 pages, 210+ photos) is only $18.99. Click here to learn more and purchase the book.
Dave and his son Ira appear in some of my adventures in Nature in Chicagoland. I don’t say this so you’ll buy the book. Rather, I just feel lucky that the book now serves as another way to remember my special friend. Since his death, I’ve begun to think about my book in a different way–as sort of a time capsule of my friendship with Dave and our adventures together with our sons.
ABOUT ANDREW MORKES
I have been a writer and editor for more than 25 years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job Openings; Nontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDs; They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titles. They Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. Stories about my work have been published in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Daily Southtown, Beverly Review, and Practical Homeschooling.
In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering Careers, What Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).
My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.