Sunday, January 06, 2013


Remembering Andy

On this January 6th in the year 2005, my best friend decided to allow his spirit to move to the other side. He left this earth and moved to the spiritual side, that he often told me did not exist. On this date in 2005, Andy Durco, Jr. died.

I first met Andy over the telephone. It was my priority in that year, to sell vendor booths for the new Restaurant Technology Conference I was building for restaurant owners. We wanted this show to be a "one stop shopping" experience for the restaurant owner for all of their technology needs - time clocks, order entry, kitchen management, food orders, and even financial reporting. This was the first year of the conference and selling booths to vendors on a new concept was a tough sell. A very tough sell!

My first call on a particular Monday morning was to Chickasaw Technology Products in Oklahoma City, OK. The CEO's name was Andy Durco, Jr. And when he picked up the telephone, I introduced myself, asked if I could have a moment of his time to talk about CTP's presence at the show, and then I heard his response. His response was clear. Concise. Swift.


This CEO of Chickasaw Technology Products hung up on me! I laughed! Something about the guts of this man enticed me to call him right back. He took the call a second time and was equally as intrigued with the woman who would call him back. We often talked of that first telephone experience and we would laugh. That call would be the start of an exciting and mutually challenging relationship.

Several years later, this tall, serious, business man asked me to be his COO as he set about to rebuild the product and the staff needed to complete that task. It meant moving to OKC for a minimum of two years. My first visit to the town told me I could tolerate it for two years and I was straight up front with Andy - I would not relocate but I would commute. First class airline tickets. A three bedroom condo on a private lake in OKC. A town car for transportation. And I would work six days per week - Sunday's would be my day off for shopping and exploring the countryside.

The two years flew by. I was soon back in Spring Valley trying to get control of the yard, the fence, the pastures, and renew my relationship with my horses. My house plants were long since dead. My house was desperately neglected. But I had learned an enormous amount from this man and I had grown to respect and admire him tremendously. And, to my surprise, I found myself missing him and our early morning conversations over a danish and tea.

Andy Durco, Jr. was an excellent teacher. He would enter into a conversation with you to present a potential agreement to you - that's the way he would tell you he was giving you a new assigment. He would tell you the rules - not the guidelines but the rules. Any breaking of the rules would mean the agreement would be null and void. And, if you had lied or betrayed him, you no longer existed to him. Andy was tough. He was sincere. He was loyal. And he was demanding. But if you were loyal and honest with him, he would protect and watch out for you 24/7.

My greatest challenges in my management career came at CTP those two years in OKC. I hired from across the entire country and relocated entire families. We built a product from the ground up. I fired more people than I hired. And we sold our product to a 10,000 unit pizza group in Canada. Success was sweet. We celebrated with a steak dinner and one cocktail each. Work began early for both of us on Saturday mornings, you know!

The traits that I admired most in Andy were the traits that caused him to suffer the greatest after his spinal cord injury. His pride and his self-sufficiency no longer could be afforded. His care taking of others now spun around on him and others now needed to take care of him. His strong, bellering voice became mild and almost weak. And those strong handshakes turned into cool hands longing to be held . . . even though he could not feel my hand, but he could see us holding hands and so he was comforted.

I spent weeks with him and we would go to aquatic therapy. He floated and gave his thinning skin time without pressure points. He became buoyant and almost "walked" again in the pool. He would almost smile some days.

I cared for his dogs and horses. One of his horses, we agreed, was to be euthanized. The other two would come to Wisconsin with me to live out their lives. And I was honored and blessed to have Ole' Man Cole and Blaise with me for several years after Andy crossed. When Blaise crossed, I felt a closeness to Andy that I hadn't felt in quite some time. Andy had liked that horse. He told me she was a good horse the first time we loaded those two in that exclusive Tennessee Walker Breeding Ranch in North Dallas. He always wanted to ride Blaise. Unfortunately, he never did. Nor did I. I would have ridden her, I believe, had Andy ridden her first. However, I would not take the thrill from him to rider her first and so I never rode her.

His cat, Patches, also came to live with me when Andy was just about to be discharged from Baylor. Andy wanted Patches to stay with him, but his primary physician explained the need to have syringes, tubes, needles at the ready and a cat could jump up and disturb those supplies. The physician also warned Andy that he could run over the cat with his electric wheelchair and not be able to bend over and care for the cat. With tears in his eyes, Andy looked at me and needed not say the words. I simply nodded and when I headed north, I brought Patches home with me. She still lives with me today. In fact, as I key this, she is resting behind me in my office chair. Warming my lower back with her body.

It was the New Year's Eve for 2005 when a call came into work for me from Andy. The receptionist knew that if Andy called, I was to be disturbed - no matter what! She came into my office and said simply, "Andy's on line 2". I took the call immediately.

Our conversation was uncomfortably meaningless and light. I could feel a purpose for the call but we chatted. The idle type of chatter that both of us detested but somehow found ourselves staying in for far too long. Finally, the silence on the line brought the true reason to light.

Andy was having dreams of riding his Thunder. And he wished me a happy new year. And he told me he loved me. We both cried before we disconnected and when I hung up the receiver, I knew he was moving on. And, sadly, my guts were right.

The infection was so advanced before he finally called his doctor that no amount of IV antibiotics could stop it. It was fully systemic and all they could do was keep him resting with medicines. In the mid-morning hours of January 6, 2005, two big things happened in my life: Unit's cataracts were removed and Andy died. I drove home in silence. No supreme grief but a feeling of relief. Finally, this tall, proud, serious man could be himself again. Could move his arms again, wipe his face again, and walk again. Finally, Andy Durco, Jr. could boom out an order! And hopefully, finally he could be at ease again.

Andy left me with many words of wisdom. And he taught me many valuable life lessons.

He taught me to share when he commanded me to, "Take this horse, Sandy, and make a difference in somebody else's life with it." No hoarding or hiding the horse, Sandy. Share the horse with others and, in that sharing, you will find joy. Oh, he was so right! I did not want to hear it and I sure didn't want to share! But I was obligated and Andy was watching. And so I shared Frances Andrew with Diane that first Christmas. And the rest, as they say, is history. Andy taught me to share. To learn that we don't own these horses. We are just their caretakers for a little part of their journey.

He taught me to do what it takes to get the job done. I learned from Andy as he lectured our employees about nothing being above you - that everything that needed to be done was your job. And he backed me when I fired a young man who sat in a conference room and looked me right in the eye and denied a task because "that's not my job". Andy and I emptied the trash and cleaned the windows, when needed. Andy answered the telephones if the receptionist was talking with a guest. We both put paper in the printers or turned out the lights. Anything and everything that needed to be done, we did. He taught me that getting it done was the objective - not who did it.

He taught me to expect honesty and loyalty and to only withhold it if it was not given back. He taught me that honesty was to be expected - not anticipated, but expected. And that dishonesty would not be tolerated. From anyone for any reason. He taught me that telling the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it made me, was the ONLY way to live. He taught me that being loyal would surround me with true friends. He taught me that those who were honest and loyal with me would be the ones I "could go into a fox hole with." Now neither one of us had ever been in a fox hole, but we both had talked of it often enough. And both of us could count on one hand the people we would trust in a fox hole.

And he taught me to keep my eyes on the horse. Long before Refuge Farms became involved in this world of rescue, Andy pounded me with the advice to "keep your eyes on the horse, Sandy". Do not get caught up in the people. You will never change some people, he would say. Remember, you want them to call you again when their next horse is useless to them. If you upset them, criticize them, disregard them, holler at them, then that next horse will die. But if you shake their hand, look them right in the eye and thank them for the opportunity, then that next horse will at least have a chance. Keep your eye on the horse, Sandy.

And so on this Sunday evening, I am remembering Andy. As I am surrounded by people who will not allow me to euthanize their starving, freezing horses. People who have no hay but will not surrender their horses. People who believe that snow is sufficient moisture for a horse in the winter. And people who believe that horses who are on their sides for four days are just resting. Listening to Andy, I smile and I work with these people to gain their trust. I pray that I can get to their horses before the horses give up. And once I am to the horses, I may only hold their heads and sing to them as they cross over. But at least, they will not cross alone.

Andy was a tall man. A big man. A proud man. An extremely intelligent man. A loyal man. A strict man. A hard-shelled man. A demanding man. A teaching man but only if he sensed you wanted to learn. A decisive man. A skeptical man. And a stubborn man.

But Andy was a compassionate man. An articulate man. An insightful man.  A creative man. A loyal man. An honest man. A generous man. A giving man. A kind man. A shy man. A humorous and comical man. A thoughtful man. He became a spiritual man. A gentle man. And a big-hearted man.

My life changed because of this man. As I used to tell him after we formalized this thing called Refuge Farms, that "this is not my job, Andy. It's what I am. Saving these diers is what I am. And I would be no other place, thanks to you."

God speed, Andy. Stay close, Andy. Guide me, Andy. And wait for me. I've got chores yet to do and a few more lives to save, dear man. But some day we'll drive a herd of hundreds! And you'll be on Thunder and I'll be on Frances Andrew. And we will ride!!!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd with Andy Durco, Jr.

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