Honoring a wonderful childhood friend

Column by John Akal
Posted 7/3/19

When you grow up in a place you always have memories of the way things used to be, and then you look at how much they have changed over the years and you can get kind of nostalgic. Here in Golden, a …

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Honoring a wonderful childhood friend


When you grow up in a place you always have memories of the way things used to be, and then you look at how much they have changed over the years and you can get kind of nostalgic. Here in Golden, a lot of things have changed and a lot of people have come and gone. Just walking down Washington Avenue and looking at the businesses that are here now, it would be totally unrecognizable if I hadn’t been here to watch it all change and develop.

Thinking back on the people that I grew up with, most of them have moved away. I did too, for a while but every day I’m glad I came back here. But, most of the kids I knew have moved on as well.

But there is one guy I have known since we were both little boys. We went to the same elementary, junior high and high school. He was a couple of years younger than me, but he had older siblings too, and was pretty much in the same age group as me, so we knew each other fairly well growing up. Everyone in Golden knew who his father was. His name was Dud and he owned a bar downtown called Dud’s with a big neon sign on the front of it that said Dud’s. If you ever came to Golden, you couldn’t miss it. You knew there was some guy named Dud living here.

My friend was one of the really nice kids in town. Always pleasant, smart, smiled a lot. I don’t even recall him getting into an argument with anyone, let alone a fight. He was the kind of kid you were always happy to see and include in whatever you were doing. Always soft-spoken but a really upbeat and energetic guy. He lived in the neighborhood on the west side of South Table Mountain, up the hill a little ways in a nice house.

As we got older, he and his siblings helped out in his father’s bar some, but he developed other ambitions and started to follow a different path. It started with volunteering as a fireman with the Golden Fire department. Pretty soon he was hired by the department as a fire inspector and officially on the payroll. He was pretty darned good at his job and was soon promoted and became the first paid Fire Department Manager whose job it was to provide professional assistance to the volunteer Fire Chief. During this time he married a terrific woman and had two children.

Now, you would think that job was some kind of office desk job, but to my friend, it wasn’t. He went out on emergency calls with everyone else. He had only been promoted a few months when the station got a call about a hang glider that had crashed on the side of Lookout Mountain. The guy was injured and stuck on top of a large boulder jutting out of the hillside. My friend climbed up the rock to help get the hang glider off when he slipped and fell backwards. He pretty much landed on his head and broke his neck. At one point his heart actually stopped beating. He was dead.

But, he had an entire emergency unit right there to resuscitate and rescue him. They brought him back to life and got him to the hospital. Once there the diagnosis wasn’t good. He couldn’t move from the neck down and became a quadriplegic. He’s been totally paralyzed ever since — July 6, 1990.

His name is Tom Young, and he is one of my personal heroes. It took over two years of recovery and rehabilitation but Tom returned to the fire department. He learned how to work a computer and other things just using a tube that he blows in. He raised two great kids that are now adults and is currently the volunteer Captain in charge of the Department’s Media Services. He has served the Golden Fire Department for over 29 years and received national recognition for the newsletter he edits. If that’s not enough, he also runs the department’s public access television station. Oh, and he’s still that super nice, upbeat, energetic guy he always was. That will never change.

On Saturday, July 6 the Golden Fire Department will be honoring Tom with a celebration of the contributions he has made. It will be at 10:30 a.m. at the Golden Fire Station No. 1, 911 10th Street in Golden. If you know Tom, worked with him or just love him, drop by. He’ll have a smile for you.

John Akal is a well-known jazz artist/drummer and leader of the 20-piece Ultraphonic Jazz Orchestra. He also is president of John Akal Imaging, professional commercial photography and multi-media production. He can be reached at jaimaging@aol.com


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