The Limitlessness of Love: The Story of Dr. Dan and His Quest to Pay It Forward

The Limitlessness of Love: The Story of Dr. Dan and His Quest to Pay It Forward

by Kate Wildrick, Co-Founder / Paradigm Shifter at Ingenuity Innovation Center

Dr. Dan’s giraffe was left behind after he moved out in 2014. During a spring cleaning, it re-emerged right before the Ingenuers received notice of his death.

“Can you help me move some stuff out the of my closet so we can organize our room for when the baby comes,” I asked Aaron.

“Sure.  What do you need help with?”

“I can’t move some of this heavier stuff,” I pointed out.

Surveying the project, Aaron nodded his head and commented that if we were going to tackle the job, we might as well clean out the boxes on the top shelf.

Over the next couple of hours we dug into some massive spring cleaning – one of many projects we had slated on our endless “to do” list.  Our bedroom soon became filled with clothes and various odds and ends that somehow I had managed to keep contained in my closet.  Grabbing one of the last boxes from the shelves, an item fell to the floor.

“What is this?” asked Aaron.

“Oh, that is a Dan’s giraffe.” I said.  “Obviously that didn’t make it into the box of items when he left.”

Aaron held it in his hands and then sat it on a book case.  Later I came and picked it up and held it.  I didn’t know much about the little giraffe, only that it held some spiritual significance to Dan.  I began to wonder how he was doing and thought to myself, ‘I need to give him a call.’  I never did. Looking back now, I recognize I need to pay attention to those signs.

We met Dr. Dan Johnk in fall of 2011 through a common friend of ours.  “Dr. Dan” was a retired medical professional that specialized in anesthesia.  His infectious smile and eclectic, outgoing demeanor invoked a certain sense of curiosity leaving most who met him with a desire to learn more about him.  Dan was particularly interested in the new new energy movement where inventors of all kinds were working on alternative solutions to help solve some of our world’s most pressing issues.  At that time, Dan was living with a friend, Richard, in Baker City, Oregon.  Richard’s health and healing practice around ayurveda was located in Portland.  Given this, both Dan and Richard would travel to Portland regularly where we would make an effort to connect and share what each of us were learning in the world of health, energy and sustainability.

These long and intense discussions would go on for hours, often sending Aaron into doing more and more research.  I was unemployed at the time and looking to see about getting my consulting business around strategic workforce planning off the ground with another team I had been working on.  With every failed attempt to make a go at it, I eventually stopped trying and decided to sit in limbo and wait for the next path to emerge.

As the holidays approached, we gathered to meet more of Dan and Richard’s friends.  2012 was upon us and the buzz around various end of times prophecies, New Year’s resolutions and stress from the economic downturn were hot topics.  One by one, we each shared our thoughts of concern and gratitude.   When we finally circled back to Dan and Richard, both expressed a desire to help to make the world a better place by looking to help Aaron develop some of his ideas.  Needless to say, we were very touched and agreed to follow up after the gathering to learn more.

In early January, we invited Dan and Richard to a town home we were renting in Beaverton, OR.  There, they shared their vision of working with some of Richard’s family resources in Baker City that included land and buildings to develop some sustainable ideas around energy and aquaponics.  They asked us to think about it and if it sounded like a possibility we would arrange a get together to bring us and others out to look at what we could do.

Baker City, Oregon in February 2011 brought together several people in Dr. Dan’s circle to see about starting a sustainable aquaponic and alternative energy project.

The next couple of weeks were filled with lots of discussion.   After returning from my wild west adventure owning and operating a town with my ex-husband (Service Creek, OR – Population 2), I was weary of any big changes.  However, sitting in limbo with nothing stepping forward did get me wondering if this was a sign I needed to pay attention to.  We elected to go on a trip to see what kinds of resources Richard and Dan had to work with.  On February 11th, we drove five hours to Baker City after Aaron finished his shift working security and met with everyone late in the evening.  There we met Dan’s girlfriend, Yvette, and another younger couple, Rolland and Michelle.  In addition, two other healers (Adam and Magdelena) joined us for the weekend to explore what, if anything, we could build together.  Over the next couple of days, we toured the potential sites and discussed various options of what we could do and how we could finance it while making things fair and equitable.  As the men took the lead, I noticed myself and the other women taking on a more reserved and reflective role.  My curiosity about each of them grew stronger.

Dan clearly had some financial resources that he had set aside to develop a place for him and others to work together to create solutions.  He shared several experiences from his past where he had worked on various projects to develop ways for people to survive during extreme situations (whether they be nature or man induced).  Along with being a former doctor and entrepreneur, he was also an avid climber and adventurer.  His stories around having to solve life and death situations were fascinating.  However, I could see that it deeply troubled him given the state of the world.  He longed for something stable and a place he could call home – which is what many of us wanted too.

In the end, the plans around moving to Baker City fell apart.  The common culprits being were personality, life style differences along with misaligned expectations.  The decision personally impacted Dan, as he had hoped we all would find a way to compromise and work together.  We elected to stay in touch and continue forward.  I admit, I was personally relieved as I was not prepared to up and move again given the personal toll the last venture took on me.  However, I was saddened as I was not sure what to do next.

The months went by.  Our experience in Baker City had no doubt planted a seed with me and Aaron as we began to wonder if we could do something on our own.  The discussion expanded out to our family.  Even though we did not resonate with the doom and gloom outlook of the world, we also felt we could not ignore that things were changing and that we might be have to look at doing something different ourselves.  Our dialogue began to include our friends and family.  At this time, I had found work again in the corporate world building an human resources department with a food manufacturer.   Aaron’s mom, Rosemary, was burned out in New Mexico working a job that left her feeling drained.  The talks we had inspired her, and she began to look for land.  Her Zillow search eventually brought us to St. Helens, where a 20 acre parcel had been sitting on the market for five years.  After a visit the property, Aaron and his uncle decided we could not afford it when it was discovered that the parcel was mis-listed.  It was at this point where things began to shift for me.  I decided to contact the owner directly and see if we could work out another deal.  At the end of summer, we agreed to do a lease to buy option where Aaron and I would lead the way moving out their first with the intention of having Rosemary follow at a later time.

Dr. Dan is tackling his first rocket stove build to create an efficient, alternative heating source for one of the workshops on site.

As we began to pack up the town home, Dan called to inform us that he and Richard had a falling out.  He was very emotional and saddened by the whole experience. He had made the decision to move out and had decided to take some time to reflect on the situation while considering where to move next.  It had been a while since we last had talked.  We shared the news about the land with him and invited him to come and stay for a few weeks to figure out what he was going to do next.  He decided to accept and made plans to bring his truck and trailer to the property after visiting some friends.  At the same time, another friend, Sean, insisted on helping us get moved and situated in the old farm house.  He had just lost his job and felt it would be the perfect break for him to help us out in exchange for a place to stay.

It was the end of September 2012.  The four of us took on the great task of cleaning a house that had not been lived in for over five years.  The caked on dust and grime appeared to have no intention of leaving.  Dan and I spent hours filling and emptying buckets, mopping floors and cleaning surfaces to get the house ready for living.  Aaron and Sean addressed other areas that needed some basic attention.  After the long days of work, we would sit outside around a campfire with some beer and marvel at the sunset expressing how happy we were to be on the land.

Dan had decided to stay in his trailer while the three of us took the house.  He explained that some of his health conditions made him very sensitive to dust and radio waves and that this is why he preferred living outside of an urban setting.  As the days went by, we noted that Dan would get tired out easily from physical work and required extra rest.  Having him stay in the trailer made sense, as we could continue to work on projects and not disturb him.  We often would see him in the morning and later on in the early evening.  The middle parts of the day, he chose to rest.  We could see he liked it on the land, but was still struggling of what to do next.  There was no doubt for any of us that he was processing a lot.

On October 5, 2012, the old barn at Ingenuity Innovation Center catches fire from spontaneous combustion where it is burned to the ground.

On October 5, we had the next real opportunity for the four of us to bond.  It had been two weeks since we had moved onto the land.  I was at work and Aaron had the day off.  It was the middle of the day, and Dan was in his trailer resting.  Aaron and Sean were working on moving materials around when Sean noticed some dust coming off the top part of the barn.  After alerting Aaron, they both soon realized that the dust Sean saw was actually smoke. The entire barn that had been rented out by the owner was filled to the brim with hay.  It was on fire! Immediately, they alerted Dan and contacted the fire department.  Together, they worked to hook up a hose to see about stopping it from combusting more.  However, it was too late.  Within 20 minutes, the barn and all the hay were completely engulfed in fire.  I left work only to find that they had barricaded the road.  Talk about evacuating the entire area was underway as officials told me I was not permitted to go to the property.  I left and waited at the nearby Yankton Store and Restaurant.  There, angry and confused people kept calling and asking for updates.  The whole moment brought be back to Service Creek where strangely enough two weeks after we had moved there a forest fire had nearly taken the town out.  Like the little Yankton Store, Service Creek was that little hub where people got their news. Eventually, I came up with the bright idea to say that the fire chief had requested I be given permission to come on site so I could participate in the investigation.  My little white lie worked and upon arriving on scene to find the news and our frazzled group along with countless firefighters, I had to just stop and take in the scene.  It was amazing we had not lost any other buildings – especially since that day the wind directions had changed given their norm.

Dan leads the way on painting the new endwalls of the greenhouse.

The fire was the first of many events that began to form and shift each of us.  As we headed into winter, Dan had made the decision to stay with us.  He decided that he wanted to invest his time and funds into helping us develop aquaponic and energy solutions.  Talk of a greenhouse and solar panels became all the buzz.  As my hours increased at work, intense debates around what and how things should get done ensued. Eventually, decisions were made and projects around developing a basement aquaponic prototype commenced while waiting on the arrival of a new greenhouse.

As we would tell others of our plans and projects, many would ask how we were paying for them all.  We would explain that Dan had elected to step forward and help by providing the financial support.  Many in our circle were completely floored and also skeptical.  They would warn us to be careful by making comments such as,  ‘you never know when he is going to want that all back,’ or, ‘I can’t see anyone just being that generous.’  Despite all of their voiced concerns, Dan kept showing his support even though we had challenges agreeing on all the how to’s.

Come November, I was laid off from my job.  Returning to a place of unemployment (where at least I was receiving benefits), we began to wrap up the final project build with the greenhouse.  The honeymoon period of us all coming together to work had worn off.  Winter was setting in.  With Sean and I unemployed, Aaron working and Dan going stir crazy, it was inevitable that we would all get on one another’s nerves.  Dan eventually made the decision that he was going to take a trip to see his family in North Dakota and visit some other friends and head down to Mexico as he usually does during winter.  The decision for him to go came abruptly, but he reassured us he would be back.  I had decided to take the lead on building the business.  Sean began to look for work.  All of us tried to take a positive step forward in hopes that we could bring in more funds and resources to help us get our needs met.

Dan plants a lemon tree with Kate and Aaron on their wedding day (August 3, 2013).  Our joke was, ‘when life gives you lemons – make lemonade!’

Looking back, that winter and the months that followed in 2013 were challenging.  Sean moved out and Dan returned after a several month hiatus from traveling.  Soon after, Tyler moved in taking Sean’s place only to be followed by Aaron’s mom, Rosemary, and her partner, George.  The energy shifted, and for a while, things calmed down.

When you live together, you get to experience some of the most vulnerable and intimate sides to a person that most do not see.  It is only then you get to see just how complex, frail and resilient one is.  We truly are a beautiful mess of hardwired beliefs, stories, and patterns that are designed to reflect the human experience to all who encounter us.  The truth is that as we got clearer about what the purpose and intent of Ingenuity Innovation Center was/is to become, each of us who were involved were called to go deeper into ourselves and the reflections around us.  Doing this great work caused each of us to shift and change.  In doing so, it also called each us to question how and if we would be staying to participate in building the vision of the center.

In late spring 2014, Dan made the decision that it was best for him to move forward onto his next adventure.  He had been working on some new philanthropic projects and was participating in some research projects.  His health was improving and his excitement for the world had shifted.  We all were sad to say goodbye, but at the same time, we were excited he was choosing to help others he had connected with.

In September 2014, we had the opportunity to honor Dan and his contributions by publicly acknowledging him at a landmark event we hosted with world renowned aquaponic expert, Murray Hallam.  In appreciation for all the help he had provided us and the Ingenuity Innovation Center, we elected to honor him by naming the greenhouse after him.  Dan was deeply moved.  It felt so good to finally give back to him, even it if was only a fraction of what he had managed to do for us.  The next few months were full of conversation as there was a re-ignited interest in working together, but this time in a different capacity based on what we had learned about each other.

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Dan pays a visit back to Ingenuity Innovation Center with some of his friends (the Gilliands at ECETI Ranch).

I decided to put Dan’s giraffe in a safe space where I could see him.  ‘I’ll place him on this table so when we go to visit Dan I’ll remember to bring him,’ I thought to myself.  Curious as to what giraffes represent in a spiritual sense, I decided to get online and look around.  All sorts of wonderful descriptions and images were revealed.  However, one stuck with me, ‘Giraffe symbolism is a strong indication that change is on the horizon.’

On June 1st, I was busy waiting to engage in a conference call when Dan’s sister contacted me online.  She made a request that I call her as soon as I could.  It has been a while since she and I spoke and I knew something was very wrong.  I informed Aaron while he was at work and told him that I could not respond to her due to the call I was expecting.  He decided to pick up the phone and call her where he learned that Dan was found dead in a hotel room in Salt Lake City on his way to Texas to see a doctor and visit Yvette.

For anyone who has ever lost someone who they love and care about, you know that there is nothing that can prepare you for the news in what ever form it may come.  After we connected with Dan’s family and our common friends, Aaron and I sat watching the sunset with our unborn son who we had decided to name Daniel four weeks earlier.

“What would you have done if someone told you that the person you just met was going to die almost three years later?” asked Aaron.

“I don’t know.  I guess we never really know when any of us are going to go,” I replied.  “I am just so sad.”

“Me too,” said Aaron.

This picture was taken in the summer of 2014 – the last time the Ingenuers saw Dan in person.

Dr. Dan did something extraordinary that most people never have the courage to do.  He gave genuinely from the heart because he recognized he was in a position to be able to do so.  He chose to invest his time, resources and love in people that others tend to overlook.  Where others saw nothing, he saw potential.  Whether it was through helping us and others get access to resources they could not afford, to providing the love and support he could offer, Dan strived to bring out the best by pushing himself and others to their limits.  Dan was a visionary full of foresight and intuition.

His kindness and support has helped made each of us stronger here at Ingenuity Innovation Center.  As one of the early adopters of the vision, his participation gave permission for others to step forward and believe in the magic that we are creating here and bringing to others all over the world.  He will be deeply missed.