Keeping Dan the coffee man up and running
On Wednesday, Dan Dewey ran 18 miles from his home in Gingerville, near Orion Township, to Royal Oak — all because he did not want to disappoint the staff and chemo patients at Beaumont Hospital.
For the last several years, Dewey, better known as Dan the Coffee Man, has taken Starbucks orders from staff and chemo patients and delivers the drinks free of charge. It is his mission, his errand of mercy, his calling.
Dewey, a retired audio visual specialist for Birmingham Public Schools who will turn 69 in August, began by paying for the effort by shelling out his own money, spending upward of $10,000. A few years back, media exposure led to a windfall of donations that kept him afloat for a few years. But by this spring, coffee funds had dwindled to nothing. He was reluctant to let anybody know.
"Believe me, I spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure this all out," Dewey said Monday. His plan is to sell property from the family farm and use the proceeds to form a nonprofit for the coffee runs. "I've been trying for nearly a year, but it hasn't happened yet."
It took approximately three hours and 45 minutes, but Dewey arrived at the Rose Cancer Center on time, albeit a bit sweaty. With 71 marathons under his belt, he explained to his friend, Alexis Slade, who works in medical records, that he needed to go for a long run, see what kind of shape he was in.
Slade wasn't buying it.
"He didn't have the money for gas," she said Monday, "and he didn't want anyone to know because then they would stop ordering."
No sooner had Dewey left for Starbucks, Slade went straight to her computer. She set up a fundraising account at gofundme.com, printed up fliers and got the word out on his Facebook page: Dan's Coffee Run.
"Alexis drew the short straw," Dewey said, "and I'm very lucky she did because I want to continue doing this for as long as I can."
Dewey's legendary coffee runs began in 2006 when his father, Edgar Dewey, was a cancer patient at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital's Michigan Cancer Institute (MCI) in Pontiac. It was the elder Dewey's second round of chemo. Five years earlier, eight weeks of chemo had put his lymphoma in remission.
When the cancer came back in his colon, the two-hour infusions were prescribed after surgery.
"We were given Thursdays at 10 a.m., same time as five years earlier," Dan Dewey says. "The same staff, same favorite nurse — her name is Kelly — were there. And they were so goofy and fun and positive, I grabbed my dad's wallet and said: 'I'm going for coffee. Anybody want anything?' Well, the laughter began and that's when it all started."
Dewey headed a mile north down Woodward to the Starbucks near Square Lake Road and bought everyone coffee for the eight weeks his father was at St. Joe's.
"When I brought my dad home, I said: 'Dad: should I keep doing it?' And he says: 'Yeah, go ahead.' "
So for the next five years, Dewey — white-haired, dressed in shorts year-round and perpetually jovial — delivered Starbucks to staff and patients at St. Joe's every week.
And only Starbucks, mind you.
"It's because when I say I'm going to Starbucks, people say: 'Oh, not only is he buying, he's going for the good stuff.' "
To be sure, Dewey brings so much more than coffee.
"I just love getting them to smile," he said. "I can honestly say the prettiest women I've ever seen in my life have all been bald."
Norma Pinon, whose daughter Karla, 37, is a chemo patient, said they look forward to Dewey's visits every week, even though neither of them are big fans of caffeine.
"Karla usually orders a strawberry frapuccino, and I get a decaf," Pinon said. "Some of the new patients will say 'no, thank you,'and I tell them 'you better order something or he's going to talk to you until you do.' "
After five years of delivering to St. Joe's, Dewey began his coffee runs at Rose Cancer Center, when in 2011, a 36-year-old patient named Kim — "a sweetheart of a girl with the worst kind of breast cancer" — asked if he would bring her coffee there. Soon after, a barista at Starbucks contacted local media, and that started the donation ball rolling. A CBS Evening News feature led a spot on the "The Queen Latifah Show," which led to a donation from Starbucks worth $10,000 of drinks. Two years ago, an anonymous donor bought him a used 2008 Ford Fusion.
"Something I learned a long time ago," Dewey said, "is if people want to help, let them. Because doing good creates more good."
Two years ago, someone from the CARE House of Oakland County, an agency that serves abused and neglected children, waited behind Dewey in line at Starbucks one morning (and waited and waited). When the person learned he was Dan the Coffee Man, Dewey agreed to add the staff at CARE House to his round of coffee deliveries.
"I walk into Care House and holy cow, I can see the stress in the staff's eyes."
Between the twice-weekly visits at St. Joe's and Rose Cancer Center, and the weekly visit to CARE House, Dewey averages between 90 and 100 coffee drinks a week. That's a little less than 5,000 drinks a year.
Dewey said there is no doubt that grabbing his father's wallet nine years ago in that infusion room "was one of the best things I've ever done."
Still, for all the good cheer Dewey musters for several hours every week, there is also big time heartache.
"I've lost many, many good friends," he said. "The big thing I've learned is that the end is just as important as the beginning and the middle. Maybe, even more so."