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Jerry Hicks

His 'Hobby' Is Reaching Out to Others

August 03, 1996|Jerry Hicks

It was near midnight Wednesday when Dan Davey kissed his wife, Peggy, goodbye and slid his small frame into the cab of a truck parked in front of their Santa Ana home.

"It's 117 degrees this week in Arizona," he explained to me as I stood next to his wife and bade him a safe trip. "Only way for the truck to survive that heat is to drive most of it at night."

Davey, with helper Tony Hawley of Garden Grove, was heading out for another 800-mile trek to the federal reservations of northern Arizona. His truck was stuffed with five tons of pots and pans, hats, clothes, purses, blankets and other donated goods.

Davey, now 70, takes this route at least half a dozen times a year, usually more. His destination was the raw, barren land long owned by the Navajo and Hopi tribes, now theirs by government proxy. The goods he brings from his warehouse are so much appreciated that his nickname at both tribes is "Mr. Santa." Good friends on the reservations call him Little Dan, because he's small, and his partner for years was known as Big Mac.

This trip will take about six days. It's the week of the annual Pioneer Days celebrated by the tribe people at the base of Navajo Mountain. None of these journeys are Holiday Inn visits. At night, Davey and Hawley will lay out their sleeping bags on the floor of an earth-walled hogan.

Peggy Davey used to go with him. "But the nights got to her, the bugs and the rattlesnakes," her husband said with a slight grin.

"Listen, it's a hard trip," Peggy Davey interjected. "I just couldn't keep up with him."

Davey doesn't make a dime from any of this. On occasion someone will volunteer to pay his expenses. This trip, a women's club donated 800 purses and Davey has each one stuffed with a prize. Davey raises money for goods through his Thunderbird Foundation. (The late John Wayne was once a contributor.)

"It's just a hobby, you understand," Davey told me about his excursions. A hobby he's had for 48 remarkable years. For nearly half a century, Davey has devoted his life to collecting goods that are needed by the low-income Native Americans, who lack many of the basics needed for survival.

"I'm carrying mostly blankets this time," he told me. "It's hot there now, but in the wintertime it gets extremely cold."

Davey, a retired UPS driver, has been honored in person by Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan, and his story was once told by Ralph Edwards on TV's "This Is Your Life." But the honor, he'll tell you, has been in the friendships he's made. And not just among the Navajos and Hopi. His face beamed as he talked about all the years his helper and best friend was famed Western artist R. Brownell McGrew (Big Mac), who died a few years ago. Davey stills sells prints of McGrew's work to raise money for his All Indian Tribal Scholarships for youth on the reservations. He proudly showed me a huge stack of thank-you letters from recipients over the years.

I asked Davey about his belt buckle, with the shape of a thunderbird (the mythological symbol for some tribes meaning "good luck") and his thunderbird-shaped turquoise ring. Davey explained that an elderly man on a reservation, immobilized by a body cast, had surprised him with the gifts as a thank-you because Davey had come up with a blowtorch to help the man with his jewelry making.

"That was 18 years ago, and I've worn them every day since," Davey said proudly.

Here's another story Davey tells: "You know, we all have different dreams. There's an old Indian woman, she must be pushing 90 now. Her one and only dream is to own her own washing machine before she dies. I just hope I'm around long enough to make it happen for her."

So, if you just happen to know someone with a spare, good-condition washing machine, I'm sure Davey could find room on his next truckload.

Wow of a Pow-Wow: If you're interested in traditional Native American singing, dancing and art, there's a major Pow-Wow this weekend at the Orange County Fairgrounds. It's the 28th annual gathering being put on by the Southern California Indian Center. Some 300 tribes will be represented. It's also a chance for many of the tribe members to sell handmade items.

My family and I have attended before and found the costumes and the dancing spectacular. The organizers also pass on a little history about tribe cultures. Gates open at 9 a.m. both today and Sunday, with $5 admission for adults.

Touring Tiger? Remember the days when athletes were always encouraged to remain in college instead of dropping out to turn pro? Tiger Woods of Cypress is depicted on the cover of Golf World this week, looking studious and wearing the kind of clothes you might find him choosing for a fraternity party. The question posed by the magazine in its cover story: Will Tiger Woods turn pro or return in the fall for his junior year at Stanford University?

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