David Jeffrey is making the most of every day he has left on this earth.
Ever since the former Ramsey City Councilmember was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer April 13, 2011, he has been picking items off his bucket list from white water rafting in Colorado to taking impromptu vacations and to driving NASCAR race cars at speeds up to 150 mph at a couple of different tracks. He will get to take about a dozen laps at the Daytona 500 race track when he makes a trip to Florida later this month.
“It doesn’t feel that fast until you see the skid marks up into the wall, then it gets a little intimidating,” Jeffrey said.
Life quickly passes by, especially for someone like Jeffrey who used to be the vice president at Anoka Technical College, served on the Ramsey Planning Commission in 2003 and 2004 and then served on the Ramsey City Council for almost six-and-a-half years from 2005 until his resignation May 24, 2011.
David and his wife Jackie learned that only about 5 percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer survive after two years of being diagnosed. It has been just over two years and eight months since that long car ride home from the doctor when they contemplated what would come next in their lives.
Jeffrey’s tumor was surgically removed April 19, 2011 and he later went through six months of intense chemotherapy that left him often feeling ill. Prior to the start of chemo treatments, he resigned from the council because he felt he would not be able to adequately represent his constituents and he went on medical leave from Anoka Technical College.
After the chemo treatments concluded, Jeffrey continued to visit the doctor for regular CAT scans and blood tests. While on vacation in Texas this spring, his doctor called to inform him that results from March 2013 tests showed the tumor was back, it could not be removed and he should come home immediately.
Additional chemo treatments were attempted, most recently a couple of weeks ago, but Jeffrey was informed recently that there is nothing more that can be done.
“It’s no longer effective and there’s nothing they can do for me, so we’re going to ride our time out,” Jeffrey said.
To recognize Jeffrey for the contributions he has made to the community, Ramsey Mayor Sarah Strommen declared Dec. 11, 2013 as David Jeffrey Day in the city of Ramsey. He lit the community’s Christmas tree before receiving a framed proclamation at the Ramsey City Council meeting that noted some of his community involvement such as being a member of St. Katherine Drexel Catholic Church and being an advocate for youth activities and programs, nonprofit organizations, community events and municipal initiatives.
Friends and family came out to support Jeffrey and praised his leadership qualities and positive attitude.
“Dave was a joy to work with,” said Al Pearson, who served with him on the council for a couple of years. “He was very knowledgeable about the city, checked out issues thoroughly before making a decision.”
Kent Hunstad met Jeffrey 22 years ago when they were both living at a Coon Rapids apartment complex. There have been a lot of vacations and trips to the cabin together over this time..
“He cares about everyone but himself,” Hunstad said.
In the 10 years he has known him, Councilmember Randy Backous said Jeffrey “is a no nonsense guy. He doesn’t like shenanigans and b.s. and calls it the way he sees it.”
Gary Van Scoy said Jeffrey is a thoughtful, well-spoken individual who continues to have a real interest in what is going on in the community.
“He wanted to hear every side of the story,” Van Scoy said.
Jeffrey continues to hear from Ramsey residents about the hot city political topics of the day. A trip to Coborn’s to pick up groceries that should take 15 minutes can sometimes take over an hour.
Running for local office seemed natural to Jeffrey in the fall of 2004 because he has always been drawn to volunteering and city politics. He would have been interested in running for a state representative seat, but loves what Rep. Jim Abeler is doing so never seriously considered it.
In the end, local politics suited him just fine.
“You can fix a barking dog issue or review a complaint over a fence. You get to know your neighbors,” Jeffrey said.
While on the council, some of the issues he was most passionate about was improving the city’s trail system, especially by schools. He worked with Abeler and Ramsey Police Chief Jim Way to get pedestrian warning signs with flashing yellow lights built next to Ramsey Elementary School and to get the speed limit on Nowthen Boulevard (County Road 5) lowered by 5 mph, which Jeffrey said should be even slower.
He also helped set up the joint agreement between Ramsey and Nowthen in which Nowthen pays the Ramsey Fire Department for responding to its fire and medical calls.
Although he does miss serving on the council, Jeffrey said he appreciates the extra time he gets to spend with his wife, three kids and two grandchildren.
He does not have the strength to pull his granddaughters on his bike like he used to, but he has pulled them along with his Segway.
His three kids David, Michelle and Amy are now 28, 26 and 16 years old, respectively. They have been a huge support since the beginning, Jackie said. They designed t-shirts that read “Team Jeffrey: We’re in it to win it.” The slogan is also on bracelets they made. They still often see David and Michelle even though they are both grown up because they live in the metro area.
One of David and Jackie’s favorite memories this past couple of years was when they and their daughter Amy took a long road trip out west. They had no itinerary and did not know where they would be staying every night. Jeffrey knew he wanted to see the Grand Canyon, visit friends in Phoenix and go white water rafting even though his doctor advised against it. They ended up driving between 3,500 and 4,000 miles. Jeffrey was not able to drive because of the effect that chemo treatments were having on him, but Amy had just earned her driver’s license.
This past October, Jeffrey surprised Jackie with a 30th wedding anniversary gift of a week-long trip to Atlanta, Ga. The principal at Ramsey Elementary School where Jackie is a special education paraprofessional coordinated with Jeffrey so she would have the time off but not find out until the last minute.
The reality was that Jeffrey had difficulty finding times to take a lot of vacations like this when he was working or on the council because there was always some big emergency to tackle. Both he and Jackie said if they could have done one thing differently, it would be to make more of an effort to take these trips.
“Do not wait to make memories,” Jackie said.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]