Let me tell you about an exceptional person. His name was Allen Doong, and he worked at Behnke’s for over 25 years. In fact, Al actually started out doing manual labor at the nursery with some of his high school friends in the 1980’s.
His older brother Hank was already working at the nursery, and this was a way to make extra money for gas and to go see concerts. He loved going to concerts and would show me pictures of tickets he kept over the years.
As the time passed, Al went on to college and running into my mother (Sonja Behnke Festerling) one day, he told her about his business degree. Next thing he was working upstairs in the Behnke Nurseries business office, and, when Behnke’s closed last summer, Al was the head of Accounts Payable. While his filing system would make some roll their eyes, he could always put his hand on whatever we needed and do it fast.
Al was a man that never had anything unkind to say about anyone. He would do anything for you and more than anything else he loved to help raise money for so many causes. He was always the first one to step up and volunteer. Al also loved playing softball. He always was promoting different teams and finding people to play on the teams.
One day I heard him saying he really needed some women to play on his co-ed team. I figured why not and told him I would do it. “Can you play?” he asked me. ” Umm, no, but it should be fun.” Al took his games very seriously and explained to me that it really would not work if I did not know how to play. I was so close!
For a few years, Al raised money by selling tickets to the Orioles games in Baltimore. All the money made went to charity, and Al became an Ambassador for The Baltimore Orioles. Whenever Al was honored for different groups that he belonged to, he was very humbled that he was chosen. And this week, I have been reading about all the awards received. That said, Al loved Facebook.
I am pretty sure Al has more selfies with his friends than anyone else. Everyone was a friend. Even if you were a stranger in a line somewhere, you left as a friend of Al’s and a selfie of the two of you on his Facebook page.
During our busiest times of the year, you would find Al helping with watering plants, unloading trucks, and pricing merchandise in all the departments. Everyone always knew you could count on him when you needed help, and down he would come from the office with a big smile and his bright pink sun glasses. I am sure helping me out in the Christmas shop was the best. The rest of the time, he worked in the office, making sure the bills got paid.
Hanging on the walls around his desk were photos of his wife, Nancy, and his puppies. He loved to tell us about things Nancy was doing and what his puppies were up to. I still hear him saying he needed to get home to his wifey and babies (dogs) because they missed him.
That is a little about the Al Doong I knew and loved. Three weeks ago, when he was told there was nothing more the doctors could do about the invasive lung cancer he had been fighting for over 2 years, I found out what I always knew. Everyone is a few degrees separated from Allen Doong.
The first weekend he was home, his softball friends got together and organized a drive-by Al and Nancy’s home to give him support. They had signs made, cars decorated, and windows down. Nancy had Al out in their driveway, and there it was–the smile!
The hashtag #AlStrong came to be, and everyone was praying for him and showing up to give their love to him. Then even during the week after, friends would show up to make sure he and Nancy had whatever they needed. Nancy told me their neighbors came over and mowed the lawn, mulched and weeded the flower beds. One of his friends let us know that Al would be at a childhood friend’s home on Saturday, May 30th, and if any of his friends wanted to stop by to wave or just say hello, they would be more than welcome.
By now, Al was very weak, but it did not stop this wonderful man with a big smile. There he was being strong and positive for his family and friends. The ever amazing Allen Doong. A week later, on June 6th, my friend Al passed away at home with his family. I had just seen him the afternoon before, and now he is gone. I don’t understand cancer, I never will. I do know that Al is not in pain and is getting up a game of softball in Heaven.
R.I.P., Allen Doong You were the best example of how a person should live. You will be missed.
Stephanie Fleming; Beyond Behnke’s