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Different kind of hero walks into heaven too soon
by David Leibowitz of The Arizona Republic, Sunday, November 18, 2001

They laid his dirty apron in the coffin with the shoe man the other day, which is so right because the apron helped define Dan Dwyer.  Not completely, not by a long shot, but the apron helps tell Dan's tale.

It could stand by itself from the glue and the grit and the sweat, from all those hours of honest work inside Shamrock Shoe Repair on Glendale Avenue.  Fifty, 60 hours a week for 16 years, a few thousand days spent repairing not just soles, but souls.

Some heroes wear a cop's uniform or a fireman's turnouts.  Dan Dwyer wore an apron.

He called the program that earned him a hero's epitaph, "Shoes for the Shoeless."  It was a simple idea, really, one Dan's wife, Patrice, read about in a magazine: People would stop by Shamrock with their discards, wearable shoes that had fallen out of favor, and the shoe man would find these shoes a home.  One time it would be Mountain View Elementary in a tough part of Phoenix, the next time Central Arizona Shelter Services.  The time after that Andre House, then Thomas J. Pappas School, then Love in Action.  And so on and so on.

And on and on and on.

Most places, "Shoes for the Shoeless" goes a month.  Dan Dwyer did it year-round.  For six years.

"It meant everything to him," Patrice says of her husband's community service.  "He was so proud of it.  Every organization he gave shoes to, the one prerequisite was he wouldn't give them to a place where they would resell them.  There could be no money.  The shoes had to go directly to people."

Which they did.  To the tune of a 100,000 pairs.

Think about that for a moment: One man soled enough feet to populate a medium-size city.

Hence, the application of the word, "hero."

Truth be told, though, Dan Dwyer was equally heroic in other ways, the kind that never make it into newspaper stories.  He raised a 14-year old boy named Jim, a freshman at Brophy Prep who will become an Eagle Scout next year.  There's also a 19-year old daughter, Jennifer, who on Wednesday, four days after her dad died, was inducted into the National Honor Society at Northern Arizona University.

Then there's the rest of the Dwyer clan, two brothers and three sisters who have endless stories of "Dan the Man" and a compassion that knew no bounds.  You had a baby, he was the first to weep beside your hospital bed.  You ran up your college charge card and he paid it off without mentioning it.  Your kid was selling gift wrap or candy bars, you called your favorite uncle.  You needed an emergency contact, you put down Dan.

He was always there, the Vietnam vet with the curly hair and winking blue eyes.  Until a heart attack took him at 53.

"Danny was always a catalyst for nice things," the youngest Dwyer brother, Tim, says.  "You know how they say 'Good things happen to good people?' That just fits Dan.  Danny had a great life.  There wasn't a whole lot of bad."

You'd be hard-pressed to disagree, what with 100,000 pairs of donated shoes tallied in heaven beside the name of Dwyer.  It's a sum that promises to keep growing, too, provided the community remains both generous and needy.

"We'll keep it going," Patrice says.  "Shoes for the Shoeless will never stop.  It will be a legacy for Dan, to keep Shoes for the Shoeless going."

The address is 2033 W. Glendale Ave., and someone named Dwyer will be there again starting Tuesday.  This is good information to keep handy, because you never know when a soul might need fixing.

 
You can reach Leibowitz at dleibowitz@ktar.com or (602) 241-6819.  His column appears on Page B2 on Sundays.  He can be heard on KTAR 620-AM weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon.

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