By Gina Paradiso
Arkansas Valley Hospice

"In third grade I said I was going to be a pharmacist," he told me, giving me that one of a kind smile. The one that, when you see him in the pharmacy, even when he's talking to someone else, and you're aisles away, you smile too. That one.

We met that morning at Otero Junior College's cafeteria, the Rattlers' Den Food Court. We visited for a couple of hours; well, until students started filing in for lunch and began to drown us (okay, me) with some sort of hip-hop music. Even then, he was simply un-fazed.

Bob Fowler said he had attended a health fair for school, and that was it; he knew what his destiny was going to be.

Bob proudly shared with me that he was the fourth generation of his family to live in La Junta, with the first of them settling in sometime between 1860 and 1865. He went to Otero Junior College for two years, ultimately ending up at CU Boulder's Pharmacy School. He started working at the Compton family's drug store on Third and Colorado (which has since burned down) when he was only 13 years old, and continued working there, off-and-on, even after he received his pharmacy license.

In 1975 Bob started working at Arkansas Valley Regional Medical Center. "I met a lovely nurse and got engaged," he said, smiling of course. He and his wife, Diane, married and together they've had four children: three daughters and a son. Two of whom live in La Junta, one in Fort Collins and one in Kansas.

For the last 27 years Bob has been a pharmacist for Wal-Mart and he said he likes it. "I just love being a pharmacist. I get to take care of everyone as if they are my own family," he said, saying that even though each day can have its own challenges, he's part of the healthcare team, taking care of people.

Bob said, on top of being the coroner for Otero County for the last 38 years, one of his great passions is being on the leadership advisory board, providing educational programs for anti-smoking. He said he's a strong proponent for patient counseling, offering guidance with diet, medication and exercise.

Bob told me, with a sincere shock, "It was a real surprise! I'm not usually speechless but I was," referring to the Community Service Award Bob was honored with this past January. Having been at this dinner, I can say, he did seem to be taken by surprise; for others in the community, myself included, it came as no shock. "I just love doing the community things I do and I do the things I love to do," he told me. If everyone were to have his positivity, we could all get so much more done, and with more compassion too.

I refreshed my coffee and after, Bob began telling me about the cabin that he and his family built in Hartsel, Colorado, in 2012. "I decided to make an ornament for my kids. I collected leaves and put them on an Aspen wafer for each of them and my grandkids," the story began, but little did he realize, at the time, that this little ornament project for his children would lead him on a path of philanthropy. "After Ark Valley Hospice took care of my dad, the idea came to me ..."

Bob was referring to Arkansas Valley Hospice, Inc.'s Memory Trees. A Christmas tree is placed in each of the cities where hospice provides service. Family and loved ones can purchase an ornament in memory of their loved one. Proceeds from the Memory Trees cover community programs, such as the palliative and respite care programs; as well, approximately 20 percent of hospice patients annually do not have insurance benefits.

With great enthusiasm, Bob told me "This is wonderful; this is something I have a real passion about," referring to how special the Christmas ornaments are to him. "Each one is hand-made but it's a group project. My grandson drew the Star of The East. Bill Boggs, a friend of mine, does all of the engraving," he said, adding that he walked the property to find all of the fallen aspen that he then individually cuts, making all of the ornaments.

Before we left, Bob shared with me again some of his experiences he's had with hospice, saying he's had family and friends on hospice and how he's appreciative for the dignity and respect hospice offers those on its service. "Hospice offers quality of care for the patient, family and for friends," Bob said. I asked him if he would be afraid to use hospice if he needed it? "No, I would not be afraid!" he said, still maintaining his incredible smile. "Life is beautiful — I feel blessed to be doing this well."

Gina Paradiso is a liaison with Arkansas Valley Hospice Inc. and can be reached at 384-8827 or for more information, www.arkvalleyhospice.org.