Even the rich (in experience) need a little help sometimes
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
WENATCHEE — David Shaul lives modestly in a small, dilapidated house on Delaware Avenue in Wenatchee. He makes do on $710 a month in Social Security payments, which means using a portable heater because he can’t afford to pay for oil for the furnace.
The 67-year-old Wenatchee native may be poor in monetary wealth, but he is rich in life experience. As a musician, he has performed on the same stage as some big-name entertainers.
This week, Shaul narrowly averted losing his home to foreclosure. That’s what happens when you haven’t been able to pay property taxes for three years. The foreclosure was scheduled for Friday. Fortunately, a group of community members heard about his plight and, on the day before Thanksgiving, pledged enough cash to avert the foreclosure. Without that intervention, he likely would have joined the growing list of people living on the street.
It’s not that Shaul didn’t want to pay his taxes. He had been unable to work since suffering a massive heart attack in 2005 that caused a car crash and left him with a shattered face. Since the accident, the affable and gregarious Shaul has dealt with a form of vertigo that prevents him from working. He lives on his Social Security check and refuses to consider welfare because he says other people need the money more than he does.
Former bandmates still fast friends
Wenatchee natives Ted Hanson and Dave Shaul spent the better part of 17 years traveling all over the country playing music at rodeos, fairs and casinos. Hanson says he considers Shaul to be like a brother.
The band was called Ted Hanson and the Country Express and they shared the stage with an amazing array of country and rock bands in a career that lasted until the early 1980s. They played with the Drifters, the Platters, Lawrence Welk, Three Dog Night, as well as an array of country stars.
Hanson graduated from Wenatchee High School in 1958, and after a stint working for Boeing, he became an air traffic controller in the Air Force.
While he was at Larson Air Force Base in Moses Lake, he played in a band with Gordon Ohme and got acquainted with Shaul, who was playing in a different group.
Later, when Hanson ended up in Pittsburgh, he formed the Country Express and talked Shaul into moving across the country and joining the band.
The group broke up in the early 1980s and Hanson decided to make a career change, focusing on contracting and real estate in Alaska.
Today, he and his wife (who also played in the band) run a 300-acre horse ranch in Colorado. Shaul went on to play for a few more years.
Shaul was someone he could always count on, Hanson said of their travels together. “He was the intellectual in the group — always reading books,” he recalled.
He also said Shaul marched to the beat of a different drummer.
One time they agreed to meet in Minot, N.D., on a specific day, Hanson recalled. When Hanson showed up at the airport, Shaul wanted to know what had taken him so long. Shaul had arrived a day earlier and had sat in the airport reading, waiting patiently until Hanson arrived.
Of his friend, Hanson said Shaul hasn’t been the same since that wreck.
“He’s had some tough luck,” Hanson said.
— Rufus Woods, The World
The effort to avert the foreclosure was shepherded by Larry and Wendy Deal, who own the Frameworks shop on Mission Street. The Deals worked with Hans Slette of the Northwest Justice Project to see what could be done about the foreclosure, and Slette was able to negotiate a payment plan with Chelan County.
Shaul is a free spirit who has led a unique and colorful life. A veteran of the U.S. Army, Shaul was an accomplished vocalist and bass player who performed with Ted Hanson and the Country Express, which opened for the likes of country stars Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, the Platters, the Drifters and Three Dog Night.
His career in entertainment was launched here in the Wenatchee Valley in the early 1960s, starting with a folk group named the Demolaires that featured Bill Greenwood and Ed Isenhart. Later, they changed the name of the group to Take Three.
He also acted in numerous productions in the valley over the years. He was the stage manager for Joan Shelton when she produced her first “Nutcracker” here in the valley, and he and Greenwood reprised that role in 2009 when she produced her final version of that ballet.
He had a drama scholarship to Wenatchee Valley College in 1961 and studied with Keith Sexson, one of the most revered actors and directors in the history of the valley. “He was pretty good as an actor, fairly versatile,” Sexton said.
When you talk to Shaul about his life, you discover a rich history of experiences. He has a sharp and detailed memory that allows him to describe events as if they happened yesterday.
In his living room, Shaul has his past organized in folders and bookshelves that he can access at the drop of a hat. On the wall, he has photographs of his performing groups.
After he was drafted, Shaul trained as a radio telemetry cryptographer and he joined the 7th Armored Cavalry in Korea, arriving just three days after the capture of the USS Pueblo, when tensions were high. His superiors soon discovered his musical talents and he ended up in an Army jazz ensemble, where he opened for a USO show featuring Bob Hope and Ann-Margret.
When he returned to the states, he hooked up again with Ted Hanson, another Wenatchee native, and they toured all over the country.
Ultimately, he found himself in Anchorage where his then-fiancee suggested he go to work for Holland America on a seasonal tourist train running from that city past Mount McKinley to Fairbanks. He worked his way up from bartender to supervising the car managers on the train.
Then came the fateful day in 2005 when he suffered the heart attack and smashed his face. “They spent five years putting Humpty Dumpty back together again,” he observed, The photographic evidence is gruesome.
That event changed his life dramatically. Unable to work, he moved back to Wenatchee and took care of his mother, who passed in 2008.
His free-spirited life of playing music and conducting tours had not left him with a retirement or extra cash, so the Social Security check has been his lifeblood.
As Thanksgiving approached, Shaul said he was mentally preparing himself for being kicked out of his home and living on the street. “It was absolute terrifying,” Shaul told me. “I’m not afraid of anything but that scared the hell out of me.”
Shaul had no idea where to turn and there seemed to be no way out. But with the help of the Deals, Slette and some anonymous benefactors in the community, he has a new lease on life.
Asked why he hadn’t sought help for the overdue tax bill earlier, Shaul says this: “I think I was out of my mind, but the thought (of what was owed) was never out of my mind.”
It seems like he just didn’t know where to turn or whom to ask.
Meanwhile, Shaul is grateful to have a roof over his head this winter and plans to put the property up for sale next spring and move into an apartment.
Through the challenges of the last five years, Shaul says he’s maintained his sense of humor, something that “has pulled me through a lot of tough spots.” And he is grateful for the help of friends and also his neighbors. When the city threatened to cite him for an overgrown yard, a group of neighors got together and got the work done. It’s that spirit of generosity and care that still exists here.
That’s what makes a community — people who care about more than just themselves and who are willing to help someone in need. Who knows how many Dave Shauls are among us.
If we look around our own neighborhoods, I’ll bet we’d find others who could use a helping hand. Leaving the wellbeing of our neighbors to social service agencies alone seems less than humane.
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