LA CROSSE, Wis. -- La Crosse barber Ken Garves has been cutting hair for six decades...and at 83-years-old, has no plans of closing up shop. "It's interesting. Everyday goes fast and it's very good."
And don't expect him to slow down anytime soon as a longtime member of the Mount La Crosse ski patrol. "We've got people from all walks of life. It's unbelievable."
But it turns out, it's Ken's walk in life that is the most unbelievable and in some ways - the most heartbreaking. First, a little back story. Ken was just 20 years old when he married his wife Ardel. "We met at the Avalon ballroom. We danced and one thing led to another."
They had two children together, a daughter Vicki and a son Dan and as families go - they were about as close as they come. "Very close. I was very lucky in that respect."
But in 2006 that perfect family unit was shattered when Ardel, the love of Ken's life died from a heart attack. "She was the perfect mate. Everybody should have a wife like I had."
The years that followed her death were difficult but fortunately for Ken, "my two children they really took good care of me."
Losing a spouse is an unfortunate part of life no matter when it happens. But losing a child goes against the laws of nature. On January 30th, 2009, Ken's daughter Vicki and her husband Larry were flying home to Hudson, Wisconsin in a small plane piloted by Larry. "They just about made it home. I was working the next days and a policeman friend of mine took the obligation to come tell me."
Vicki, Larry and a friend also on board all died in the crash. "Federal aviation board said it was ice on the wings. It was tough. It's still tough."
After Vicki's death, Ken leaned on his son Dan and daughter-in-law Bobbi more than ever. "We were close, but I think we got even closer. They included me in so many things that I wouldn't have been included in."
"He's the perfect example of how life goes on and to keep enjoying it," say Bobbi Garves. "His amazing strength. His ability to go on."
I wish this were the end of the story. But it turns out, Ken would need to find the strength to survive the unthinkable yet again. On Valentines day 2011, "a friend of mine called and said, 'Dan had an accident.' I drove to French Island and they were hauling the truck away and I talked to a guy I new on the Sheriff's department and he said, 'I think you better get to St. Francis hospital right away.' So I did."
Ken's son Dan had a massive heart attack while driving. "He lived a few hours and that's all."
No parent should have to bury a child, yet here Ken sits today having buried two. "Do you ever ask, 'Why me?' Oh sure. You can't help but do that sometimes. Especially about your children. People say things get better and they do to a certain extent. It's good to have those memories."
But Ken Garves will not let his life be defined by the tragedies that have plagued him. And that's what this story, Ken's story, is really all about. About finding a way to go on, to overcome the terrible hand you've been dealt and continue to live life. "I don't know what I would have done without Ken to show me the way. I wanted to give up many times."
He finds comfort in his many, many friends, and also in a yellow lab named Noel - a dog that belonged to his daughter. "The dog was supposed to be in the plane with them that day. So I ended up with the dog. She's been a big help. She's good company. She's a good greater when I come home. And she don't leave my side when I'm here."
"Sometimes I think there aren't words to describe how amazing he is and his attitude towards life. He doesn't let the bad things take him down. He takes a hold of life and goes forward and I love him so much for it."
So yes, at 83 years old, he's still working. He's still skiing. He's still doing all the things he loves in life. "I think, you've gotta just stay ski-patrolling, that's why I'm still working, playing golf....fishing. I'm glad I've got those situations. I like to work. I like to leave this house in the mornings. I hug the dog goodbye. That's what keeps me going."