The Dan Peak Foundation is a celebration of the life of a remarkable man, and an adoption and fulfillment of his legacy. His life demonstrates the power that one parent can have on his/her child and future generations.
Dan Peak, born Charles Daniel Peak in 1923 was the son of Claude and Minnie Peak. Born in Illinois the family later moved to Radcliff, KY where Dan and his older two brothers and two sisters grew up.
At an early age Dan suffered a head injury that left him with minimal hearing capacity. As a result of his hearing loss his speech was slurred and difficult for most to understand. Although extremely intelligent, due to his hearing and speech disabilities he struggled in school. His older brother, Don who excelled academically and in sports, was held back in school to be the ears and voice for his brother.
The family patriarch, Claude Peak, an uneducated man, worked construction to provide for his family. Times were tough through the Great Depression but there was one constant in the Peak home, the daily newspaper. Although Dan and his Father’s relationship was often volatile, Dan always remembered and appreciated that the newspaper represented his father’s encouragement to gain knowledge, and explore opportunity.
Dan married in his early 30s. The marriage ended in divorce a few years later and only three months after his daughter, Micki was born. Unprecedented for the 1950’s in a small southern town, Dan was awarded sole custody of his daughter and hired a local family to raise her. In the early years Dan was a doting father and regularly spent time with his daughter.
By the time Micki was 10 years old, 1967, Dan became paralyzed on the right side of his body caused by maladjustment from a local chiropractor. Living in a small truck-stop town and following the advice of someone thought to be a trusted friend, Dan never sued for damages or received financial compensation for the destruction of his body. He was ruined financially, emotionally, with nowhere or no one to turn to. No longer physically able to perform his duties as a restaurant manager he moved to the big city of Louisville, KY to be lost in the crowds.
Travel was difficult and money sparse, so his visits with his daughter became few but he never failed to write a letter once a week to encourage her to do well in school.
Dan’s life in Louisville was hard. He lived in a tenement building infested with roaches and rodents where the only toilet and bathing facilities was communal and one per floor.
As a child he had hated his father’s alcoholism, but in his depression he found himself following in his father’s footsteps. As he slowly started putting the pieces of his life back together going to the library, reading the daily newspaper and re-reading books written by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale and Thomas Hill became his salvation. He gave up alcohol and never touched it again. He loved the taste of cigarettes but soon decided that with the minimal amount of Social Security he received he needed to break the habit if he was ever to become financially stable. Years later he would speak of smoking and lick his lips saying that he could still taste the pleasure of cigarettes.
Urban renewal came to Louisville in small spurts and finally a low income Senior Citizens building was built a few blocks from the building Dan lived in. He was still a young man in his late 40s but due to his physical disabilities and his financial circumstances he was able to apply for residence. The available units were limited and Dan later told of how he would walk to the building site every day and pray that he would be chosen to live in the building. His prayers were granted and he lived there until 1996.
By all medical accounts Dan should have been bed ridden decades before his body finally gave out around the year 1999. Due to the paralysis when he walked he had to drag the right side of his body. He made himself exercise and walk everyday. On the rare times he used a cane to walk, people on the street would realize that he had a disability. However, he rarely walked with a cane. He was determined to force his body to work on his balance and strengthen his muscles to stay mobile as long as possible. But his determination and perseverance had a high price. Not only did he endure continual agonizing pain, but because of his strained gait people would walk to the other side of the street to avoid him, thinking he was drunk. Dogs would attack him or stand and bark; he wasn’t “normal.” Added to his challenges was his speech impediment which worsened with age and the paralysis, making day-to-day communication difficult, resulting in an isolated life among the crowds.
Dan received a small Disability Check from Social Security but he also found ways to make extra money. His fear of being dependant or a burden on anyone was greater than his intense pain. He took odd jobs, worked at a laundry mat, and sold newspapers on the street corner. He would recount the words of his father that no doubt saved the Peak family from homelessness and starvation during the Depression.
“If you can’t make a dollar then make 50 cents. If you can’t make 50 cents then
During all these years he never stopped reading and learning. He was a constant at the local library and for those few who took the time to get to know him; he was generous with the little that he had. Some took notice and on May 24, 1978 the Mayor of Louisville, KY awarded Dan the “Distinguished Citizen Award.”
As a young man he had joined the local lodge of Free Masons. Dan had heeded the words of one of his Fraternal Brothers and always paid his dues so that he would have a place to live when he could no longer struggle through on his own. In the past it was customary for organizations such as the Free Masons to accept “Life Care” residents in their retirement and nursing homes; a practice that has since been discontinued due to the high cost of health care. The yearly dues were minimal but there were times when he felt that it was a monumental amount.
In 1996 Dan decided that he needed to take the next step in life. He moved to the Masonic Home of Shelbyville, KY and lived there until his death in May of 2002. The last couple of years of his life, he was bed-ridden and even though he could not hear or see to read, the television news continually played and the daily newspaper laid on his bed as a second blanket.
Dan’s life and the values that he taught his daughter are his legacy. He “preached” to his daughter the importance of reading and getting an education. During his 20s he became a disciple of Norman Vincent Peale and other forward thinkers of “Positive Thinking.” His life was constantly plagued by physical and emotional hardships but he never wavered in his faith in God or in the power of the mind and positive thinking. His faith and these teachings he passed on to his daughter are what defined his life.
Dan Peak’s words to his young daughter:
Never live in the past
Never hate—it will eat you alive
Never be prejudice—treat everyone with respect
Always read and expand your mind
Get a good education and never stop learning
If you can’t make a dollar then make 50 cents, if you can’t make 50 cents make a
dime. If you can’t make a dime make what ever you can, just make something.
Dan lived what he preached. He didn’t live in the past. He never said a disparaging word about his unfaithful wife, the man whom he trusted as a friend who deliberately gave him false advice in order to protect his friend the chiropractor, or his daughter who neglected him most of her life. In fact the only person he ever openly condemned was his father who at times when drunk would become abusive toward his beloved mother.
He worked hard and even with a paralyzed body he earned whatever he could to maintain his independence. He never stopped reading, learning, and improving his mind. His body betrayed his passionate spirit-his speech made it difficult and usually impossible for him to share his knowledge-his lack of hearing shut him off from most of the world. Yet through all of the trials and seemingly impossible mountains he carried the ministry of positive thinking, the importance of education, and belief in prayer
His daughter was slow to follow in his steps and heed his advice. However, without her realizing the influence, Dan’s legacy of positive thinking and perseverance had been instilled and was her foundation for life.
Dan’s words of wisdom regarding education finally hit home when she was 21 years old. Micki had dropped out of high school after the 11th grade and married at age 18. She and her husband lived a secure middle class life but she realized that it would be hypocritical to insist her children finish high school when she had not herself. So at 21 years of age, one son in diapers and pregnant with her second son, she attended an Adult Education Program and received her GED Certificate.
Reading parenting, business, and inspirational books strengthened her foundation. She read to her sons constantly and the local library became a special place for the threesome to visit.
Micki’s marriage had its challenges and ended after 14 years. By this time her two sons were finishing grade school and entering middle school. It was during this time that she reconnected with Dan and slowly started to appreciate what an incredible man her father was and how his “preaching” or teachings had in fact, been the foundation stones which had given her strength through her own challenging times.
Micki and her two sons persevered, worked hard and accomplished the impossible. Although not formally educated, Micki was successful in her work endeavors but her father’s words admonishing her to get an education hung as a curtain in the back of her mind. In 2002 after both of her sons had graduated college and were successful in their respective fields, she started her academic journey. In May 2007, one month before her 50thbirthday, she added a Masters of Nonprofit Management degree to her undergraduate degree in Business Administration. One man a father had dreamed: The result was, not only his daughter but also his grandchildren fulfilled his dream.