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CHARITIES Following her dream



Published: Sat, July 2, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Bob Weimer turned his daughter's death into completely changing his life.

By TOM BERG

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

IRVINE, Calif. -- Mr. Logical.

That's who Bob Weimer used to be. The chief financial officer of Smiths Aerospace in Santa Ana, Calif., now lives in an empty apartment -- almost no furniture, no wall hangings, no TV or fridge -- feeling more fulfilled than ever.

He is following a dream. Literally. In it, his daughter appeared in white. She said nothing but handed him a baton. And since that moment, Weimer, 56, of Irvine, Calif., has worked tirelessly to carry out her dream.

He is, oh, so close.

"I spread her ashes two years ago," he said, holding a sealed plastic bag with all that remains. "It makes you think, 'What do I want to do with the rest of my life?'"

His answer? He sold his house, bought property in Montana, started a wilderness youth program there and is about to open a wilderness school -- all with no experience in the field.

It's not about what you've accumulated, he said, but what you leave behind.

At a time in life when most seek more security, Bob Weimer has let it go. And discovered new life. Not from logic. But from his daughter Jackie's dream.

Making sense of tragedy

The call came on a Saturday night.

"Are you Robert Weimer?" asked the Crook County coroner in Wyoming. "I have bad news."

Jackie Weimer, 27, had just fallen 350 feet to her death while rappelling down Devils Tower -- the monolith depicted in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

"I started thinking very practically," Weimer said, "about what I needed to do, the people to call."

He was still, as he likes to say, Mr. Logical. That was about to change. Five days later, on May 22, 2003, a circle of 80 family and friends joined hands above the headwaters of the Missouri River in Three Forks, Mont.

They sang. Spread her ashes. Wrote messages to Jackie, then burned them in a "Zen funeral" farewell.

Friends recalled the 1994 Irvine High School graduate nicknamed both "Smiley" for her humor and "Jack-Attack" for her drive; the cross-country runner who ignored stress fractures; the Humboldt State grad who mentored troubled kids from Colorado to Montana in wilderness-therapy programs.

As someone spoke of American Indian traditions, a rattlesnake entered the circle.

"It was just a snake coming through," Weimer said. "A nice effect. But as we finished up, this flock of inland pelicans flew over -- about 50 flying in formation, like a fly-by. It was amazing."

Two days later, Weimer took a long hike over the snow-packed trails Jackie once hiked. His guide was Jackie's former boss at Alternative Youth Adventures in Montana. Mark Parlett mentioned their program for troubled kids had closed because of lack of funding but that he might start his own.

Weimer blurted out: "Why don't you count me in?"

Two days later, Jackie appeared in her father's dream, handing him a runner's baton.

"It was extremely vivid," he said, closing his eyes to see it again. "I could accept it or reject it. I agreed to accept it."

In the course of a week in Montana, Bob Weimer said goodbye not only to his daughter -- but to his old self.

Grounding his vision

The next year took Weimer on a journey of steps and missteps. He tried to lease Bootstrap Ranch, a boarding school set on 60 acres outside of Bozeman, Mont., to augment Parlett's wilderness therapy program. However, the school wasn't interested.

He tried teaming up with United Way, then with ANASAZI Foundation, the nation's oldest wilderness-therapy organization. To no avail. He sold his Irvine home and bought an old ranch in Montana to serve Parlett's program. However, the program shut down after six months for lack of clients.

"We were concerned, like 'Is he going off the deep end?'" said Weimer's daughter Kristen Miyakawa, 31, of Bellevue, Wash. "We weren't sure he really knew what he was doing."

Maybe he'd changed, but Weimer never let go of the rational accountant inside him. He did his homework. Meeting attorneys in Florida. Courting nonprofit executives in Arizona. Attending trade shows, spending thousands of dollars of his own money. He had a head for numbers and now a heart for helping. People listened.

The owners of Bootstrap Ranch put him off to talk to Outward Bound, United Way and charities of Newman's Own, the Hershey Co. and others. By year's end, they found their new tenant.

Bob Weimer.

He's still feeling his way blindly. He must raise $350,000 to open the Jackie Weimer School by September 2006 -- or 2007 at the latest. However, he's begun marketing surveys and job interviews. He's talked to consultants and raised more than $50,000.

"This isn't being given to me by some great spirit out there," he said. "It's a lot of hard work."




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