In Loving Memory of Don Fergus … mentor, friend, luminary.
That may sound a tad grandiose to some, but those words would most likely ring more than a little true to anybody that knew Don well. Sadly, he left this plane of existence on St. Paddy’s Day, 2014. It is no coincidence that we turned on the afterburners to try and get this little company off the ground mere weeks afterwards, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Don loved the couple sauces I had back in the earliest days as things were gaining traction from us being highly enjoyable acquaintances to friends. We’d been friends at more of a distance for quite some time, but our friendship really took off right around the time my hot sauce hobby started getting to the point where I was putting it in bottles for other people to try and comment on. When “the bacon sauce” came into being is when Don start pushing me. He and his constantly prodding is the reason I found a co-packer and had our first commercial sized kettle of that sauce made. I distinctly remember standing at a mutual friend’s warehouse looking at what felt like a veritable mountain of sauce and thinking, “What the hell have I gotten myself talked into? I’ll NEVER be able to sell this much sauce!”
As far as being a luminary … Don epitomized the term! Not only did Don light up most every room he walked into, he made people smile! He was the sort of person that would work through things on his mind by investing himself in other people’s lives. I’m not talking about codependency or avoidant behavior; he asked genuine questions of people, he’d intently listen and would engage them with sincerity and purpose. He could easily lose himself in conversations with people, genuinely interested in what they were thinking, feeling and saying. In my case, those always turned out to be a positive, uplifting conversations.
More specifically, the word luminary is far more about inspiration and motivation, and he most certainly excelled in that department.
As I worked my way through that first pallet of sauce, the pace slowly picked up. As I started to ponder the idea of possibly expanding my hobby / small side business, I would take a lot of my questions about logistics, concerns I had with negotiating deals and much more to Don. What made his input so easy to digest or accept was the fact that it was very rare for me to call or pull him aside because I needed to talk. Don was the sort of soul that can read people: he’d see something in me that told him I was working through, or sometimes struggling with, an issue. He — with extreme and almost disturbing regularity — would either pull up a chair beside me, or call me over, and ask what was on my mind. His advice was always spot on, positive, and often triggered a number of other related ideas, thoughts or questions. I walked away from, quite literally, EVER encounter with Don with a smile on my face. On many occasions, I crawled into my car or (more usually) onto my motorcycle, sincerely thanking God for putting someone like him in my path of life.
Don LIVED life to its fullest. He loved his wife passionately, and made it clear to the world that he did. He was a spontaneous man who still lived by a schedule. Many a Friday afternoon conversation, be it business or just for fun, was cut short as he had to hurry along, clear up, and enjoy “Friday night pizza night” with his beautiful bride!
He lived life well, and as a tribute to him we created Phoenix, our superfood sauce. I promised his widow, Kathleen, that I would do something to help keep his name alive. That stemmed from the closing comment in my part of his eulogy regarding the old saying that someone is never truly “gone” until the last person forgets their name. Rather than just pick a sauce and put his name on it, my sons and I worked over the course of months crafting something that contained a “big ol buttload” (that line was always guaranteed to garner an almost childlike grin out of him in conversation) of antioxidants, as it was a massive heart attack that took him from us too soon. It only seemed fitting to create a sauce along those lines.
The name, Phoenix, was easy to settle on as Don had a lifelong fascination with the legend of the Phoenix and the symbolism of continuance and rebirth within life. It was his influence on my life and his “premature” passing that sparked the thought that the best way I could honor his life and influence on mine was to take this hobby and see exactly how far I could run with it. He believed it would some day be something bigger than I could imagine, and even when I would tell him about the greats in this business, he would shrug his shoulders and say, “Yeah, but they’re not you; you have something inside that they don’t. It’s more than just a recipe …”
So, here we are, a little over 2 years later … celebrating lives well lived.
Until we meet again, my friend!