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Unending love inspires Paul’s Mystery Ship to End ALS

In 2019, after being diagnosed with Bulbar ALS, Paul Dannels and his wife, Bonnie, attended the Rocky Mountain ALS Association walk in Denver. After Paul’s passing in 2020, his family created the nonprofit, Paul’s Mystery Ship to End ALS, which features an annual walk in Castle Rock.

Paul Dannels was quite simply a good man with a gentle spirit. For 34 years, he served as the district manager of The Village at Castle Pines Metropolitan District, earning admiration and appreciation throughout his career until his much-deserved retirement
in 2015.

One of Paul’s greatest gifts over the years was mentoring youth and young adults with his engaging smile and always-listening ears. “He made every person he talked to feel like they were the number one person in his world,” shared Paul’s daughter, Amy.

After retirement, Paul even took to teaching students how to drive, an endeavor meant for a special kind of person indeed. But nothing was more meaningful to Paul than his own family, including his wife of 45 years, Bonnie, their three children and eight grandchildren. “He was so in love with mom, it was unreal,” said Amy.

In January 2019, Paul was diagnosed with advanced, progressive Bulbar ALS. ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is a nervous system disease that slowly weakens all the muscles in the body, causing progressive loss of physical functioning. There is no cure. The disease quickly stripped Paul of his mobility, ability to communicate, and eventually breathing.

Paul’s progression moved so fast that the family struggled to anticipate his needs; for example, just when he needed and received a manual wheelchair, it was time for an electric wheelchair. It’s a disease where a person is trapped inside a body that is losing its electrical grid on a daily basis, but the mind is completely intact.

In the months leading up to his passing, the Blues Image song, “Ride Captain Ride,” with lyrics that honor his early roots in San Francisco as well as life and the mystery ahead, became his mantra. He would tell Bonnie, “I’m heading off to the sunset and I’m on my mystery ship.” On March 14, 2020, in just under 14 months from his diagnosis and with his family by his side, he lost his battle and set sail into that sunset.

After Paul passed, his family wanted to honor his memory and support other families affected by this disease. They created a nonprofit and fittingly named it, “Paul’s Mystery Ship to End ALS.” This disease requires a different kind of hope – not hope for a cure, but hope for comfort, dignity and love. “When we were going through it, we felt so alone and didn’t know what to expect. We want to be that resource for other families,” said Paul’s daughter, Julie.

The Dannels family invites anyone and everyone to join in the Foundation’s annual walk on Saturday, September 25 in Castle Rock. The event is all about showing love and support to families facing ALS, raising awareness and providing advocacy about the disease, and honoring the memories of those who have lost their battle to ALS.

The 2.4-mile walk starts at 2 p.m. in front of Ecclesia Marketplace and will be followed by live music by the John Saunders Band at Sinners & Saints, an Ice Bucket Challenge and a live fundraising auction.

Those who register in advance by September 15 at noon with a $25 donation will receive a free T-shirt; adults will also receive a shot glass and a shot of Patron Silver tequila after the walk, in honor of Paul. The Broncos game will be played on the big screen, so the party will last into the night. The entire event will be wheelchair accessible, and all ages are welcome.

Paul’s Mystery Ship keeps sailing to help others keep hope, kindness and love alive through this devastating disease process. Bonnie misses everything about Paul but especially his companionship and wisdom about living life. “He taught me how to love unendingly and gifted me the ability to know that I can do all kinds of things I didn’t think I could do,” she said.

To learn more about Paul’s Mystery Ship to End ALS and the fundraising walk on September 25th, visit www.paulsmysteryship.com or see page 18 in the E Guide insert.

By Elean Gersack; photo courtesy of Bonnie Dannels

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