It was a shared goal of friends and relatives to get David Lucas to laugh.
Described as an easy going man who was quick to offer a smile, he was a bit stingy when it came to sharing his vocal burst of delight: it was almost as if he knew of their intentions, however good natured they may have been, and wanted to make them work for it.
“It was a slow developing process,” said childhood pal Mark Sweazy. “It would start as a certain snicker, then it would move into more of a chuckle, and then it would turn into a laugh that etched itself into your mind.”
Since his involuntary rhythmic action developed as a child, there have been those who have sought to amuse him in order to hear it. His siblings would try to embarrass him in order to draw it out; his friends would do more of the same while walking the halls of Franklin Heights in the early 1970s; the patrons at Polly’s Tavern (which he co-owned with his then wife Donna Lucas) would make ribald jokes; his biker buddies would see if it could ring louder than the wind; and his step-children would do just about anything to get it out of him.
“It was the most infectious laugh,” said step-daughter Janessa Fridenmaker. “You couldn’t help but to share in the joy of that sound.”
For more than 60 years, that joyous sound filled households, hallways, taverns, construction sites, the open road and the occasional golf course. But then it was silenced far too soon.
It was late last year that Lucas, a proud native of the westside, started to feel that something was off.
“He was the most energetic person but he started to complain about being tired all of the time,” said Linda Taylor, his long-time partner. “I would call him and he would say he just woke up from a nap, or I would call him and he would say he needed to take a nap.
“He was not someone who napped, especially when he was down in Florida and riding around in the nice weather, so it was very unusual for him.”
At the urging of his family, he went in for tests but all of the indications came back relatively normal.
“He was initially treated for vertigo,” said Donna Lucas, who remained best friends with David after their divorce in 2006.
But symptoms lingered and progressed. After more tests, doctors spotted a tumor on his intestines and further scans showed signs that there was cancer in his lungs, his brain and bones.
“It was a shock for all of us,” said Taylor. “A horrible shock.”
The hospital where David was being treated began to restrict visitor access to slow the spread of a novel coronavirus. Though family and friends could speak to him via cell phone or tablet, it was not the same as gathering around him as he fought cancer.
After a round of chemotherapy and other treatments, David went into hospice care in March. Fridenmaker said if there was one positive to come out of that transition, it was the fact that they could see him, speak to him, and find solace in the laugh that he was still able to offer.
He died on April 8. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, family and friends were unable to hold a memorial to mourn and celebrate his life and achievements.
Often teased for her organizational skills, Fridenmaker was determined that a memorial would be held and that when it was, it would one-up that goal of making him laugh.
“I wanted it to be something that would make him proud,” she said.
Knowing his discomfort with funeral homes, she decided to establish a charity ride in his honor to benefit cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
“It combined all of the things he loved – friends and family together, most on bikes, raising money in his name to help children.”
The memorial benefit for David “Prune” Lucas was held at several locations on Aug. 9. It started at the Moose Lodge on Demorest Road where he spent much of his childhood and adulthood; it traveled to the Oak Grove Tavern in Galloway to meet up with the owner who was one of David’s numerous friends; and it ended at Pour Boys Pub & Patio on Sullivant Avenue, the spot where Polly’s Tavern used to be located.
More than 60 riders throughout the state participated in the benefit and more than $8,500 was raised for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Included in the rally was Robby Taylor, David’s teenage grandson who is an aspiring professional racer, Raymond Diagle, a resident of northeast Ohio who purchased David’s beloved white 2007 Harley Davidson and George Felton, a non-rider who chose to cruise in his classic Monte Carlo.
All three of his step-children participated as well – Jenee Bennett was ensconced in an SUV, Robert Taylor on a bike, and Fridenmaker riding pillion on her father’s bike, in absolute awe at what was happening.
“I was crying the entire trip,” Fridenmaker said with a laugh. “Fortunately I was not in charge of the bike’s operation.”
As the main event kicked off at Pour Boys, Linda Taylor walked around the premises, looking at the pictures of her departed partner, and soaked up the scene filled with people sharing stories.
“I can almost see him dancing to the blues and I can almost hear him laughing,” she said. “He would have been so proud of this benefit and how we all came together to honor his life and memory.”