He brings a smile to the faces of everyone who drives by on Tyranena Park Road.
Don Imig has received a lot of attention over the past few weeks for his enthusiastic waving to passing cars during the day, and even more after a Facebook post by the Lake Mills Police Department garnered the attention of Madison media outlets. The Facebook post has 137 comments, over 300 shares and is liked by over 1,300 people.
He never expected people to notice what he was doing to feel better after a cancer diagnosis last year. Imig says doing something to interact with people was suggested to him by his counselor. He was acting out toward the world.
“I had nightmares, it was horrible,” Imig said. “That’s when they came up with PTSDC.”
People typically think of soldiers coming home from war as having post-traumatic stress disorder, but cancer survivors can develop the condition too. According to research reported by WebMD, the trauma of a cancer scare often leaves survivors with the condition.
“Anyone with a significant life change can get it,” Imig said. “Obviously, veterans get it, I’m not a veteran, but many people have thought I am. I just love America,” said the 64-year-old.
He wasn’t sure what he could do to interact with people when someone suggested to him he should get outside for some Vitamin D. He didn’t plan to sit there and wave to people, but someone honked their horn and waved, and he said it seemed like the natural thing to do to start waving. Since starting to wave at people driving by several months ago his outlook on life and the world has changed.
“I could sit here all day and do this,” he said.
Imig says truckers are especially enthusiastic about his vigil by the roadside as are children who would drive by after school.
“When school was on, the moms would slow down and there would be all these little hands out the window.”
Imig has always been a people person. He worked as a certified nursing assistant at UW-Hospital, retiring about three years ago. He also took care of patients at Willowbrook following his retirement.
“All of a sudden, and I’m sure it was partially due to my medication, I started feeling better and thinking maybe the world isn’t so bad.”
“I want to say thank you,” said Eric Heth of Watertown, who stopped during our interview. “You make me smile every time I drive by,” he said to Imig. “Customer service is a part of my job and not everybody is as hospitable.”
Imig thanked Heth, who drives through town regularly and said people stopping to talk to him is a pretty regular occurrence. He’s even had people drop off ice cream. He never expected to garner so much attention.
“I never expected the kind of accolades I’ve been getting. It’s just been crazy. Since I started this nothing bad has happened, only good stuff,” he said referring to his newest gig as greeter at the Lake Mills Market.
“That started out as a joke,” he said. “I was just picking on Mitch (Eveland) and I would say, ‘this is a nice store the only thing you are missing is a greeter.’”
When he started to feel better after his treatment he told Mitch he would really like to greet people at the store. Monday, June 17 was his first day.
Imig says The Market is allowing him to make his own hours at the store.
“I’m having a ball up there.”
Imig, who was diagnosed with mouth and throat cancer in October, had surgery to remove part of his tongue, which they replaced with a piece of skin from his arm. He is still having difficulty with his health and has trouble with his speech, tongue swelling and remembering what he wants to say at times, but he had his last cancer treatment early this year.
“My tongue is never going to be normal.”
The Milwaukee native is a family man, married to his wife Mary for 45 years, the couple has three children Frank, Nick and Sara and five grandchildren, who call him Papoo. The family came to Lake Mills in 1996.
“I don’t care if they wave back. I’m an equal opportunity waver,” he says. “I was doing this for myself.”
The contact with passersbys has been amazing for him.
“I hope it will give people the idea to hold a door open and just to be kind.”