Willie Davis

Willie Davis, a Navy veteran who is dying from cancer, sits Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018, in his Brownstown garage among many of his belongings he’s trying to sell to help pay for his own funeral.

Old newspapers from major milestones.

An antique toy truck.

And stacks of vinyl albums.

For Willie Davis, they are cherished treasures he has been collecting most of his life.

But in recent weeks, he’s been devoting the time he has left to unloading it all – offering it for sale at his weekend garage sales to cover his funeral and burial costs 200 miles south in Culpeper, Virginia.

“I never imagined I’d be doing something like this. But I felt desperate,” Davis said, sitting next to a dictionary tagged for $1, in a garage half-filled with DVDs, ornaments and other goods.

A Laurel, Maryland, native who has been living in Brownstown for the past 11 years, Davis was diagnosed with a Stage 4 skin cancer earlier this summer.

He said it was initially misdiagnosed after he tore a meniscus last year and ended up with an infection. After a biopsy revealed he had Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Davis was told it had spread into his bones.

It was a “death sentence” he said he never planned for.

“A lot of this stuff is special to me,” he said “But I don’t want to want to be a financial burden on the people I’ll leave behind. I’d rather do something about it.”

Last month, two strangers decided to do something, too.

David Dunkleberger, the equipment manager for the Johnstown Tomahawks, and Ed Sheets, a human services caseworker for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, said they stopped over to browse his sale on Aug 4.

Dunkleberger said he picked up some old newspapers from the 1977 Flood, and it led to a conversation with Davis.

“When he told me why he was doing this – that he was trying to pay for his own funeral – I was floored,” he said.

When Dunkleberger went home that night, Davis’ somber story went with him, he said.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about it. And Ed and I quickly realized we’ve had to do something for him.”

The pair launched a GoFundMe campaign for Davis the following day.

And over the past few weeks, donations have climbed to more than $4,000 on the gofundme.com/helpwillied crowdfunding page.

“He’s a single guy. He’s on his own up here and we want to do whatever we can to give him his dying wish – and get him to his final resting place,” Dunkleberger said.

Because of Davis’ own difficulties, Dunkleberger said he’s been talking with Davis’ oldest sister to make the calls needed to determine how much it’ll cost to have him transported to Virginia, prepared for burial and then laid to rest in a plot he owns.

Davis said he was stunned by the help.

It’s brought him comfort in an otherwise tumultuous time, he said.

“I never expected somebody to come along like that – they went way above where I ever expected,” Davis said.

He said the compassion he’s received from others has made his remaining days more enjoyable.

He turned to support through a Johnstown area AseraCare Hospice this summer.

Davis said he doesn’t expect to make it through Christmas – “although I’d love to” – and tries to escape those thoughts by listening to music or watching deer that come to graze in the yard outside his home.

“Sometimes, you don’t stop to appreciate those types of things until you know they won’t last forever,” Davis said, resting against a metal cane alongside his friend, Albert Cerullo. “I’d love to have more of them.”

Cerullo said they’ve been close friends for 12 years and it’s been tough watching Davis struggle.

“He’s going through a lot of pain,” he said. “But seeing people getting together and help him – I know how much it means to him. It’s so uplifting.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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