By Lisa Shrewsberry
Does Dreama Denver adore her home state of West Virginia? Yes — as sure as her interviews have spawned clever media leads like “Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…”
But perhaps and surprisingly, her geographical dedication paled in comparison to that of soul mate and husband Bob Denver.
“Bob loved this area. I hate to say he loved it more than I did, being from here myself, but every day he would wake up and look out the window… and thank me for being born here.”
If she’s heard it once, she’s heard it one and a Thurston Howell III million times. Fans remembering aloud how they would rush home after school to watch Bob, a.k.a. Gilligan, and his madcap antics as they played out on the perpetual sands of Gilligan’s Island.
For “Sunny Side Up,” her morning radio show airing from Little Buddy Radio station in Princeton, Dreama regularly visits schools to get clips of students saying the pledge of allegiance to play on air. When she asks, “How many of you have seen Gilligan’s Island?” this is the first generation where only one or two hands might go up. If Dreama, known to Bob as simply “Dreams,” has anything to do with it, his memory may evolve, but it will never go away.
In keeping, the wife of the faithful first mate in role and in life now tells a tale of her own, their love story of nearly 30 years, inside her September literary release, “Gilligan’s Dreams: The Other Side of the Island.”
The author/actress/radio personality will be at 110 Marshall’s “Bluesy Artspace” in Beckley Friday for a Taste of the Islands event and book signing, where she’ll discuss what compelled her to put pen to page and tell the love story of her lifetime.
It was another famous West Virginian, New York Times bestselling author Homer Hickam, who helped Dreama realize she had a story, and an obligation to tell it. She would send her friend chapters for review and he would tell her to “keep them coming,” chapters beginning with how she came to know and fall in love with the late 1960s American sitcom icon.
For decades, Gilligan was a household name — a moniker ranking rockstar in exclusivity, as patented as Madonna, Elvis and Sting. There was never another Gilligan. But few knew the intelligent and conscientious teacher, actor and parent behind his goofball character. Dreama couldn’t let that insider’s tale go untold.
“I honestly didn’t think I could live without him, but I came to understand that the best way to honor his memory is to live a full and happy life, carrying on the work he started with a heart as big as his,” wrote Dreama.
She realized about two years after his passing from cancer in 2005 that stewing in her own misery wasn’t living up to what she promised Bob.
So she pulled herself vertical by her figurative bootstraps and continued all they had started. The Denver Foundation to help parents of special needs individuals, like their son Colin, who suffers from a severe form of autism. Little Buddy Radio, a positive and broad-reaching platform for the Foundation. Promoting the “sunny side” of the state they both loved.
Of all his accomplishments, Dreama marvels most over her husband’s tenacity as a partner in caring for Colin. She had seen many families buckle under the stress of managing autism. Not everyone stayed. Her Bob did — that and so much more.
She views her book as a furtherance of their mission, especially in supporting families with autistic children.
“There’s something about famous people when you find out they’re raising an autistic child. I remember when Colin was diagnosed, hearing about other celebrities’ children who were autistic. Somehow it made you feel better, like if it can happen to famous people it doesn’t seem so horrible that it can happen to you.”
The book also delves into Bob’s life in his later years and into his passing and the inevitable aftermath.
During Bob’s illness, Dreama experienced so much real stress that she suffered a heart attack. “I tried to die with him,” she says. “I didn’t think I could go on.
“We were a very tight unit. When he died, there was a hole in my life and I had no idea how to fill it. What I wrote is also about digging down deep within yourself when you don’t feel like you have anything left.”
But on she went, not only to continue their work within the autism community, but also to promote West Virginia itself (she’s working to get “Country Roads” named as an official state song, which would make it one of four) and adding as a goal to assist local veterans.
“We started the first and only Honor Flight program in West Virginia that honors our veterans by taking them to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials at no expense to them.”
Her book was written and her life is lived as part of her love story with Bob, continuing pilgrimage to honor their nearly 30-year relationship. “I’m living my life fully and that is the best way to honor him — that’s what he would want now.”
About “That Bluesy Artspace”
Open since November, “That Bluesy Artspace” also known by its address, 110 Marshall (Ave.), is a collaboration between West Virginia’s First Lady of Jazz, Lady D and artist Rebecca Beckett, among other artistic contributors wanting to take the “nothing” out of Beckley complaints of nothing to do.
“I always say — we’re not a nightclub, a bar or a restaurant. We specialize in special events,” explains Lady D. “Everything we do, we’re calling a house party. The atmosphere is really like being in your own living room.”
Near the intersection of Eisenhower Drive and Johnstown Road, 110 Marshall hosts events around music, literature and other food for the stomach and soul, including buffet-style eats to go along with the entertainment and free admission to many scheduled gatherings.
Beckett, “co-visionary” of That Bluesy Artspace, liked it best when a friend commented “I love your Bohemian lair.”
“It’s an unpretentious mish-mash that says, “I want to entertain you,” she adds, for atmosphere.