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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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His love was as big as life

Dave Rapp calls his brother from a luxury box at a Dallas Cowboys home game in October. The game tickets were a surprise gift from his wife, Judy, for their 25th wedding anniversary. Rapp died Feb. 16. He was 46.
 (Photo courtesy of family / The Spokesman-Review)
Dave Rapp calls his brother from a luxury box at a Dallas Cowboys home game in October. The game tickets were a surprise gift from his wife, Judy, for their 25th wedding anniversary. Rapp died Feb. 16. He was 46. (Photo courtesy of family / The Spokesman-Review)

If you believe in love, this story might make you squeeze your sweetheart’s hand a little tighter.

If you don’t, this story might change your mind.

This is the story of Dave Rapp, a giant man with an enormous heart. Maybe someone taught him early on how to care about other people. Maybe his body knew it had only 46 years to live, so he’d have to pack his love into fewer days than most people get. Maybe his love lingers even after his death.

His wife, Judy Rapp, thinks it does.

“Dave lived what he believed,” she said. “If you were loving and kind and generous to people, they would pass it on.”

Although the 6-foot-4, 240-pound man could lift a piano or carry a refrigerator, he couldn’t beat cancer. Dave died in February, two months to the day after being diagnosed with the disease.

Dave was born to Helen and Robert Rapp, of Valleyford, in 1958. He was the fifth of six children.

In 1980, four years after graduating from West Valley High School, Dave opened Dave’s Automotive, a dealership and auto repair shop. The shop became a place known for honest business and generosity. Dave was proud that he became a successful businessman simply by treating people right.

One year prior to opening the shop, though, Dave took his friend, Judy Radabaugh, to a dinner that changed both their lives. As Dave talked, Judy thought to herself, “He’s going to make a good husband one day. Not to me, but to someone,” she said.

Dave had other plans, though. As they left the restaurant, he stopped her.

” ‘I forgot to tell you something,’ ” she recalled him saying. ” ‘You’re going to marry me one day.’ “

Dave told her that where she was weak, he was strong, and where she excelled, he was lacking. It took some time, but Dave finally convinced Judy when he said, “You just don’t get it. I want to take care of you.”

Judy had grown up with an abusive dad. Her life was spent caring for other family members.

“That got me,” she said, pressing her fist over her heart.

The couple married on Sept. 8, 1979, and their love “just kept getting better” with time, Judy said.

A neighborhood couple once told the Rapps they saved their marriage. The other couple were inspired by watching Dave and Judy on walks, holding hands.

“I just loved holding his hand,” Judy said. “Just when I thought I couldn’t love anyone more, then I’d look at his big green eyes.”

But Dave’s ability to love wasn’t limited to romance. In addition to the friendship he and Judy shared, he cared deeply for others in the community, especially those in need.

Once he met a widow who was raising her daughter alone. The two were broke and living in a homeless shelter, and Dave hated the thought of the young girl having to share a living space with strangers.

So he bought them a house. Yes, a house.

Often, he waived the auto maintenance bills for customers who were struggling financially or who were given a raw deal by another mechanic.

After Dave’s death, Judy received a phone call from Canada. A woman Judy didn’t know told her a story she’d never heard. One day, the woman and her family were traveling through Spokane when their car broke down. Dave, knowing a thing or two about fixing cars, pulled over and drove the family of five to the Spokane Valley Mall.

While employees from his shop fixed the car, Dave bought the family lunch. When they begged him to let them pay for their own meal, Dave just asked that they one day do a favor for stranger, too.

“There wasn’t anything in it for him except that maybe they’d do it for someone else,” Judy said.

Dave also was a good friend. On a bicycle ride once, Dave noticed that his pal Jack Anderson’s bike was pretty shabby. Anderson had pieced it together from various parts, but didn’t mind.

Later, Dave subtly asked Anderson the length of his inseam.

“Guys don’t talk about that,” Anderson said with a laugh.

Soon after that conversation, Anderson came home one day, opened his garage door and found a brand new bicycle hanging from the ceiling. It was just his size.

“Right away I knew who it was from,” Anderson said.

A couple months later Dave showed his kindness again. Anderson, feeling good on his new set of wheels, raced up ahead of Dave and two others in their group during a morning ride. Anderson turned a corner and crashed, shattering his forearm.

“There was bone lying on the pavement,” he said. “My arm was crumpled up in a wad.”

While the two others raced off to get their car to bring their companion to the hospital, Dave bought two rulers, duct tape and a bottle of Gatorade at a nearby store and bandaged up his friend.

After four surgeries, Anderson came home one day, opened his garage and there again was his bike – repaired – hanging from the ceiling.

“I’ll never give it up,” Anderson said. “I’ll always jump on that saddle and think of him.”

A group of about 30 buddies showed their love to Dave this winter shortly after Christmas. While he was sick inside his house, they stood on the lawn and sang “get-well” carols they’d made up. Some of those friends had been at the hospital with Dave, talking with him, comforting him and even clipping his toenails.

Dave had a habit, when he was excited about something, of rubbing his hands together and grinning. His palms were calloused, though, so the rubbing made a cricket-like sound that made Judy laugh.

Certainly one of his most exciting days occurred last October, when Judy surprised him during an anniversary vacation in Texas. Judy arranged for a Hummer limousine to pick up the couple and their friends, who lived in Texas. They told Dave a country club was trying to lure them to join, so had offered the ride and a free day of golf.

The driver asked if they didn’t mind a pit stop at Texas Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboy football team. Mind? Dave was a huge fan. He told the driver he’d be happy to just “drag his knuckles in the parking lot,” Judy said.

When the Hummer pulled up to the gate, Judy revealed the surprise – partially. She told him she was able to get nosebleed seats for the game.

The calloused hands started to rub together.

The group rode an elevator to their seats, but when the doors opened, they were in a luxury box overlooking the end zone. Two Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders said in unison, “Happy anniversary, Dave.”

“The look on his face was worth 25 years worth of marriage,” Judy said.

Surprises were nothing new to Judy and Dave, though. Once, when Judy was away on business in California, her husband told her he had to dig up the back yard to fix the septic tank. She came home to a hole in the yard, all right, but it wasn’t for sewage. It was a new swimming pool.

Until his diagnosis in December, Dave had been the epitome of health and fitness. He was hauling something upstairs from the couple’s basement one day when he told Judy he felt like his “head was going to blow off.”

Judy convinced him to see a doctor, who said he had bronchitis. And then the diagnosis was pneumonia. And then lung cancer.

Dave had never smoked and didn’t have a history of cancer in his family.

The cancer quickly spread to his brain and to lymph nodes in his abdomen. Within two months, Judy’s “monster” of a man lost 100 pounds.

“He didn’t want to die,” Judy said. “We were convinced that his inner strength and stamina would carry the day.”

But the man who could fix anything – a keyboard, a washing machine, a friend’s wheelchair and certainly automobiles – couldn’t fix cancer. The “enormity of losing him” strikes Judy often, she said.

“I have all this love for him and no place to put it,” she said.

She tries to focus on the wonderful life they shared, not on the loss. But it’s difficult.

“He said, ‘I don’t want to leave you alone. You need me,’ ” Judy said, tears soaking her big, bright eyes and lashes. “Boy, was he right.”

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