By the time Erin Monyek gets rolling on her overnight baking gig at Horseshoe Donuts, the cozy Monument retail plaza off Colorado 105 where the shop is located is a delicious-smelling, and mostly empty, place.
Shoppers and diners have gone home, and other late-night visitors are an uncommon sight here, a stone’s throw from the police department and about 20 miles from the region’s major homeless resource agencies in Colorado Springs.
So when Monyek was going about her duties on an early summer night last year and glanced out the shop’s big window to see a slender African American man who looked to be in his mid-60s — in a wheelchair, with both legs amputated at the knees — she decided a welfare check was in order.
“I went to see what was going on, and it sounded like he was on the phone yelling at someone,” said Monyek, who owns the store with her identical twin sister, Liz Schulze.
Turned out the phone wasn’t connected to anyone and the man, William Mack, was dealing with significant psychological issues in addition to his physical limitations.
Mack would go on to spend the next four months camped on the sidewalk outside Horseshoe Donuts, and come to refer to Monyek and Schulze as his “two angels.” On that first meeting, however, the words he had for the doughnut maker who only wanted to see if he was OK were “not so godly.”
“He actually got angry at me and started yelling, saying he had a right to be there and he was tired of people calling the police on him and yadda yadda yadda,” said Monyek, a “thick-skinned” 52-year-old former Air Force JAG litigator and family law attorney who grew up outside Boston.
Monyek backed off then, but as she was preparing to head home before dawn, she checked again to find that Mack had folded up his wheelchair and zipped himself up, entirely, inside his sleeping bag. She left a bag of doughnuts and a message saying that if he needed anything when he awoke to talk to her daughter, Kristy, who would be working the morning shift as cashier.
She signed the note, “Your friend Erin.”
And so it began.
Throughout the summer, Mack would get his breakfast, sometimes lunch, dinner, and a phone charge, at the shop.
“We established a relationship with him to the point where he felt comfortable with me and my sister and my niece,” Schulze said. “It just became part of our routine.”
When Monyek arrived for her evening shift, Mack would unzip his sleeping bag just enough to poke out his head to greet her, “almost like he was waiting for me,” she said.
As the weeks churned on, the sisters got to know him enough to loosely stitch together a patchwork backstory — of a man who’d grown up in a large, devout family in Florida and joined the military straight out of high school.
“I can’t tell you how many times we sat on the steps outside and talked to him for 10, 15, 30 minutes, just to try to give him some companionship … but we didn’t always know what was the truth,” said Monyek. “He had lucid moments … and other times where he would speak, almost preaching at the wind, to anyone and anything that would listen. I’m sure some people were frightened of him.”
While Mack’s recollections were murky about the road that brought him to the sidewalk outside the Colorado doughnut shop, he was crystal clear when it came to communicating some things.
He liked his coffee light and sweet and was a picky eater, largely for practical reasons, preferring the shop’s oversized cake doughnuts served on a plate, with a knife and fork.
“He didn’t have any teeth, and that was the easiest way for him to eat them,” Monyek said.
If Schulze made lasagna or spaghetti pie, she’d always bring him a big serving.
“My sister is the best cook in the entire world and makes everything from scratch ... she’s just a real gourmet,” Monyek said. “So she brings him this dynamite piece of lasagna and asks him how it was and he says, ‘It was good enough.’ He could be a real piece of work.”
The sisters asked only that Mack pack up his sleeping bag and be “dressed and out and about” during business hours, 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Because of his disabilities, they often had to help him comply.
“He was more or less completely reliant on other people. He had a bottle to pee in … and we’d dump it for him, pour in some bleach to rinse it out and give it back, rather than making the poor guy do it himself,” Schulze said. “He would soil his sleeping bag and clothes. Numerous times, me or my sister would help clean him up and go buy him new clothes.”
One day, Monyek found him without his sleeping bag. Mack told her he’d had an accident and had to toss it, and said he needed to raise $20 so he could “wheel himself to Walmart,” 3 miles away down Jackson Creek Parkway, to buy a new one.
Monyek said she’d pick one up for him after she got done with work, and when that time came about 10 hours later she powered through the exhaustion and lit out “completely covered in doughnut batter” to buy a replacement.
“My conscience would have got the best of me if I’d gone home and gotten under the warm covers to go to sleep, knowing he’s sitting there in a wheelchair shivering,” she said.
Mack wasn’t in his usual spot when she returned, but on her way home to Peyton she spotted him panhandling in front of the convenience store just south of the shop.
He told her he didn’t think she’d meant what she said about buying him a new bag.
“He almost couldn’t believe that someone would do something like that for him,” Monyek said.
Then he asked what color she’d chosen.
“I said it’s blue, and he goes, ‘Oh good, I like blue,’” Monyek said. “I guess it’s good I picked blue.”
While Schulze said some of the neighborhood shop owners voiced concerns that Mack’s presence was having a negative effect on business, the reaction among the majority of her customers was the opposite.
“I found that most people here cared about him and wanted a good outcome for him. It wasn’t, like, ‘Oh, we can’t have a homeless person in Monument,’” Schulze said. “I had one customer who comes in on the weekends on his motorcycle and he would spend a couple hours with William reading the Bible.”
The owners, employees and customers of Horseshoe Donuts weren’t the only ones quietly reaching out to and checking in on the homeless double amputee, who became something of a fixture on the east side of town last summer.
Monument Police Commander Steve Burke said his department received “different calls” about Mack after he arrived in town. Officers knew his name and routinely checked in on him — sometimes on the clock, as part of official business; other times, just because.
“We’re a small community outside of a large city, and all of the resources are in the city … so we don’t get a lot of it (homelessness and panhandling) in Monument,” Burke said. “I’ve talked to guys who said they’d see him tooling down the street in his wheelchair and they’d pull up next to him and say, ‘Hey are you OK?’ and he’d give the thumbs-up sign.”
On one of those occasions, however, officer Michael Case and a deputy from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Department responded to a call only to find that Mack had soiled his pants.
“So they went to the store and bought him a few clothes and a sleeping bag, some toiletry items … Depends .... just stuff to help him out,” Burke said. “They were intending to get him some stuff for his wheelchair, reflectors and lights so he’d be safer out at night, but when the person at Walmart found out about it, they just bought everything.
“It was kind of a three-way effect there,” Burke said.
As fall drew closer and nighttime temperatures started to drop, Monyek and Schulze knew that Mack’s time camping outside their shop would soon have to come to an end.
“He kept telling us he was going up to a shelter in Fort Collins and that he was afraid of shelters in Colorado Springs because people would take advantage of him there and steal his things,” Schulze said. “He would leave and be gone a couple days and we’d think, ‘Oh my God, he got into the shelter and he’s in a safe, warm place.’ Every time he would leave, though, he’d be back in a couple days.”
After one of those boomerangs, a chilly morning around Labor Day, Schulze showed up for her shift only to find Mack shivering in his wheelchair, wearing only his underpants, and reading the Bible. She asked what happened to his clothes, and he told her he’d stashed them in a bag that he needed her to toss.
“He said they had a tracking device in them and he was afraid to throw them away himself,” said Schulze, who collected a warm coat and gloves from her car and called her husband, Dave, to bring down a T-shirt, hoodie and sweatpants. “I realized that if we didn’t do something extreme, to get him out of here and into a new situation, something bad was going to happen. He was going to freeze to death.”
At her wits end, Schulze sat down next to Mack and asked him to try and focus. She had some tough questions.
“I said, ‘William, you’ve got to remember somebody’s phone number. Where are you from?’” Schulze said. “He was able to tell me he was from Orlando and thought he could recall his mom’s phone number.”
After four tries, he got it right.
Mack’s 87-year-old mother answered, to hear a stranger almost 2,000 miles away utter words she scarcely could believe:
Her boy William had been found, and he was alive.
It wasn’t the first time William Mack, 66, had wandered off his loved ones’ radar, but with his age, worsening health and psychological problems, they feared it might be the last.
“My brother’s kind of touched a little bit,” said younger brother Larry Mack, 63, who grew up with William in a tight-knit family of three boys and three girls. “He’s got challenges. He’s disappeared on us before.”
During the longest of those absences — more than 20 years — the family only reconnected with him after hiring a private investigator, who tracked him down in Alaska.
“We finally found him and brought him back home,” said Larry Mack.
Home is where he remained until early 2018, when, for some reason, he “just up and left.”
“When he left he still had both legs,” he said. “He left Orlando walking.”
By the time William Mack reached Colorado’s capital city, though, severe infections in his feet — a complication of diabetes — had progressed to the point doctors were unable to save his lower legs.
Larry estimates his brother must have undergone that traumatic surgery in the spring of 2018, a few months, and possibly even weeks, before he showed up outside Horseshoe Donuts.
“To find out that he’s in Colorado and he’s homeless and had lost his legs ... my goodness. What a shock it was when we heard that,” Larry said. “If not for Liz and her family taking him in, looking out for him and helping him get in touch with us, I don’t know where he would be. My goodness. They’re truly angels.”
Larry Mack told Schulze that if she could get his brother on a plane to Orlando, he would take it from there.
The following day, Liz and Dave Schulze loaded William Mack up for a trip to Walmart, to buy new clothes and a new sleeping bag, and then checked him into a hotel near the airport so he could clean up for the trip and get a good night’s sleep in a real bed.
Schulze snapped a photo of his Florida ID card so she could book the flight, which she did as soon as she got back home.
The next morning, she closed the doughnut shop and she and Dave checked Mack out of the hotel. They also presented him with a new wheelchair, as the rickety model he’d been using “basically fell apart” when Dave went to load it in his truck.
“My husband had a spinal injury about eight years ago and was in a wheelchair for a very short period of time, and I bought him this expensive, state-of-the-art wheelchair,” said Schulze, who’d brought the chair with her when the couple moved to the Springs six years ago, intending to sell it on Craigslist. “When we picked him up at the hotel … and pulled out this brand-spanking-new wheelchair for him, he was just so happy. He couldn’t believe it.”
The drive from the hotel to the airport was one she’ll never forget. Mack seemed happy. Excited, even.
“William had a real coherent 30 minutes with us, telling us about his family growing up and all about his brothers and sisters and his mom,” she said. “It’s like the three of us had been friends for years.”
After reuniting with his family in Florida in late September, William Mack relocated to Washington, D.C., to live with a relative who also can serve as a caregiver.
“He’s doing OK. He’s doing good, and we’re so happy to have him back,” Larry Mack said. “Tell Liz and her family God bless and we love them. Me and my mom and my whole family.”