Donald "Cody" Owen and his service dog Yogi guide a child and his mother across Highway 133. Courtesy photo

Donald Clinton Owen more commonly went by Cody, a nickname he picked up while serving in Vietnam. Cody positively influenced people and institutions within the Roaring Fork Valley before passing away in 2009; his spirit lives on through those he loved and the differences he made.

His wife, Jean Owen, recently published a book of “meditations” that Cody came up with over the years. The book’s title is “Schuring: One Soldier’s Path to Peace.” On Nov. 18, Jean spoke to an intimate group of people at the book’s launch at The Third Street Center.

Cody’s collected “meditations” are short paragraphs and phrases. “Schuring” is something that Cody thought up as a young man, before the weight of the war. He used the mantra during transcendental meditation practice to get closer to God. He was instructed to pick a Sanskrit word that didn’t necessarily have any meaning to use during meditation, and not to share it with anyone — to keep it between him and God.

After experiencing the brutal reality of war, Cody wished in retrospect that he could have carried a source of positive and celestial words to give him a reprieve from his harsh reality at the time. Years later, and just as he intended, the book is small enough to fit into a rucksack to take along on any journey.

Some years after coming back from the war, Cody started riding his bike. He then created his own nonprofit called Ride for a Cause in the ‘90s. At that time, he asked God for permission to share his mantra, “schuring” with others and still use it in prayer. To him, the word came to mean: “…only God, only love, only forgiveness, only service.”

The first two years he rode his bike great distances in recognition of Alzheimer’s disease. Along the rides, he would stop and set up an informational table and speak with folks about his purpose and the illness. It was during one of these rides when he met Jean, whose father was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time. The two married during one of his rides in 1995.

“For the next four years, he rode for spina bifida,” explained Jean. At the time, it was determined that spina bifida was a birth defect increasingly caused due to a parent being exposed to agent orange.

Cody himself ended-up dealing with the harsh effects of agent orange and developed blood clots in his right leg. Eventually, he was faced with losing his leg from the knee down. “They say, ‘freedom isn’t free,’ someone pays for it,” lamented Jean, “and as a soldier, as a Vietnam vet in combat, he paid dearly for it.” 

Cody had been through the wringer before and remained positive. In fact, “He said that having the amputation gave him a second lease on life,” Jean recalled. Living with post-traumatic stress disorder, “he always had to fight depression,” Jean stated. “And as a person with a disability, he didn’t dare let discouragement get him down.” He continued to ride his bike, and to ride for a cause.

Later in life, Cody lived at Crystal Meadows Senior Housing on Hendrick Drive in Carbondale. He pushed for improvements made at the neighboring Hendrick Dog Park. He, along with his friend Jim Finch, also successfully advocated for enhanced accessibility standards for RFTA services. For a time, he worked as a crossing guard every morning and evening at the intersection of Highway 133 and Hendrick Drive. Cody served on Carbondale’s Parks and Rec Commission and was the disability consultant for the town.

After his passing, the Carbondale trustees issued a proclamation honoring Cody’s “courage and service.” The proclamation reads: “…the Town is a far better place for the brief and magnificent presence of our devoted, courageous friend.”

“I believe every person has the ability to overcome challenges,” Cody wrote in the book’s introduction. “Therefore, my emphasis is on the ability in everyone, rather than on any disability.”