ENAVILLE - Even in a fight with cancer, as he sat tired in a wheelchair inside the Enaville Resort on Thanksgiving morning, Joe Peak found the strength to smile and chat with visitors.
He joked about "the pups," David Norris, 19, and brother Jacob Norris, 21, who finished first and second in the Turkey Trot on Thursday. He asked about sons and daughters, moms and dads, brothers and sisters.
"Say hello to the family," he said to a friend.
Peak, the owner of the Snakepit restaurant and bar, was the star of the 35th running of the five-mile run on the Trail of the Coeur d'Alenes.
Not because he's fast.
Not because he ran.
Just because, well, he's Joe Peak.
Perhaps Jon Ruggles put it best, shortly after he gave Joe Peak a hug.
"Joe is loved," he said. "He's loved."
With the sun peeking through on a 30-degree morning, about 100 runners and walkers turned out for the fun run that started at 9 and finished whenever folks wanted to finish at the 'Pit.
The race, first held in 1978, has endured, they say, because it's a chance to see old friends. It's a time to share smiles, handshakes and more hugs.
In years past, after the running is over, families and friends gathered inside the rustic restaurant, where they enjoyed cinnamon rolls, juice and coffee, all for $2, while Joe emceed over a laugh-filled gift exchange.
It was a Thanksgiving tradition, as much as pumpkin pie for dessert later that day.
This year, though, with Joe still battling cancer, the race was in doubt. His wife, Rose Mary, passed away earlier this year due to cancer. The Snakepit, established in 1880 and Joe Peak's home since he bought it in 1978, is for sale and recently closed.
But friends decided to put on the run, with this year's proceeds to help Joe pay his medical bills.
Marthanne Worley, one of the Trot's founders, grinned and her eyes sparkled as she held the donation jar before Thursday's run.
It was stuffed, with $100 bills in the mix.
"When I drove up and the parking lot was full, I was overwhelmed. Everybody was standing down here and waiting. They're here for Joe," Worley said.
"This year, it's just for Joe," she added. "Look at everything he's done for the community all these years."
It's a long list.
Fundraiser. Father. Coach. Volunteer. Cheerleader. Columnist. Master storyteller. River guide.
He's the guy who always, always asked about family, about sons and daughters in sports. He's the one folks wanted to see when they stopped in the 'Pit on Coeur d'Alene River Road, about a mile off Interstate 90, and Joe did his best not to disappoint.
It explains why he was out there on a brisk Thanksgiving morning, greeting guests, despite cancer attacking him within.
"That's what this is about, everybody being together," Worley said. "And being around Joe. I know that's why they're here."
Joe said Thursday he was glad to be there, but friends said he had suffered through some tough days, and wasn't well.
"I'm doing OK," the 66-year-old said, as he soon steered the spotlight back to the run.
He declined offers of blankets or gloves and said he was fine.
"Get 'em going," he said to Worley and others. "The troops are restless."
And within minutes, they were off.
Steve Bell of Coeur d'Alene said Peak was a guy "who gave it all," who was personable, honest, and endured the death of his lovely wife, Rose Mary, who often played the piano at church and for the community theater.
"You can just tell the love for that man," Bell said.
Scott and Carleen Peterson of Pinehurst, longtime Peak friends, said he coached their children.
"He's always given everything to the community," Scott said. "I guess he's a people person. He loves people."
Tom Prenger, walking with granddaughter Grace Mae and his 16-year-old dog, Rodney, said the Turkey Trot is a family tradition, as are dinners at the 'Pit.
Each year, Joe or Rose Mary would take a picture of the Prenger clan in front of the fireplace at the Snakepit. He considered the Peaks among his best friends.
"Everyone knows Joe and he's never said a bad word about anybody," he said.
Prenger, a doctor, said his emotions got the best of him when he chatted with Peak early in the day. His voice cracked again when he mentioned the cancer that has refused to leave Peak alone.
"This is tragic what happened, but this is life," he said.
"I'm going to miss a lot of things - this is one of them," he added.
Ryan Davis said it was no surprise so many showed up for Thursday's Trot - especially when it was an opportunity to give back to Joe.
"Everybody cares about Joe and wants to be able to help him out," he said.
Nathan Whatcott of Kingston, who ran alongside daughter Coraline on her bike, was born and raised in the Silver Valley. Joe Peak, he said, has always been there for him and his family.
The free huckleberry ice cream at the Snakepit, often delivered by Peak himself, has long been a special treat.
"The kids have known Joe their whole lives," he said. "This isn't the Snakepit or the Enaville Resort. This has always been Joe's. The kids always want to go to Joe's."
Joe's son Andy Peak was pleased with the turnout, and the support for his father.
Andy opened the doors of the Snakepit Thursday so folks could have a chance to gather inside, like old times, and visit with Joe.
He said his dad was determined to be there.
"It's the one thing my dad really wanted to do this year," Andy Peak said. "He wanted to keep it going. It's a time for people to see each other, and dad wanted it. He wouldn't miss it."