Always smiling: Friends remember Chris Epley for his bright, endearing personality
If you ever met Chris Epley, his one-of-a-kind smile certainly sticks with you. His friends say Epley, who died in an accident on March 9, lives on through his ear-to-ear, toothy smile.
“He was the happiest person I’ve ever known. There were never any bad days for Chris,” childhood friend Wes Beaver said. “Even if he had a bad day, he was smiling. He was always happy-go-lucky, always happy and joking and laughing.”
Beaver remembered meeting Epley at a young age, saying the two were around 9 or 10 at the time. They were at the gym, Beaver said, and he didn’t have any money to get a treat from the vending machine. Epley offered him a dollar, but he wanted something in return.
“He said, ‘On one condition,’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ and he said, ‘I can come to your house this weekend and play,’ ” Beaver said. “That was when we became friends. He just wanted to ride four-wheelers. We drove all over the place.”
Their friendship grew from there, Beaver said, and the two were never apart for too long.
“He was in my wedding. I was in his wedding. We went through a lot of ups and downs … his family passing away and my family passing away,” Beaver said. “We’ve always been there for each other.”
Beaver recalled growing up with Epley and other close friends, including Will Gladden. Gladden’s father, King Gladden, became a second father to everyone in the group, Beaver said.
“He was a big part of our life. If we were at our parents’ house on the weekend, we were out on the lake with King,” Beaver said. “King would drive us all out to the rivers. He’d take us floating and camp with us.”
In 2005, King Gladden died in a plane crash. Beaver said his death was difficult for all his friends, saying they got through it by leaning on one another.
“We were with Will when it happened. It was a hard time in our lives,” Beaver said. “Now, we all know that Chris is with King.”
Over the years, Beaver said, he and other friends shared many memories with Epley. Beaver remembered being on a big float trip when the river rose 16 feet, flooding the camp overnight.
“We wake up the next morning, and everything is just gone. We lost a bunch of camping gear,” Beaver said. “Chris leans up … it was just about daylight … and says, ‘I don’t think today is going to happen.’”
Beaver continued, “The way he said it and just the timing … even though every one of us was worried to death about making it off the river alive, Chris said that and we all started laughing. It makes no sense really, what he meant by that, but it was just how he said it and when he said it.”
Will Gladden said he’ll never forget the kind of friend Epley was.
“He was just the most thoughtful friend that I can think of. Regardless of what was going on in our lives, he was always there for his friends,” Gladden said. “Many of my friends I met in college, he became friends with and kept up with them. I think that says a lot about how much he cared about people.”
Gladden described Epley’s sense of humor, saying Epley could make anybody laugh.
“He was just one of those people that never met a stranger. He would talk to everybody,” Gladden said. “He had a great sense of humor, very fun-loving …making jokes and making everybody smile since we were young.”
Epley grew up in Eureka Springs, Gladden said, and he wanted his children, Crosby and Clark, to have the same experience.
“He just loved the people in Eureka and wanted to raise his kids here,” Gladden said. “I think it was just those relationships he had built that he didn’t want to leave.”
Beaver said Epley loved his wife and children more than anything in the world.
“That’s what he lived and worked for. Chris turned down being gone on the road so he could be here with Crosby and Clark,” Beaver said. “He devoted all his time to his boys.”
Something else Epley loved, Beaver said, was ketchup.
“He would put ketchup on everything, literally everything. We used to joke about how he would put ketchup on top of ketchup,” Beaver said.
He remembered one of the first times Epley came over to his grandma’s house, saying she made macaroni and cheese and rolls. To everyone’s surprise, Beaver said, Epley asked for ketchup.
“She gives it to him and he puts a big pile on his plate … takes that roll, packs it full of macaroni and cheese and dips it in the ketchup,” Beaver said.
Bill Featherstone, a friend of Epley’s family, said Epley had a personality that was bigger than life.
“He always made everybody around him feel better. If you weren’t his best friend, you wished you were,” Featherstone said. “He just had that kind of personality. You liked being around the guy. He was pretty special. He was just a good guy.”
As one of Epley’s best friends, Beaver said he has been struggling to move forward.
“He was such a good person. I just don’t understand why, but at the same time, I keep telling myself, ‘It’ll be OK. It’ll be OK,’ ” Beaver said.
Still, Beaver said, it’s comforting for him to know Epley has been reunited with King in heaven.
“I had a dog growing up for 13 years, and the Epleys had a Lab. The Gladdens had a dog that also passed away,” Beaver said. “We would say, ‘King will be there at the gates. King’s playing fetch with the dogs.’ ”
He continued, “It’s really hard to understand why things happen, but to me that’s a positive note. He’s up there with King, who helped raise him. Chris is up there taking care of our dogs, and King is giving him the tour.”