"So they drew us a map," he told her.
"I'm, like, oh, god! They're drawing maps at Pipestem of how to get to Gilligan's house!"
The stargazing never settled down completely until Denver's death six years ago.
"The first year or so it was really bad because we were here to take care of Colin. You never knew what he'd be doing -- he could be screaming or pitching a fit.
"One day we watched them put down a blanket and have a picnic on the gravel there, and they were all sitting on the fence with our house behind them. Somebody was taking a picture with everybody -- and Gilligan's house behind them."
Little Buddy airs
It's a sunny morning in Southern West Virginia. Coffee cup in hand, Dreama Denver strolls into the studio of Little Buddy Radio, located on the second floor of her house.
The studio is outfitted with mics, a console, computers and two swivel chairs, one for her and her co-host, Charlie Thomas. From 6 to 10 a.m. each day, they co-host "Sunny Side Up," a music and talk show, which resolutely stresses positive things going on around the region.
On one wall, framed photos trace Bob Denver's acting career. In a corner, stands a fake palm tree decorated with green and gold tube lights, a nod to the palm-filled Pacific isle that made "Gilligan" a household name. (In actuality, the show was shot on an L.A. soundstage, with Coconut Island in Oahu, Hawaii, used in long shots.)
"Little Buddy," of course, was what the Skipper, played by Alan Hale Jr., called Gilligan on the sitcom, which debuted in 1964.
The nonprofit station can be heard in the Mercer County area at WGAG-FM 93.1. But its varied mix of music and talk streams 24 /7 onto the Web at www.bobdenver.com/radio.
"It really is, musically, a great station," says Dreama, who makes a point to play not only a broad blend of pop, rock, jazz, blues and classic acts, but also high-profile area performers like Nat Reese and Option 22.
The station's Web address is instructive. Its mission is one element of BobDenver.com, a growing website and archive for all things Bob Denver-related, plus the official home of the Denver Foundation.
You can learn from the site, for instance that the full name of Gilligan's character was "Willy Gilligan," which was never used on the show.
Also, that in an episode featuring a live lion in the hut of Thurston and "Lovey" Howell ("The millionaire and his wife" in the show's famous theme song), the lion lunged at Denver on set. A trainer saved the day, as well as the actor's skin, as Denver recalled once in an interview:
"The only thing that saved me was the twin beds splitting apart when he tried to push off. Then I turned to see the trainer in midair as he tackled the lion to keep him away from me."
It may also come as a surprise to learn that the show ran only three seasons and for just 98 episodes. It was the constant airing in syndication that burned its characters into the world's collective consciousness.
The site also has placeholder links for more to come on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis," the 1959-1963 TV show that launched Denver's career before The S.S. Minnow ever was tossed upon that fateful isle.
As the bearded, bongo-playing beatnik Maynard G. Krebs, Denver began his rise to fame as another iconic character, a coffeehouse slacker who shrieked every time someone uttered the word "work."
Those West Virginia Hills
Dreama Denver walks over to glass doors that open onto her second-floor deck. Waves of green hills stretch to the horizon. She begins to sing "West Virginia Hills," the state song.
"Oh, the hills, beautiful hills, how I love those West Virginia Hills ..."
She stops, chuckling at her tunelessness.
"It is pretty and Bob really did love it here. It's nice to be able to tell people that, you know, honestly, he loved it."
When they were not taking care of their son in one room, the couple launched a project they could do together in another room. They first founded a nonprofit organization 11 years ago to raise money and awareness for autism. Little Buddy Radio, a low-power FM station, was part of that goal.
It hit the local airwaves in 2004. Together, they hosted a syndicated oldies music show, "Weekend with Denver and Denver." Dawn Wells, who played the lithesome, wholesome Mary Ann on "Gilligan's Island," was their "castaway correspondent" and phoned in weekly reports.
Bob and Dreama worked on the station together for only eight months. Then, Denver was diagnosed with throat cancer. Complications related to his treatment would end his life just six months later.
Her husband's death in 2005 hit her hard.
"I always thought I couldn't live without him," she said. "I couldn't imagine how I could go on. My close friends and family were worried about me."
Given their circumstances, the couple had been each other's support network.
"We spent all our time taking care of Colin. There was no social life to speak of. I ended up having a lot of responsibility alone, the biggest of which, of course, was now making all decisions on Colin's behalf. I had no one who cared about him and loved him as I did. I had no one to bounce things off of anymore. It was terribly frightening."
She spent long days curled up on a couch. What got her going again was the idea of honoring her husband's life and legacy through the radio station and the Denver Foundation. How might she build them up to help other families who wrestled with caring for their own disabled children?
Colin, now 27, lives next door in a small house. Extended care is provided by ResCare, a national human services company she finally hired that helps people with severe challenges live more independently.
From ResCare, Dreama got the idea of focusing the Denver Foundation on funding small but significant assistance for special-needs children and their families in Southern West Virginia.
The Denver Foundation is not wealthy, despite what people may imagine given her husband's worldwide fame, she said. Denver and other "Gilligan's Island" actors never made any more money than what they earned from the show's original run, so there was no residual check bonanza for them from its syndication and spin-offs, she said.
"In light of the fact the foundation isn't rich, it's not like I can build an assisted-living home or give a family $100,000. I can't do that," she said.
But things that seem small from the outside looking in "are huge if that's what you need and get overlooked. My foundation can do that," she said.
"Colin was always incontinent. So, I had to have a washer and dryer. If you are taking care of a special-needs person who needs that, and you have an old washer and it breaks down and you can't afford one, that's a very, very, very big deal.
"So, we started doing that kind of thing. We've supplied wheelchairs. We've supplied a bathtub chair to a little 10-year-old hydrocephalic girl. We've supplied generators to keep respirators going. We're right now getting ready to give an iPad to a young boy. They do therapy with him on an iPad, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing.
"Hopefully, as the foundation gets richer we can up the price of the things we can do. Either way, it's all good, as far as I'm concerned. As long as we're helping."
'Keeper of the flame'
When talking of her late husband, Dreama sometimes rolls her eyes up to the sky, as if checking up on him. Or checking in with him.
"When I need him, it's the oddest thing -- and people, please don't think I'm crazy! But when I need him and call on him, it's almost like I can feel him fill me up and give me the courage to do whatever it is."
She laughed, then grew more serious.
"I feel like I am the keeper of the flame, so to speak. I feel a huge responsibility to represent him. When he was dying, I mean literally taking his last breath, one of the things I told him was I would live my life to make him proud. That I would do everything I could to serve his memory well."
She agreed to be a commencement speaker last year, which her famous husband would never do, she said. "Public speaking scared him, which people find odd if you're an actor. But I looked at Bob ..."
Her eyes roll heavenward. She points a finger that way.
"... And I went 'Ha! Look what I'm doing. You wouldn't even do this!'"
Her eyes returned to earth.
"He was such a good man. He was such a good father to our son. There's nothing I wouldn't do to represent him well."
Reach Douglas Imbrogno at doug...@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.