Costco employee with terminal cancer gets surprise vacation from customers

DANVILLE, Calif. (KTVU) - Many of us know what it's like to shop at a cavernous warehouse store such as Costco, where a person can feel mighty small. But at the Costco in Danville, there's an employee who makes everyone feel important. 

Now that man is facing serious physical challenges.

As shoppers ebb and flow at the store, one of the first and last people they see is 45-year-old Arlie Smith. 

"He's always at the door, he's always giving receipts, he's always smiling, always happy. And people refer to him as the Costco guy," said customer Steve Maurer.

Arlie has worked at the store for 21 years, but not without challenges. "He was diagnosed with primary progressive MS (Multiple Sclerosis)," said his wife, Shari.

Then last September, his body threw him an even bigger curve ball. He has terminal bone cancer, now with maybe two years to live. 

"Since the time he was told that, he's been enthusiastic, and happy, and I'm not kidding," said Shari Smith.

Arlie is such a beloved figure that some customers heard about the cancer and decided to do something nice for him. At 1 p.m. on Tuesday, they invaded the store. 

"We're all here today because we love you so much," said customer Bridgette Loughnane to Arlie.

They raised some $2,500 to send Arlie and his wife on a vacation. 

"We got people donating $10, $20, up to $500 so you'll go and have four nights at your favorite place in Laguna Beach," added Loughnane.

Arlie, who grew up in San Ramon, was overwhelmed. 

"They're priceless, they're irreplaceable," he said about his customers. And his humility was obvious. "Everything that's done for me and the love that's shown for me, every day, it's astounding. I mean, people don't have this great of a life, really," he said.

Despite living with M.S. and terminal cancer, Arlie couldn't be more positive about life. 

"It's in your face all the time," he said. "So how can you possibly be ungrateful in my situation? How can you possibly take this for granted?"

Arlie's customers are amazed by his remarkable outlook on life. 

"I don't think I ever saw him grapple with the ‘why me?' I mean he went immediately to finding a bigger purpose for what he can do," said Lee Loughnane.

His purpose now is to raise as much money as possible during a store-wide fundraiser in May for Children's Hospital, a fundraiser in which he has previously finished in the top ten in North America.

A Greek philosopher once said, "It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters." Arlie is clearly a personification of that ideal.