His wife, Aleea, passed away at age 29, within a few weeks of being diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer.
In the time that followed, colleagues at Ford rallied around him, supporting him in his time of need.
People often asked if his work was being flexible.
“In many of the thank you cards I wrote to people, I found myself saying that my work community had gone so much further than being just flexible,” he said.
“Not only were my boss and manager incredibly understanding, but when they heard about my wife needing a wig made with her own hair during chemotherapy, they got enough people together to cover the cost.”
While Aleea passed away before they had a chance to make it happen, Burkman was able to put the $990 raised for the wig towards a college fund for their two-year-old son.
Moved by the show of support from his colleagues, including fellow members of a bible group, who walked his dog early in the morning so he could stay home with his son – he decided to submit a Ford employee story about how his coworkers had helped.
A week later, he received a phone call from Bill Ford himself.
Someone had showed the Executive Chairman the story and he wanted to express his condolences.
At the end of that call, Ford told Burkman to contact him if he ever needed anything.
In the two and a half years that followed, the technical specialist at Ford’s Engineering Laboratory, was able to rebuild his life and find a new love — Tiffany.
When he decided it was time to propose, he wanted to make sure the venue was extra special.
“I’ve always believed that asking someone to marry you is too important to waste over dinner and a movie” he said.
That’s when he remembered Bill Ford’s offer of help.
He was looking for somewhere special, somewhere that would lend the occasion a unique, gritty Detroit feel.
He considered the Michigan Theatre, but the location he wanted most was Michigan’s iconic train station.
So he sent Bill Ford an email with a unique request, believing he’d never get a reply.
But Ford’s team reached out soon after and granted the technician his wish, to plan an elaborate proposal inside the historic train depot.