They were teachers and farmers and factory workers and homemakers. They played the piano, fixed old cars, danced to the Beach Boys, cuddled their grandchildren.
They loved to ice fish, gab with friends, read, run marathons, bowl, wander antique stores.
They were our co-workers and neighbors and friends. Our parents. Our spouses.
They all have one thing in common. They died from COVID-19, a virus that arrived in Nebraska in March 2020, claiming its first life in Lancaster County a month later.
These stories represent a fraction of the lives lost in Southeast Nebraska, but they are our way of paying respect to each and every one.
We'd like to share the stories of others from Southeast Nebraska who have lost their lives to COVID-19. If you would like to have your loved one added to our online tribute, please email your contact information to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Lange-Kubick: 'It was humbling. And it was heart-wrenching'
I’ve written dozens of obituaries in my years as a reporter, but I’ve never written one a day, day after day.
The way I did for three weeks this spring, finding and then talking to the families of 15 Nebraskans — from in and around Lancaster County — who lost their lives to COVID-19.
Those stories, along with stories shared by my fellow reporters, are in today’s paper — a total of 23 men and women, ranging in age from 22 to 95.
A drop in the ocean of pandemic sorrow. A fraction of the 230 lives lost locally, in a state that has counted 2,226 deaths, in a country that has lost more than 563,000 souls — and more each day — to the deadly virus.
On the pandemic’s worst days, nearly 5,000 Americans died from the virus every day. Last week, a UNMC physician estimated that one in 870 Nebraskans has died of COVID-19.
Some of those death notices appeared in this paper, shared by the health department and the mayor. The news was anonymous. Generic. Man in his 80s. Woman in her 70s. Man in his 50s.
When I wrote about the death of Tam Mai early last May, the 80-year-old was just the second Lancaster County resident to be lost to COVID.
Three months later, Kevin Hopper, 60, had a number, too: 20.
And when Roger Ryman became the county’s 42nd COVID death in October, his daughter shared a post on social media.
“These numbers are not just anonymous strangers,” Cindy Ryman Yost wrote. “This article, ‘this man in his 70s,’ was my dad, and he had not even turned 71.”
A few weeks later, reporter JoAnne Young shared the story of the human behind that number, a horse-riding father of three, a man with wanderlust who settled into retirement in Lincoln and dubbed his grandchildren the Magnificent 7.
For the past year, Journal Star reporters have scoured obituaries, compiled lists and, as the anniversary of the first local death approached, after a winter with packed ICUs and multiple daily deaths, we picked up our phones.
As we talked to the families, their loved ones came alive in a way those mind-numbing numbers never could convey.
Our reporting goal was simple: To honor COVID victims. To let readers know they were more than just statistics in a grim and ever-rising count.
Nearly every relative I reached for this project said yes, eager to share.
It was humbling. And it was heart-wrenching.
The story of Anna and Chuck, who loved to bowl and take road trips in their Honda Odyssey, and who died four days apart in November.
The story of Gloria, the retired piano teacher and her two devoted daughters. Alan, the artist, and beloved bachelor uncle. Bryan, the ice fisherman who married his high school sweetheart. Butch from Palmyra who taught his sons to fix cars, loved strawberry-rhubarb pie and doted on his grandkids. Randy, the drywall finisher, who still wrote love poems to his wife of 25 years. Phyl, the art teacher, who viewed the world with wonder. Beth and her Poppy Parties.
There was an undercurrent to the interviews. Some families felt cheated. Some felt anger at those who dismissed the seriousness of the pandemic.
“I hear people talk,” Diane Brinkman said. “And there’s still people who don’t think it’s real or serious.”
Nearly everyone talked about the isolation and their gratitude for the health care workers who stood in the gap.
Bryan Wintz’s wife talked about walking the perimeter of Bryan West on South Street, praying the rosary and asking God to heal her 46-year-old husband.
“Our experience was very surreal,” Jill Wintz said. “It was like I was living someone else’s life.”
Butch Butts’ daughter talked about the nurse who brought her dad a red beer and the staff who arrived with coffee and snacks for his family on his final day.
“They did their best to make him the most comfortable as possible,” Jody Parrott said. “I can’t imagine having their job, to care for people knowing they were not going to leave.”
Lillian Gibson’s son shared the eulogy he read at his 61-year-old marathon-running mother’s funeral and a photo of his gloved hand holding hers during the one visit he and his father shared in her hospital room.
“While I was grateful for that compassionate visit, she wasn’t responsive,” Justin Gibson wrote in an email. “And I didn’t expect the ventilator to shake her body so violently.”
In his eulogy, the son spoke of his mother teaching him tidiness and tenderness, how to be both frugal and generous, of accepting him as a gay man and loving him even more.
He spoke of the future: “I think honoring her legacy includes caring for myself, caring for family and friends and caring for the greater world.”
I know that writing about our neighbors who died of COVID-19 — often scared, often alone — doesn’t take away from the sorrow of all the lives lost during the pandemic, the separation from hospitalized loved ones, the pain of being denied a final goodbye, a proper funeral, the arms of a friend holding you up in your grief.
I can’t get my arms around all that we have lost.
Neither can you.
But we can listen to the stories of the grieving families who remain.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @TheRealCLK
'When I saw her she was running sideways to say hello to someone'
A few years ago, Justin Gibson grabbed his camera and headed out to the Lincoln Marathon route to get some pictures of his mom.
It was already tricky because Lillian Gibson -- aptly nicknamed Lil -- was short and easy to miss in the throng.
But there was another reason.
“When I saw her, she was running sideways to say hello to someone, which was kind of typical,” her youngest son said.
Lil was a registered nurse and worked at the Dialysis Center of Lincoln. She’d run in lots of half-marathons and a few full marathons, too.
After the 61-year-old died of COVID-19 on Nov. 2, a fellow runner remembered meeting her during a hard stretch of the 2012 Lincoln Marathon.
“She was the reason I finished that race," Laura Miller wrote in a tribute. "Her positive energy and kindness were infectious.”
It was that personality that drew Jim Gibson to Lil when the pair met at Union College. Lil’s father taught at the Seventh-day Adventist college and the family had moved here from the Philippines when Lil was 7.
“I wasn’t very outgoing and she was pretty much a people person,” Jim said. Their first date was lunch at Taco Inn across 48th Street.
The opposites married in 1983.
Jared came first and four years later Justin arrived. Lil worked in the ICU at Lincoln General -- before it became Bryan -- and in emergency rooms and small hospitals, when the family spent several years in California and South Dakota before returning to Lincoln.
She was a busy mom. Proud of her boys, sharing stories about them with her coworkers at the dialysis center.
She crocheted arm-warmers for her patients and filled the dining room table with masks she sewed during the pandemic.
She and Jim traveled to Zambia with other members of their church to help build houses and community centers. After she went for a run with a fellow church member, they learned a man-eating lion had been in the area. A local joked that they were lucky: Lil was too small for its supper.
Everyone agree that she was small but mighty. She had an “inactive” form of leukemia, Jim said, but she wasn’t sick, didn’t take medication.
After her sons left home, she became a TeamMates mentor. Her mentee wrote a memorial about all the years they’d been together. “I grew up with her, she gave me a safe person when I felt like I didn’t have one ... she listened to me as a child, not a lot of people are willing to do that.”
Lil was an elder in the church at 48th and Prescott, bringing Holy Communion and making home visits.
Her family laughed that she adopted Jared and his wife Lana’s dog because she so wanted to be a grandmother.
“She was good at adopting grandchildren,” Jim said. “If she had the opportunity, she’d kidnap any of them.”
The couple babysat the children of two of their pastors -- surprising them with the little ones obediently tucked into bed after their books, bath and prayer.
Lil liked to cook for their family and her boys’ friends, always asking: Are you still hungry? Have you had enough? Are you sure you’ve had enough?
She made a Filipino dish called pancit made with noodles and vegetables.
She taught Justin how to cross-stitch when he was little.
When Jared and Lana got married last summer, she insisted the photographer take pictures all over town.
They are happy they have them now.
Her husband finds some comfort in hearing from people who loved Lil and grieve her loss, too.
Lil’s youngest son is still cross-stitching, using his mom’s old patterns, her handwritten instructions, after she gave him a refresher course during the isolation of the pandemic.
It helped him through.
“I’m just wanting people to remember all of their choices have an impact,” Justin said. “The people who have been lost have names, they have stories, they have people who miss them.”
-- Cindy Lange-Kubick
'She’d come over here and go straight for the grandkids'
Nadene Stull ran the annual rummage sale at her senior living center and worshiped at Trinity United Methodist Church.
She crocheted and read and never missed a chance to be with people.
“She was such a social person,” said her daughter-in-law Mary Stull. “Even into her 90s, she was always on some kind of committee or in charge of one.”
Nadene was 94, a widow. She and Walt raised their three sons in Grand Island.
Walt was a conductor for the railroad. Nadene worked as a bookkeeper at the bank.
She was a den mother for her Cub Scout sons, Bill, Bob and Jim. She served in the PTA.
Her boys loved her chicken-fried steak and cowboy baked beans. They fought over her deviled eggs at family gatherings, much to her everlasting delight.
She was an involved mom. A strict one.
Once, Bill and his buddies rented a motel room after prom. They bought a bunch of beer, planned to crash there until morning.
In the middle of the night, they heard a car pull upside their room.
Someone peeked out: Stull, that looks like your mom.
“I looked out,” said Bill, now retired from the railroad. “Oh my gosh, that is my mom.”
After her sons grew up and she retired, Nadene volunteered for the Red Cross and at the Stuhr Museum.
After she lost Walt, Jim died in a work accident.
Eventually, she became a Stephen Minister, a layperson helping others through life’s trials, grief, divorce, illness.
“She was such a woman of great faith,” her son Bill said.
It helped to be in Lincoln, closer to Bill and Mary and Bob and Pam. And then there were those 10 grandchildren and eventually 13 greats.
“Her whole world revolved around her grandkids,” Bill said. “She’d come over here and go straight for the grandkids.”
After a fall, she moved from her apartment to Lancaster Rehabilitation Center and, when winter came, she contracted COVID and then pneumonia.
She died Dec. 12, two weeks before residents of long-term care facilities in Lincoln began receiving vaccinations.
The isolation of the pandemic was so hard on his mother, Bill said.
“She just wanted to hold and touch her family.”
-- Cindy Lange-Kubick
Phyl Maly: 'Always looking at the world with an artist’s eye'
Whenever anyone she was close to died, Phyl Maly would give their families a copy of “The Fall of Freddie the Leaf,” a simple story about the cycle of life and letting go.
After she died, her own family found eight copies of the book in her apartment at The Legacy, waiting to be shared with someone in mourning.
It was just like her mom, said her daughter, Tami Westmoreland.
“She loved books and she was always so kind about remembering people.”
Phyllis taught art all of her life. On Saturday mornings at Calvert Elementary School. At the Malone Center. To her four children — Tami and Adriann, Courtney and Todd.
She taught art classes out of their garage on High Street with jazz playing as a backdrop. She hung her paintings on the cedar fence and sold them to art-loving passersby. After she moved to The Legacy, she staged an art show there.
She was a woman with big dreams who found a way to make them come true, Tami said.
“She was full of creative wonder. She was just always wondering about things, always looking at the world with an artist’s eye.”
She instilled that in her children. Growing up, Tami and her siblings created elaborate Valentine’s Day cards and the family turned all their wrapped Christmas presents into a village under the tree.
“She made a huge mobile for Calvert Elementary and it hung from the ceiling in our living room until she got it done.”
Barb Johnson Frank, a friend and fellow teacher, wrote this about her in an online tribute: “Phyl was at home with herself. Her style was simple. She was approachable, kind, generous with compliments and quick to smile.”
A “self-described noticer,” she wrote.
Colors and light, twigs and stones, snowflakes and people and injustices. A woman before her time, who sought to right wrongs and make the world a better, more beautiful place.
Phyl and her Elliott Elementary School art students painted the side of Ideal Grocery on 27th Street, spelling out the name of the store with letter-shaped fruits and vegetables. She created a tree for the Enchanted Arboretum project in Nebraska City, and the city planted her fanciful tree on the courthouse lawn.
She shared that creative magic with her grandchildren and their children, too.
“What she really loved was her grandkids and her great-grandkids and their diversity,” Tami said. “She loved that about her family.”
Phyl was divorced and remarried and lost her second husband three years ago. She’d had a stroke and lived in the assisted-living unit at The Legacy.
“She would always say, ‘I can’t believe I’m 87 years old, I don’t feel like I’m 87,’” Tami said. “She still had all these great ideas for art projects, but physically she couldn’t do it anymore.”
The isolation of the pandemic was hard on the artist and her family. Despite her isolation, she fell sick with COVID-19 on Christmas Day. She died three weeks later, on a snowy Thursday.
Tami called her room and the nurse put the phone up to her ear. The daughter talked about the picture book that lovingly explained the life and death of a leaf.
It’s OK, she told her mom. You can just be like Freddie the Leaf; you can let go.
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'I wish I could call her right now and hear her laugh…'
Beth Smith reconnected with Daryl Ebert at their 20th class reunion and they married a year later — Dec. 30, 1995 — a date chosen so she could invite her many friends who would be in town for the holidays.
They lived in his house. A house with a backyard filled with poppies.
That was the start of the annual spring Poppy Party.
And Beth loved parties.
The woman with a wavy mane of red hair, was social and fun, adventurous and accepting.
“She brought people together,” said Mary Knight, her longtime friend. “She was my wing person in a lot of situations.”
The pair met in ninth grade at Pius X. After graduation, they were regulars at the Zoo Bar’s FAC. They danced together to their favorite bands.
“She was a social butterfly,” Mary said. “Family was really important to her. She had nieces and nephews she was really close to.”
Erin Egan is one of those nieces. She penned her aunt’s obituary.
“Beth traveled the globe,” she wrote, “taking a bus through Mexico, camping in the Colorado mountains and dining in the Swiss Alps. She loved to see the world and made new friends wherever she landed.”
Beth, only 10 years older, was the “aunt you wanted to hang out with,” Erin said.
And they did.
Aunt Beth took her nephew Patrick camping and she introduced Erin to the Drumstick bar — when she was too young to get in legally. They went to concerts, listened to Blues at the Zoo, saw Prince in Omaha.
She was close to her siblings Mike and Mary. A confidante to those nieces and nephews.
“She was definitely someone to look up to," Erin said. "It’s hard for me to talk about because I don’t feel like she’s gone yet.”
The 64-year-old had a master’s degree in planning and her last job was at UNL Extension, working out of Syracuse.
But she’d had lots of jobs, Daryl said. One of her favorites was at Lake Yellowstone Hotel in the ’80s, where she worked as the assistant food and beverage manager.
They both loved the outdoors and took trips to beautiful places. Estes Park was at the top of the list.
The pair liked snooping through flea markets and gazing at art.
Beth was diagnosed with dementia in 2011 — struggling to find words and put sentences together. She stayed at home as her memory declined, watched over by Daryl and, in later years, Dee, an in-home helper.
She still knew her people — still declared her love for them — and her face brightened when she saw them.
But when Daryl was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer in early 2020, his surgeon told him he wouldn’t be up to caretaking, so he found a place for Beth at High Plains Memory Care. And by the time he recovered from treatment, pandemic restrictions meant the only way to see his wife and best friend was through a window.
So he stayed away.
“I wanted to touch her,” he said. “I didn’t want to cause more anxiety for her.”
He thought they’d be able to reunite in person. She got her first vaccine in December, but several days later, she tested positive for COVID.
She went to the hospital and then came back to her room to hospice care. She died Jan. 20.
Erin got to come and sit at her bedside.
“She wasn’t in the best of health in the past few years,” Erin wrote later on Facebook. “But COVID-19 was what took our Bethie up to the Heavens. Damn. She was simply too young and I wish I could call her right now and hear her laugh …”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'Her calendar was more full that ours was'
Growing up on the farm, the Pospisil sisters always had chores.
Their mom Gloria kept a special chore jar and when Linda and Loree pulled out a task, she did, too.
“She picked with us, so it was like a game,” Loree Pospisil said.
Gloria and her husband, Elvin, loved life on their land outside of Hallam, growing wheat and corn and milo and soybeans, raising cattle and hogs, sheep and chickens and geese.
When he died of prostate cancer in 1994, his widow kept that land — renting it out — even after she remarried and moved to Lincoln.
“Every spring, she’d be driving around to see if they got the planting done,” Linda said. “In the fall, she’d go and check out the harvest.”
The 80-year-old grew up on a farm near DeWitt. She married young and taught piano for more than four decades.
She played the organ at the church in Kramer and later, at Good Shepherd Lutheran in south Lincoln.
She had a lifelong love of music.
“We laughed because one of our aunts said, if there were dishes to do, Mom always said she had to practice,” Loree said.
She loved Christmas music; “Silent Night” most of all.
In her younger years, Gloria loved to polka and square dance. She grew a big garden and canned the bounty.
After she gave up teaching piano, she had regular bunco and lunch dates with friends and weekly Bible study at Good Shepherd. She dipped into the pool at Bryan LifePointe for exercise classes.
“Her calendar was more full than ours was,” Linda said.
But Gloria stopped going out when the pandemic hit. She watched church on YouTube with her hymnal and a copy of the bulletin at her side.
She kept Lysol wipes stationed around the house, and put a pack in her purse, too.
Her husband, Arnold Henning, came down with the virus before Christmas and recovered after a hospital stay.
Then Gloria tested positive.
She spent 11 days in the hospital and got to come home, but three days later she was readmitted. The daughters called her every day, looking out for her as always, the way she’d always looked out for them.
Their mother bemoaned her “darn” lungs. But my heart’s good, she told them. I’m going to keep fighting.
The sisters were able to visit the COVID unit together two days before their mom died Feb. 11, and the three of them talked the time away.
"A wonderful hour," Linda said.
The mother told her daughters she had picked out her pallbearers.
“She told us she wanted the same service our dad had,” Loree said. “She made it very easy for us.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
The cost of COVID: 'We said "Mom, we're almost to the finish line.'''
It looked like the end of the tunnel.
Phyllis Kingery's mother, Wanda Darlene Hedges, had received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine in January.
"We were so thrilled," Kingery said. "We said 'Mom, we're almost to the finish line.'"
But soon after receiving the shot, Hedges contracted COVID-19 at the southeast Lincoln nursing home where she lived. She showed no pressing symptoms for a week.
Then her oxygen levels plummeted.
"It went to 55% with a click of the fingers," Kingery said. "(Staff) came to do a regular bedtime check and they thought, 'What in the world?' Don't you think because you have no symptoms, you're fine, that it won't turn on you in a heartbeat."
Hedges was taken to Bryan East Campus, where she died Feb. 4 from COVID-19 complications at age 91.
"Mom was a very strong woman,” Kingery said, despite her quick decline. She said her mother lived a hard life, raising her family on a farm near Bennet. Sometimes she worked at a nearby grocery store, but she was mostly a full-time mother.
Later in life, Hedges was able to travel to Alaska and the Holy Land with her husband. She kept big notebooks about the trips and would share them with anyone who wanted to look.
For the past five years, Hedges lived at The Waterford at College View assisted-living center, where she was happy, Kingery said.
She dealt with some memory loss and other health problems before the pandemic. When in-person visits stopped, Kingery would call her often and made a couple of visits outside her window.
"We tried sitting outside talking on the phone. She hated it because our mouths weren't in sync so she told me to just go home and call me," Kingery said.
What her mom really needed was human touch, she said.
"We underestimate the need for touch. She needed a purpose. We couldn't go in there and hold her hand and give her touch."
The day her mother died, Kingery was able to visit her at the hospital for an hour, to finally give her that human interaction that she had missed for the past year.
Seeing her mom decline so rapidly after contracting COVID also gave Kingery a deeper understanding of the disease that has killed more than 2,000 Nebraskans.
"I think that all along, it's been very easy for some people to make a joke about COVID, to say it's not a big deal and we're all making too much of it," Kingery said.
"I saw firsthand how it affects the respiratory system and it shocked me and it still shocks me. COVID is very real. We have to follow what's going on and do what we're told."
— Zach Hammack
They were teachers and farmers and factory workers and homemakers. They played the piano, fixed old cars, danced to the Beach Boys, cuddled th…
'The most amazing, humble and kind couple you would ever meet'
His minister came to see him that Monday.
Chuck Sales was in the hospital, his lungs weak from COVID, grieving his wife Anna, 69, who had been taken by the virus three days earlier.
“He was heartbroken over everything,” Messiah Lutheran Church Pastor John Kunze said. “He wanted to make sure there was going to be a beautiful service for Anna.”
The next day, Chuck, 88, died.
That was the first time Kunze had two caskets at the front of the church.
“The two of them were the most amazing, humble and kind couple you would ever meet.”
The pair married in 1988. Took trips all over the country in their Honda Odyssey, taking a trio of Anna’s siblings along to visit Chuck’s grown children and grandchildren.
They took cruises to places like Bermuda and Jamaica. Followed Elvis impersonator Joseph Hall from city to city to listen to him belt out The King’s classics.
They were a perfect fit, despite their age difference.
No one would guess Chuck was approaching 90, said his oldest son, Chuck Sales Jr.
His dad grew up in Chicago and moved to Lincoln when he joined the Air Force in the 1950s. The family returned to Chicago, but in 1965 came back to make Lincoln home. Chuck worked at National Crane — sang in the Birdcage Theater at the Children’s Zoo, competed in the Cornhusker State Games — and ran his own small business, filming weddings and depositions.
The couple both helped with videography at church, and were regular worshipers at the Sunday night service.
They loved bowling and traveled to national tournaments twice a year, always making time to stop and see family.
“No matter where the wind blew us, grandpa would be there to visit,” his granddaughter Brittany Drisdom wrote in an online memorial. “I’m so grateful to have warm memories of my grandpa and my Anna.”
Anna grew up the third of nine children in a Ukrainian family in Omaha. Her siblings were happy when she married Chuck.
“He was the sweetest person that ever lived,” said Anna’s oldest sibling, Maria Witjek. “They were really good with each other.”
Chuck’s family felt the same about Anna.
“Just a sweetheart of a lady,” Chuck Jr. said. “I didn’t know anyone who didn’t like Anna.”
Chuck and Anna were close to Chuck’s first wife, bringing her meals, inviting her to vacation with them.
Anna had spent her career at Li-Cor and retired a few years ago. She was the quieter half of the pair, their pastor said. Chuck was the guy with a big hug and a handshake.
The couple with wanderlust had taken a 10-day trip to the Carolinas in October and started to feel sick on the way home.
At their joint funeral, Kunze read from the book of John. Do not let your hearts be troubled …
Music played from the speakers, a recording of Hall, the Elvis impersonator, singing “Amazing Grace” and “How Great Thou Art.”
The pandemic kept most of Chuck’s far-flung family from traveling to Lincoln for the service.
But Chuck and Anna had plans to drive to Florida for a bowling tournament later this year, Chuck Jr. said.
“Without this disease, I think we’d be getting together with them.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'He was my once in a lifetime. I was lucky.'
In the late ’80s, Randy Brinkman shot pool at Neighbors Lounge, where Diane Fiacco had just started tending bar.
“I met him almost the first day,” Diane said. “He asked me out for six years and I finally gave in.”
They were friends and she didn’t want to ruin that, she explains.
And they stayed friends even after they fell in love — best friends — for 25 years of married life.
“He was my once in a lifetime. I was lucky.”
They had a daughter together, Jamie, now 24.
“She was his right-hand woman,” Diane said. “He took her everywhere.”
Sometimes he called her kiddo, says Jamie.
She called him adult-o.
He owned his own drywall finishing company and on weekends, he’d bring her to a job site. They went fishing and walked the aisles of antique stores. He pulled her son Julian around in a wagon and played old Beach Boys records, dancing around the room with the 2-year-old who owned his heart.
“He could be real quiet but he could talk somebody’s ear off at the same time,” Jamie said. “Everywhere we went he knew somebody and me and my mom would just stand there while they talked for 30 minutes.”
The 62-year-old loved both his daughters -- his oldest Jenny born during his teenage years -- and his grandkids, Julian Hernandez, Dylan and Macy Jurgens.
“Randy’s first passion was his family,” his obituary said. “Especially his three grandchildren.”
He doted on Dylan, 16, and Macy, 12, his daughter Jenny said. And he was so proud when Dylan started school at East High, his own high school stomping grounds. Grandpa Randy went to his basketball games and band concerts, picked the siblings up for lunch dates.
Jenny and her dad had lunch dates, too, always Cheddar's so Randy could get the chicken fried steak -- a double order, one to save for a second meal at home.
"We could talk about anything," she said. "It was nice to have that kind of a friendship with him."
Randy grew up in Lincoln, the youngest of six. He swam with his brothers and sisters at Eastborough pool. He had freckles and loved playing in the dirt with tiny metal cars. He loved BBQ. Had a head for math.
“He was pretty straightforward,” his sister Cheri Brinkman said. “He was kind.”
He loved golf and his golf buddies. He still played pool. Loved a good game of cards. He bought rental properties and fixed them up.
He wrote Diane love poems for her holidays and her birthday.
He liked sitting by the pool with a cold drink.
When he got sick, he told Jamie he thought his allergies were acting up. After his test came back positive, Cheri dropped off food on the patio, bought him an oximeter.
It’s still hard for her to read his text messages from the hospital.
The last one for Cheri and his older brother: I love you sister. I’m not a quitter. Tell Rick not to worry...
He talked to his daughters, tried not to worry them.
Diane called him. “A hundred times a day.”
He was on a ventilator and had a tracheotomy.
They feel cheated.
“I feel like he should have been here another 20 years,” Jamie said. “That he died from something like this, it shouldn't have happened.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'I've never seen someone who smiled so much'
The fundraiser at McDonald's was for Hope.
In memory of Hope. To help Hope's family.
Hope McGraw, a 22-year-old crew leader at the York restaurant, died of COVID-19 in January. A fundraiser a week later raised nearly $1,200 to help her family cover bills.
"She was really well-known. People would come in and talk to her," Jessica McGraw, Hope's sister-in-law, said. "Everyone who came in contact with her, she brightened their day."
Hope contracted COVID-19 in the first few days of the new year. It's unclear exactly how she came in contact with the virus. She was taking every precaution, her sister, Brittany Hindal, said, including wearing a mask whenever she was around people.
Initially, she lost her sense of taste and smell. Then she started to feel worse, her sister said. Hope was hesitant to seek help — she didn't have health insurance and didn't want to pay a big bill.
One night, she woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble breathing. Her oxygen levels dropped. She was taken to a Lincoln hospital, but her condition worsened. She developed pneumonia. Blood clots became a concern. On Jan. 17, Hope died of COVID-19 complications.
"She was gone way too soon," Brittany said.
Her sister loved playing with her nieces and nephews and cherished her two cats, Josie and Jeb — "don't worry, they'll be taken care of," Brittany said.
Her obituary said she enjoyed music, movies and bowling, too.
"She was always smiling," said Brittany, who worked alongside her at McDonald's. "I loved to see her smile. I've never seen someone who smiled so much more than my little sister. She did not give a crap what anyone else thought. She was her own person. She was unique."
Jessica was concerned when her sister-in-law contracted COVID, but thought she would be OK since she was so young.
"We never thought in a million years she would be taken from us by COVID," she said. "It's definitely one of those things you see with older people and people with weak immune systems. It was eye-opening."
Brittany texted her dad on one particularly tough day after Hope died. She said she really missed her sister.
Her dad replied: "Who wouldn't miss Hope?"
— Zach Hammack
'Uncle Al was just like the coolest person'
Alan Burr was the uncle who sent clever birthday cards to his nieces and nephews and always had a joke when the family gathered.
“Uncle Al was just like the coolest person,” Shelli Keller said. “Having an uncle who was an artist and doing his own thing, living a totally different life, was the best.”
Burr grew up in Talmage. He earned a master’s degree in art from Pittsburg State University, went off to teach in small-town Iowa before coming back to Nebraska to work in manufacturing plants near Grand Island.
After he retired, he moved to Humboldt and bought a piece of farmland so he could hunt deer. He named the place Antler Acres, built himself a cabin, rented out the pasture.
He fished and volunteered at the dog rescue in Auburn. He painted and created collages made of wood — reclaimed barn planks, old picture frames, tree limbs cut into silver dollar-sized slices.
The 73-year-old never married. He’d been engaged in college, but it didn’t work out, his little sister Beverlee Keller said.
But he wasn’t lonely. He liked to do things his way, in his own time, she said.
“He did what he wanted, when he wanted to.”
He was smart. Filled out the crossword with an ink pen and never needed Google to help him tease out an answer.
Burr had a bucket list, and Beverlee and her family helped him tick things off after he’d moved closer to Lincoln four years ago.
A trip to wine country. A NASCAR race. A visit to a craft brewery.
Shelli was on that Napa Valley trip.
“We’d stay up late at night talking,” she said. “We had all these plans to do other stuff.”
They’d set a date for Burr to come visit her in Des Moines, Iowa. He could see her new house, and they’d go antiquing, check out a salvage yard or two.
The pandemic delayed the trip, and then Burr got sick. A friend checked in on him each morning and evening, and Beverlee called twice a day.
He ended up in the hospital the day after Christmas.
“He’d say I had him kidnapped,” his sister said. “That’s what he called it."
Burr had been a long-time smoker, and she knew he was at high risk.
Her brother ended up with two kinds of pneumonia, Beverlee said. And when he was no longer contagious with the virus, she was able to visit his bedside.
After he died, they discovered poems he’d written. They heard from former students who’d never forgotten their funny teacher. They tallied the items left on his bucket list: See Alaska. Travel abroad. Get a tattoo. Visit the Henry Doorly Zoo. Cheer at Husker baseball games. Buy a pair of snakeskin boots.
Two months later, Beverlee can’t talk about her brother — “the life of the party” — without tears.
“Anytime we could be together was fun,” she said. “He would walk into a room, and you knew there was going to be laughter.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'He was so generous, so willing to help out'
When Butch Butts turned 70 — nearly a decade ago — he got a birthday present from his 7-year-old grandson.
And after the Palmyra man died of COVID-19 in February, his family cleaned out his house and discovered those two shiny quarters, held together with a piece of tape and accompanied by a handwritten note: “Jacob gave me on 70th birthday — he got from his piggy bank.”
He was sentimental that way. Saving old birthday cards and Christmas cards. Filling a long table in the living room with photos of his five kids — Tom, Mike, Scott, Jody and Julie, the baby everyone called Punky — and their families.
His obituary called him unique. One of a kind. “Filled with laughter, kindness and love.”
He was a hard worker, said his oldest daughter, Jody Parrott.
“I think he worked full time until he was 76, he just always wanted to be busy.”
Even after he retired from TMCO — assembling gas meters — he was always busy. Helping his kids, helping a neighbor.
“He was very generous,” said his oldest son, Tom. “So willing to help out whenever you had issues.”
And when he lent a hand, he knew what he was doing. Their mom would say: “There’s nothing your dad could not fix.”
Butch and Linda were long divorced but they remained friends. When Butch went out antiquing in search of oil lamps for his collection, he’d pick up a ceramic chicken or a rooster, too, because he knew she liked them.
“He always helped Mom get groceries,” Jody said. “He did so much for all of us.”
Butch loved the Huskers, mounted a big red N on his fence that lit up at night. He was a Chiefs fan and a NASCAR fan, too, who taught his sons how to fix and paint cars in their little garage when they were teenagers.
He liked to fish. He liked to feed the birds. He liked strawberry-rhubarb pie, the kind Jody always made him for his birthday on May 24.
He lived across the street from the town park and when Palmyra started having its Fourth of July festival there, the family would have a cookout in the yard and set up lawn chairs to watch the fireworks.
He kept a candy jar out for the grandkids.
He kept track of everyone’s birthday, kids and all those grandkids, too.
“I can’t even remember that,” his son Scott said. “But Dad remembered them all.”
Butch worked in Texas back in the late ’90s and always kept his fondness for the Lone Star State.
Cowboy hats, cowboy boots, shined and kept in the original boxes.
COVID put him in the hospital Jan. 20 and after he was no longer contagious, all his loved ones were able to come up to his room and stay as long as they liked.
They brought in pictures from that big table in his living room. There was red beer.
“It was a great last four days,” Jody said.
They will bury Albert “Butch” Butts in May in Burlington, Iowa, where he grew up fishing on the Mississippi River, the place he always called home.
The hardworking man fought so hard to recover, but he accepted his fate, his oldest daughter said. His family is working to do the same.
“I just have to remember I’m not the only one who lost a loved one to COVID.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'She was a really caring person'
Greg Srb likes to say his mother saved his life.
During a trip to the family cabin near Bellwood, Greg, then about 5 years old, fell into the Platte River. Betty Srb, fully clothed with her ubiquitous sunglasses pinned to her hair, jumped in and rescued her youngest son.
"She had a habit of taking her sunglasses and sticking them in her hair. I remember she went looking for the sunglasses after jumping in and they were still sticking there," Greg said. "She saved my life."
Betty, a longtime nurse known for her caring and loving personality, died of COVID-19 at a Lincoln nursing home in November at age 95.
Greg, who lives in Lincoln, said he was glad that he was able to help take care of his mother at the end of her life after she helped save his when he was younger.
Betty was born in Clatonia in 1925. She graduated from the Cadet nursing program at Lincoln General Hospital near the end of World War II and went on to work at Lincoln General and the local VA clinic.
"She was a caring person, rather private, not real outgoing, a really caring person," said Tom Srb, Betty's oldest son who lives in Texas. "The whole COVID-19 thing is very sad, that people have to pass along like that, that families are unable to visit them."
Her sons said Betty loved to collect carnival glass. She was also an avid angler who taught them how to find their own bait and hunt nightcrawlers.
The last Christmas they were able to celebrate in person, in 2019, Greg remembers painting his mother's nails.
When the pandemic hit, in-person visits at nursing homes halted. So Greg would FaceTime his mother, calling her once a week to visit.
When it came time to say goodbye, her sons were able to FaceTime one last time.
"That was really important," Greg said. "I felt sorry for the nurses because you could just tell the drain on their faces because so many people were dying. It was hard not to be with her, but I'm also thankful to do what we did."
— Zach Hammack
'He was, I guess you'd say, the definition of unconditional love'
Fixing copy machines was the perfect job for Jack Fields.
For one thing, he was handy, said his daughter Jodie Fawl.
And for another, he liked to talk.
“He did have the gift of gab,” said his son Andy Fields.
The Lincoln man spent most of his career at Xerox and, when they offered him early retirement he jumped at it, Andy said. “Without even asking mom.”
The copier man did take another job at A.B. Dick and kept making the rounds, fixing machines and making friends. He pursued art, too, paintings and sculptures and leatherwork that won him prizes in the competitions he entered.
He was a hands-on dad. He coached Andy’s baseball teams and didn’t miss one of his sporting events — or a Husker football game.
The Lincoln High and UNO grad was an Eagle Scout and even though Andy didn’t make it that far, he remembers one camping trip during his scouting years when his dad helped him pitched their tent.
“There were 70 mile per hour winds during the night and in the morning, ours was the only tent standing,” he said. “I was pretty proud of that.”
Jack’s health had declined and the 87-year-old lived at Tabitha’s Elizabeth House for the last three years.
“Mom died in February 2020, so he had most of the year without her,” Jodie said. “I feel bad for his last year.”
Jack and Nancy — married for 63 years — loved to travel. Hawaii was one of their favorite spots. Each time they returned he’d say: We’re going back to the islands.
They were a perfect couple, Jodie said. Her dad joked that the secret to their marriage was he stayed up late and got up late and she went to bed early and got up early.
The great-grandfather needed a wheelchair to get around, but his mind was sharp.
“He just had such a great sense of humor and all the staff really loved him,” his daughter said. “He was a good housemate to have.”
And he was a good dad to have, too.
“He was, I guess you'd say, the definition of unconditional love,” his son said. “He was a really good man.”
And he was a fun dad, Jodie said.
“He would pick me and my friends up from basketball games at the old Coliseum and take us to some random residential place and we’d do fire drills around the car.”
In one of his daughter’s favorite family photos, her dad is wearing a Santa shirt. He looked like Santa, too, she said, with his white hair and beard.
When he went to the hospital on Dec. 3, sick with COVID, she posted a plea for prayers on Facebook. She called him “the amazing and awesome Jack Fields.” She called him “a tough old dude.”
Five days later, she posted an update.
“We lost a sweet, clever, kind, artistic man who gave the best hugs around. We love him dearly and miss him more than we can say.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'Always willing to help out'
Betty Bredemeyer often told younger church members that she used to run Christ United Methodist Church.
While raising her sons in the '50s and '60s, she taught Sunday school and was “probably on about every committee they had,” according to her son, 68-year-old Dennis Weaver, who remembers growing up and spending Sundays at church.
She moved to Omaha to live with her second husband in 1986, but she still got to know the new, younger church members. Long-timers still tell Dennis that his mother was the nicest lady.
She was giving, Dennis said through his tears. “Always willing to help out.”
Betty grew up in Florida and moved to Nebraska in 1948. She married her first husband, Clarence Weaver, in 1949. They had three sons: Alan, Dennis and Roger. Clarence Weaver died in 1976, and she married Dewey Bredemeyer a decade later.
They moved between Omaha and a home in South Padre Island, Texas. He was a devout Catholic, but they found a way to practice their different faiths until he died in 2005.
While he was in school, Dennis said his mother worked in customer service at what is now US Bank. His dad used to joke about how she helped other people balance their checkbooks, but she struggled to balance her own.
Betty didn’t receive her driver’s license until Dennis turned 16. She was short, and he suspected her small stature made her dislike driving. She was mostly able to get around by riding the bus or catching rides with friends or family.
But Dennis still remembers the day his brother broke his leg when the boys were wrestling at home.
“She picks him up and runs around the neighborhood, trying to find somebody to take her to the hospital with my little brother.”
Dennis said his mother was doing well in the memory care unit until she contracted the virus. She had dementia, but she could still remember the family, though she would occasionally forget names. She could not hear very well, which made phone calls difficult.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Dennis couldn’t be with his mother when she died Nov. 23 at age 94, three days before Thanksgiving and two days before his aunt died, also from COVID-19. He hadn't seen his mother in a year.
“It was a rough Thanksgiving,” he said.
— Libby Seline
'Mom had a much larger community of friends than I ever knew'
When Krista Gentry's mother died, the cards came flooding in from people she hardly knew.
Friends and family members offering their condolences, but also offering stories.
Like how her mom, Janet Ann Jodais, milked cows on the farm growing up. How a cousin used to visit Janet back when they were both kids. Anecdotes dating back 70 years.
"Mom had a much larger community of friends than I ever knew," said Krista, who lives in Minnesota. "That was one of the comforts since she passed away. It's all the stories that people share with you about your parents that you have no idea about."
Janet, a caring mother known for her love of reading, crafting and church life, died Oct. 8 of COVID-19 in Lincoln at age 83.
Krista remembers her mom as a very personable person who constantly gave of her time — to church, to the Boys Scouts, to others in the North Gate Garden Estates retirement community she called home for years.
"She was always very active throughout her life," her daughter said.
Julia Larson, a longtime friend, said Janet made many friends a president of the Condo Board at North Gate.
"She was very inclusive of everyone," Julia said. "Whenever there was new person at North Gate, she would reach out to them. She was just that kind of person -- invite them over for coffee or give them a call and drop in and see them."
Janet was born in Lincoln in 1937 and graduated from Roca High School in 1955. She discovered a love for nursing at Omaha University, where she earned a bachelor's degree.
It's where she found love, too.
"While there, she met her future husband, Valdis Jodais, in speech class when she had to do a speech recommending him for dog catcher," her obituary says.
Reading was one of her favorite pastimes. She never shelved and cataloged a book in the North Gate library that she hadn't read, her daughter said.
"A lot of the times when I visited her we just sat in the evening and read books. We loved reading and mom could zoom through books," Krista said. "She was the fastest reader — she could read three books to my one."
Janet even wrote her own book, a nursing manual published in 1970.
She loved to make crafts, too — sewing, cross-stitch, crewel, ceramics — before arthritis made it too painful.
When COVID hit, Krista kept tabs on her mother and the community at Yankee Hill Village, the retirement community where Janet spent her last years. Throughout the summer, emails would land in Krista's inbox, saying another resident had tested positive. In September, Janet tested positive herself.
The virus took its toll. Because of her arthritis, breathing was more difficult. Janet also had a heart issue that made her more susceptible to serious illness.
But her mother didn't want to be put on a ventilator. As a nurse, she knew her end was close, Krista said.
On FaceTime, "she gave me what she called her air hug," Krista said. "Mom went quite peacefully."
Krista says she's "hypervigilant" about COVID. Her brother also died of the disease last April in Seattle. The week after her mother died was supposed to be his birthday. At the virtual memorial service for her son, Janet chose the reading.
"She handled that like a trooper with her faith. It gave her a lot of strength," Julia said.
Now, her daughter has the stories to remember her mother by, to help her form a picture of who she was.
"It's making a well-rounded picture of Mom," she said. "It has been nice to hear from other people about her so that there's not this void where no one cares."
— Zach Hammack
'He watched a lot of Vietnam documentaries because he missed his country'
When Tam Mai was a soldier for the South during the Vietnam War, he came home on leave and his little brother spotted a new watch on his wrist.
He told him he liked it.
Tam gave it to the boy, younger by 12 years.
Trai Mai wore that watch until he was sent to a concentration camp and the guards took it away, said Tam’s granddaughter, Vy Mai.
“That was the type of person my grandfather was, he would give the clothes off his back.”
Her grandfather became a prisoner of war, too, and when he received asylum from the United States in 1995, he settled in Lincoln and went to work for Cook Foods.
After he retired, the family patriarch would pick Vy and her sister up from school. He would lecture them about boys and being respectful and getting a good education.
“All he wanted was for his grandchildren to go to school and have a good life,” she said.
Tam and his wife had five children -- three sons who came to America and two daughters still in Vietnam. He liked to watch the news. He liked to know what was going on in the world, Trai said.
“He watched a lot of Vietnam documentaries because he missed his country.”
His big brother was gentle, he said. Protective.
“Always a big brother. Taking care of his family and making sure that his grandkids grow up with manners.”
The proud Buddhist grandfather lived with his son and daughter, who both worked at Smithfield, the meatpacking plant in Crete. The pair were asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. They didn’t know they had the virus when Tam became weak and feverish and began struggling to breathe.
Vy drove him to the emergency room at Bryan West Campus, pleading to accompany him inside, but heading home brokenhearted.
Tam turned 80 in the ICU on May 2 and died two days later.
The granddaughter doesn’t know if he heard her voice when she called, the nurse holding the phone to his ear while she spoke: Grandpa, I graduate next week. You have to recover...
The granddaughter did graduate with a degree in human development and health communication. She’s working at a doctor’s office now and studying for the MCAT, the medical school entrance exam.
When her grandfather fell ill, she reached out on social media, raising awareness about the dangers at meatpacking plants and the devastation the virus brought to her family.
Now she wants to do more.
“One day, if my dreams come true, I will pay the debt to the nurses and doctors who took care of my grandfather and comfort someone else’s in their last moments.”
-- Cindy Lange-Kubick
'She was a people person, a lot of her customers became really good friends'
After her stay-at-home-mom days ended, Orva Samuelson became an Avon lady in Grand Island.
“She was a people person,” said her daughter Janell Schutte. “A lot of her customers became really good friends.”
She loved those customers and her church -- Messiah Lutheran -- and her church family. She loved to walk the Conestoga Mall and stop for coffee at Wendy’s afterward.
She loved to play cards.
She and her husband, Dick, spent their evenings dancing at Pla Mor Ballroom during the early days of their marriage -- and they kept dancing in later years at the Liederkranz in Grand Island.
Dick died in 1999 and, five years ago, the widow broke her hip and ended up in Lincoln to be closer to Janell, her grandchildren and a growing group of her adored great-grandchildren.
She lived at The Lexington and was active for a 95-year-old, but she had weakened lungs after two bouts of pneumonia.
Samuelson died of COVID-19 on May 22 after 12 days at Bryan West Campus.
In an online tribute, a girlhood friend of Janell’s remembered how kind Orva had been to her when their families were neighbors.
“Janell was at school and Orva would come and get me and we would just have an hour or two sitting on the floor playing,” Janet Kreifels wrote. “My mom says she did that so she (my mom) could have a break from me.”
She called her a great neighbor. She said she was “blessed to have known her.” There were more tributes from pew mates at church and friends from Orva’s mall-walking days, who remembered her sense of humor and grace.
On the day Janell’s mom died, a nurse called to tell her the end was close.
They set up a FaceTime visit.
Orva’s eyes were closed, her face looked relaxed and peaceful.
Janell and her husband, Terry, watched on an iPad screen as the nurse took her mother’s hand and began to pray.
-- Cindy Lange-Kubick
The cost of COVID: 'He used a duck call to call her over to the car'
Alyssa Wintz was at Wildwood Lake with friends, fishing off the dock.
She heard a voice.
Is that Mini Me?
It was her dad, Bryan, floating by on a kayak.
The 46-year-old hollered "Go, Moose!" to rib her when she played volleyball in elementary school.
He had his own way of getting her attention when he came to pick her up after middle school.
“He used a duck call to call her over to the car,” Jill Wintz said.
Her husband liked to tease their daughter, she said, and he was so proud of their only child.
He liked being outdoors, too, bundled up for ice fishing most of all.
The woman, in her 80s, lived in the Two Rivers Health District based in Kearney and had underlying health conditions.
Mom and daughter didn’t tag along. They joked it was dad’s alone time when he could indulge his love for fishing and a little Bird Dog whiskey.
They laugh about it now and they cry talking about Bryan, who died Oct. 4 of COVID-19.
Bryan and Jill were high school steadies in the northeast Nebraska town of Creighton, where Bryan wrestled and played football and learned to ice fish from Great Grandpa Clare.
If the ice was thin in Nebraska, he traveled toward the cold -- the Dakotas and Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota -- to find a fishing spot. He competed in tournaments and had a sponsorship from an ice fishing company that paid his fees and supplied him with tackle and jigs.
“That was his passion,” Jill said.
And he liked what he did for a living, too, working to keep people’s power on, first as a lineman at LES and later as an outage coordinator.
Before vaccines, nursing home residents who got COVID often became ill — and many died. But with widespread vaccinations, a recent outbreak at a Kearney home resulted in no serious illness.
He had a calm and collected way about him that kept his bosses happy and an outgoing personality that endeared him to his co-workers.
“Bryan was a guy who never spoke poorly of anyone, and you never heard anyone speak poorly of Bryan,” said co-worker and friend Nathan Houska.
The two men met 15 years ago, when Nathan was a summer intern. They ended up on the company slow pitch softball team together. At the first practice, Bryan kept eyeing him and finally asked him where he was from.
Bloomfield, Nathan answered. A town near Creighton and a sports rival.
“He came over and put me in some wrestling move, wadded me up like a pretzel. Pretty soon he started giggling.”
Walk-ins also are allowed at a Wednesday afternoon Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department clinic.
The pair became work friends and then friends, socializing with their families.
His friend knew how to do just about anything, Nathan said. And he’d call on him when he needed help on a project of his own.
Bryan built their dream house near Roca, Jill said.
“He framed it himself. He installed all the cabinets. He built the deck.”
He cut the granite countertops to get the sink to fit. He and Jill put up all the siding, the hardwood floors, the retaining wall, bolstered by help from friends and Bryan's Uncle Pat.
“He kept us busy for an entire year.”
And when Alyssa bought her own house three years ago, he was there for her, too.
“I could call him anytime, even if there was a storm and he was working, he’d answer the phone.”
He built her fence, renovated her kitchen cupboards, painted, fixed her thermostat. Came running if she had car trouble.
He was their planner. Their “family coordinator,” Alyssa said.
And then, in the middle of September, he got sick. Jill is a nurse, and she drove him to the emergency room.
They tried all the standard treatments — Remdesivir, convalescent plasma, steroids, oxygen. He went to the ICU and was intubated. He had kidney failure, developed blood clots.
“Basically our lives consisted of waiting for the phone to ring,” Alyssa said. “Waiting for the nurses to call with an update.”
Mother and daughter would walk the perimeter of the hospital and pray, because they weren’t allowed inside. Sometimes Jill's niece walked with them as they recited the rosary and asked God for healing.
"We felt helpless," Jill said. “It was the closest I could get to him."
They communicated by text. And her high school sweetheart messaged her the day he was going to be put on a ventilator. He had a Bipap — a device supplying pressurized air into his lungs — covering his face.
I’m going to FaceTime you, he typed.
He called, but she couldn’t hear his words, muffled by the machine.
So she did the only thing she could do.
“I just told him I loved him.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
They were teachers and farmers and factory workers and homemakers. They played the piano, fixed old cars, danced to the Beach Boys, cuddled th…
'Everybody loved Irvy'
Irv Cidlik danced himself into her life, but never got a chance to say goodbye.
That night in 1988, a friend had talked Pat Zornes into going out, and they ended up at The Speakeasy in Indian Village.
A rock band was playing. Irv sat down with them, uninvited. He asked Pat to dance and then he stuck around.
Pat’s friend pulled her aside. “She said, ‘Get rid of him; he looks like a weather-beaten old farmer.’ And I said, ‘He is a weather-beaten old farmer — but he’s cute.’”
There was something else about him, something she learned during their second dance.
“He could two-step like my dad. And that sold me.”
Raymond Irvin Cidlik was a farmer on the edge of Dwight, 35 miles northwest of Lincoln. He’d served the Navy on an aircraft carrier. He was a rural mail carrier with a 100-mile route out of Stromsburg. He spent 16 years on the Butler County Board, and eight on the East Butler County School Board.
After they met, Pat told him she wasn’t making any big moves until her youngest son graduated from Lincoln Pius X. So they dated for two years.
Some nights, after driving all day for the post office, he’d make the 70-mile round trip to see her. Others, he’d drive to Valparaiso to call her from a payphone, because it wasn’t long-distance to Lincoln.
They married in 1990. He brought five kids to their new family, she brought two.
“He went to everything they were in, any kind of sport, everything,” Pat Cidlik said. “And when his kids were all grown, it was all about his grandkids. He never missed anything if he could help it.”
He was thrilled to attend a granddaughter’s volleyball game in Brainard last fall, even if he had to cheer for her through his mask.
“He talked about how he was so happy his grandchildren were able to attend school full time and participate in sports,” said his daughter, Sandy Bongers.
After a back injury forced him out of his mail truck, Irv Cidlik managed the Disabled American Veterans Club in Havelock for 23 years, and stayed on as treasurer even after he retired.
He and Pat organized and hosted nearly 20 casino-bound bus trips a year, and he’d grab the microphone once they were rolling.
“He’d tell jokes all the way there and all the way back. He loved making people laugh. Everybody loved Irvy.”
And when he hosted family holidays, the meals and gifts weren’t the important parts, Bongers said. The people around him were. “The day was simply about being together and visiting. He just loved visiting with people.”
He got sick in late October. At first, he was just tired, Pat Cidlik said. “It was hard to see him just sitting, doing nothing, because he was very active.”
He grew worse, shaking uncontrollably despite three blankets. A son had to carry him to the car to get him to the hospital in David City. He was taken to Bryan East Campus that night.
A nurse called Pat Cidlik the next day: Her husband had needed a ventilator.
She asked the nurse if he’d said anything first.
The nurse said: “He told me to tell you he loved you and that he’s scared to death. I said, ‘He’s never been scared of anything in his life.’”
Her Irvy was gone two days later. She didn’t get a chance to see him, but a son and daughter were given an hour with him on his last day.
He was buried at Assumption Catholic Cemetery in Dwight, a quarter-mile from his farm. As the Navy honor guard was folding his flag, a Michelob Ultra truck drove by.
And those who knew Irv knew he loved Michelob Ultra, his wife said.
“That was divine intervention. That was the best thing.”
— Peter Salter
'He was truly trying to make up for the lost time'
Roger Ryman had everything to live for, specifically seven grandchildren — his Magnificent 7 — and their parents. And he had been careful in this time of masks and handwashing and physical distancing.
He could have had 20 years or more to celebrate their birthdays, graduations, weddings and, someday, great-grandchildren.
After ranch life in the Sandhills, then moving from ocean to ocean, Ryman returned to Lincoln in 2016 to reconnect and bond.
Granddaughter Katelyn Ryman got used to seeing her grandfather at all of her events in Omaha — track meets, plays, recitals, holidays.
"He was truly trying to make up for the lost time," she said. "I think of my upcoming college graduation. I'll be the first grandchild to graduate from college, and he won't be there."
Roger Ryman was No. 42 — the 42nd person to die of COVID-19 in Lancaster County, his mid-October death reported simply as a Lancaster County man in his 70s.
A few days later, his daughter posted on Facebook. "These numbers are not just anonymous strangers,” Cindy Ryman Yost wrote. “This article, this ‘man in his 70s’ was my dad, and he had not even turned 71. My dad was not just the 42nd death in Lancaster County. He was loved by so many."
He was born in Lincoln, graduated from the University of Nebraska. Then the cowboy in him carried his pregnant wife and daughter to his family's ranch near Halsey.
But the ranch was sold, and they moved to town. He and his wife divorced, and his dream to live by the ocean and mountains took him to California. Then to the Atlantic coast. Then Arkansas. But when it was time to retire, he made his way back.
He drove a courtesy car part time for a dealership. And when COVID-19 surged, he was doing everything he could to be careful, his daughter said.
The day he started feeling ill, he learned he’d been exposed to a co-worker who had tested positive for COVID-19 a week before.
Ryman got tested on a Saturday and got the result Sunday. Positive. Yost talked to him on Monday. He said he was tired, with chills but no fever.
She texted him Tuesday morning, and he didn't respond. She thought he was sleeping. She drove to his house to drop off soup and chocolate.
She still couldn’t reach him. So she put on her mask and went in, finding him on the floor. Doctors told her he likely died suddenly from a blood clot in his lung, a result of the virus.
If his Magnificent 7 didn't know how much he loved them by his presence in their lives, they do now: After Ryman died, his family found 23 years of letters he’d written, but never delivered, to his grandkids.
The discovery was bittersweet.
"Those words are hard to read knowing he wanted to be around for as much as he could and he won't be around for some of the big life events that are coming up between all of us grandkids," Katelyn Ryman said.
— JoAnne Young
'So long and thanks for the fish'
Whenever Kevin Hopper had to update his identification photo at work, he wore his Star Trek uniform.
“One of three,” his widow Jeri said. “He was such a geek.”
A geek in the very best way.
When the father took his boys to Boo at the Zoo, he dressed up, too. There he is in an old photo with their twins, the boys disguised as Flash and Batman, Dad in his green Flash T-shirt.
Kevin was an IT guy at UNL for more than 40 years. An easygoing computer expert with a Star Wars ringtone, always willing to lend a hand or lighten the room with a joke.
Kevin and Jeri met on an internet dating site in the days before texting. She lived in Clay Center, divorced with three young children.
“We emailed back and forth at work, and when Kevin got home we talked until 2 in the morning.”
They met at Perkins by the airport the next day at 9 a.m. — April Fools Day 2000.
“Even after 20 years, we still enjoyed spending our time together.”
They liked camping, weekends at the lake, outings at the park, the Renaissance Festival in Kansas City.
A few years into their courtship, he surprised her by taking her to see the festival’s king and queen to ask the king’s permission to marry her.
He proposed then and there holding out a ring he'd seen her admire.
He was always surprising her that way, Jeri said. A romantic at heart.
Angus and Drake were born in 2003 and Kevin was the parent who got up first in the night to tend them. The dad who knew their shoe sizes and what medications they were taking.
The 60-year-old was a Northeast High grad. He majored in religion in college. He played Dungeons and Dragons, introducing the boys to the game. He was devoted to Aikido, attending classes twice a week, long after the twins gave it up.
A family friend, Jaymie Stillwell-Edler, calls him an amazing human.
“He loved his family and would have done anything, absolutely anything for them.”
Jaymie called Kevin her uncle, but he was more than that, she said. More like a father.
Kevin introduced her to comic books and superheroes and she grew to love Batman, like he did.
Every so often, Batman-related surprises would show up in her room and, when she was 5 or 6, there was a visit from a life-sized Gotham City hero.
“I never knew it was Kevin, until I was well into my 20s; he kept the charade up for so long.”
She lived with Kevin and Jeri and the twins for more than a year with her now 3-year-old son Titan.
“I’m heartbroken to know Titan won’t get to know him as we did, but you’d better believe we will tell him about him.”
How he said goodbye with a line from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy": So long and thanks for the fish...
How he could hear a single line from Star Trek and tell you which episode it was from.
How he loved his boys and little Titan and modeled for Jaymie — and Jeri's daughters — what it meant to be a good husband.
"He set the standard for all us girls," Jaymie said.
Kevin and Jeri got sick on a Friday in mid-July and went straight to bed after work. The boys and Jaymie brought them food and drinks.
A week later, they drove to the emergency room at Bryan East Campus and then in an ambulance together to the West Campus.
“That was the last time I got to be with him when he was physically awake,” Jeri says.
She went home six days later; Kevin died Aug. 19.
She was able to visit him every day during his last two weeks in the ICU, sedated and on a ventilator.
Each day, the staff gave her a sticker, designating her the visitor of the day. She stuck them one by one on the visor of her SUV, forming a collage she hoped Kevin would see when he came home, a symbol of how much he meant to her and how hard he had fought.
It still stings when she looks at them, but she feels their comfort, too.
“They mean I loved him and never gave up hope that he would win his fight with COVID.”
— Cindy Lange-Kubick
'She was always there, just like a mother should be'
Employees lined the hallway in early December, clapping and cheering as my 94-year-old mother, Jane Koch, returned to her room in the long-term care facility where she lived.
She had been diagnosed on Nov. 19 with COVID-19 and placed in the isolation unit at Southlake Village. After three weeks of major ups and downs, including what was thought to be a mini-stroke, our family was relieved to believe she had recovered, at least outwardly.
But within 48 hours, she was in the hospital. Her organs were failing (another result of COVID-19), and there were other medical issues that her body just couldn't overcome. She died Dec. 12.
After nine months of Mom being, in effect, quarantined in the care facility, when the best we could do was a window visit, we were all able to spend the final hours with her at the hospital.
For nine months last year, I spent most of my nights off sitting outside her window at Southlake. I'd bring her fast food for dinner, then we'd talk on the phone for an hour.
Before the pandemic, I'd spend my free evenings with her, doing puzzles, watching CNN or sports — she loved the Huskers, even going to NU football games with me until the stadium steps got too hard for her to navigate.
She taught us kids to be independent, strong, courteous, respectful and kind. Her pragmatic outlook on life earned her many friends wherever she was living or working. She rarely showed a temper, seeming to always take life in stride.
Mom pretty much raised the five of us by herself, since Dad spent six nights a week running Harry's Wonder Bar. She worked there a couple of mornings a week, and we all cleaned the bar every Sunday.
She instilled in four of us (my brother Lee didn't get the bug) her love of roller skating. She met my dad at the rink at 19th and O streets in Lincoln in the early 1950s. Skating was a big part of her life. And when she couldn't skate anymore because of balance problems, she worked at the rinks alongside my younger brother and two younger sisters.
Cooking was not one of mom's big things, but she was known for cookies and candy. She was a whiz at making grandma's two-color fudge and became well-known among the ladies at St. Paul United Methodist Church for her peanut brittle.
Every year, they would ask her to donate some for the annual cookie walk. Even when she didn't have access to a kitchen, she would give my brother Ron money to buy supplies to make peanut brittle for the church.
Mom liked to travel but didn't get much opportunity to do so until we all grew up. She and her 80-plus-year-old mother hauled a motorcycle from Lincoln to South Carolina to my brother Lee. And when Lee and his family lived in France, mom visited them twice.
My two sisters, Mom and I used to go to Las Vegas for four days in the spring. While my sisters would gamble, Mom and I would take one-day trips. We went to the Grand Canyon and Hollywood, and one year she and I went to Hoover Dam and took the elevator down into the dam.
Mom grew up on a farm, but as she grew older, she wasn't really comfortable with horses. But that didn't stop her from going to horse shows with me and helping out with my Arabian horses. Through the years, we went to shows all over the Midwest, and even spent a week at the Canadian Nationals.
Mom also joined me in my trips all around North America for horse conventions, including Anchorage, Alaska, and Vancouver.
She also liked to visit local places, including Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha and Sunken Gardens in Lincoln. She couldn't wait to see my photos from our numerous visits every year. I'll never be able to visit there without remembering Mom.
Truly, she was more than just my mom. She was my best friend, my confidante, my sounding board and my horse show and travel companion. She was always there, just like a mother should be.
As featured on
The memorial will feature a granite slab with a poem and artwork in the shape of Nebraska. Families can also order smaller slabs to honor their loved ones specifically.
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