Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Coronavirus Victims: A Beloved Mailman And Hospice Volunteer

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

For decades, Jim Herber was the friendly face who brought the mail in Sheboygan, Wis.

KEVIN HERBER: He absolutely adored his mail route crew, the people that he delivered to. He did that for over 30 years.

SHANNON OGNACEVIC: I think it was 38, wasn't it?

SARA VAN WAGENEN: Yeah.

(CROSSTALK)

HERBER: I have so many people come up to me like, your dad was our mailman. He always had licorice for the kids and a dog treat for the dog. And he just really got it. Like, he knew how to talk to people and just be present.

KELLY: Those are his kids, Kevin Herber, Shannon Ognacevic and Sara Van Wagenen. Jim Herber died this month of COVID-19, one of more than a quarter-million people killed by the coronavirus in this country.

OGNACEVIC: He was the guy who coached all of our sports teams. He was the guy who taught us all how to swim. He was just very involved.

VAN WAGENEN: You know, he would come home from a full day of work and just be ready to, like, hang out with us. Whenever we were spending time with him, he made you feel like you were the center of his entire universe.

HERBER: I remember him always saying, like, the back roads are more fun. It's like just driving to a simple destination, he would always try to find something unique to teach us about or show us, really kind of developing that sense of adventure in us.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

After Jim Herber retired, he became a volunteer at Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice. An Army veteran himself, he held ceremonies to honor veterans in the hospice for their service, pinning American flags to their lapels. He was also part of a program called No One Dies Alone. He'd sit vigil with patients when their families couldn't be there.

KELLY: Kevin Herber says it meant a lot to his father, but he was quiet about it.

HERBER: If he was going to meet up with us to go, like, on a bike ride on a Sunday, he might say, hey, we'll meet up at 10. Then you might get a call early Sunday morning, saying, can we move that to noon? Well, sure. OK, so we'd meet up at noon, and he'd be like, well, I was in Sharon Richardson's since 3 in the morning. It was just kind of a passing thing. Like, he didn't want to, like, brag about it or anything. It was just what he did.

OGNACEVIC: So that was kind of, like, the big injustice in all of this was that - I'm going to get emotional now.

VAN WAGENEN: He was there for everyone else, and it really sucks that we couldn't be there for him at the end.

OGNACEVIC: That he had to be alone, yeah.

KELLY: The family did talk to Jim Herber by video chat the day he went on a ventilator. They told him they loved him, and that was their goodbye.

CHANG: Kevin Herber says it's been frustrating to talk to neighbors and acquaintances who were skeptical of the virus before his father's death and still downplay it now.

HERBER: A couple of them, too, who would say stuff like, well, what were his underlying conditions? - almost like they still didn't believe that he died from COVID-19. And, like, there was nothing wrong with the man. He just had a physical. He was in great shape. He had biked, like, 400 miles since March.

CHANG: He hopes his father's death can be a warning that makes people take the virus more seriously. But Jim Herber's life was much more than that.

KELLY: Shannon Ognacevic says she will always remember him at their annual family reunions up north; kayaking, fishing, getting ice cream with his grandkids.

OGNACEVIC: You know, 'cause I want people to remember his life too and not just the way that he passed, you know? But there was that - you know, they remember the laughter and the hugs and the...

VAN WAGENEN: He lived.

OGNACEVIC: Yeah. Yeah, he lived. He lived.

KELLY: Shannon Ognacevic, Sara Van Wagenen and Kevin Herber remembering their father Jim Herber, who died this month. He was 74 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.