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A simple tribute

| Wednesday, February 17, 2016

There are many amazing people in the world. People have flown to the moon, led great warriors to victory, climbed the world’s highest mountains and discovered the cell that led scientists closer to a cancer vaccine.

My great-uncle Herb drove a bus at the University of Illinois, yet he was one of the most amazing people in my life. When I was in first grade, he moved to my town to take care of my grandma after his brother, my grandpa, died. Throughout the years, his pure simplicity, extreme punctuality and intense love and dedication to my entire family perplexed me. I’ve spent the past 15 years discovering that the most beautiful and amazing people may also be the simplest.

Uncle Herb died Saturday.

Herb spent the majority of his adult life working odd jobs and watching over his brother’s family. As a teenager, he wanted nothing more than to be able to follow his brother’s footsteps and join the military, but his small stature and irregular heart prevented him from entering.

This refusal wasn’t the end for him. He assumed a volunteer position by delivering military-death notifications to families door to door. For Herb, this was his duty, and despite facing anger, fear and grief day after day, he put his whole heart into this task, similar to how he spent the last 15 years of his life dedicated to his brother’s family.

While my grandpa died in 2001, Herb continued to live and watch his brother’s wife grow old and his grandchildren grow up, graduate and get married, a privilege he felt he did not deserve. I hope he knew the grand impact he had on all of us. Because he put his own needs and wants aside and spent a lifetime dedicating himself to the people around him.

Uncle Herb once told me a story that really stuck with me. He explained the years after the Great Depression and how they used to have jobs for people to shovel 15 tons of coal. He explained, “They ain’t got jobs like that no more. You gotta work for what you know, not for what you do. You gotta learn so you know what to know. They already have people that do things. They have big companies shoveling the snow and mowing the grass. There ain’t no individuals doing that alone no more. You gotta get a job like your dad, working with computers and such. Nothing comes easy in life. Go watch the janitors at U of I, working 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. That ain’t no life you wanna live.”

Herb was a simple man with little wants. He loved his coffee, his one-liners, arriving 20 minutes early, $2 bills, his tan Cadillac, my dogs and every single one of us. Valentine’s Day was the perfect day for Herb to pass on, leaving us to remember the unending love he gave to our entire family. Rest in Peace Uncle Herby.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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