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Remembering the lives of those in Illinois who died from coronavirus

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 3/31/2020 By Chicago Tribune staff, Chicago Tribune

They were mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. Many were proud grandparents. Two were sisters from a tight-knit South Side family. All were loved, relatives say, and will be forever missed.

As the number of deaths attributable to the coronavirus ticks upward, the Tribune is working to chronicle those who have lost their lives in the Chicago area or who have connections to our region. These are some of those victims.

Feliks Ogorodnik, 88, and Luiza Ogorodnik, 84. Died March 28.

‘It’s a difficult time for our family and all of Chicago and the world’

A Skokie couple who emigrated from Ukraine to begin a new life together in America has died, just hours apart, both infected by the coronavirus.

Feliks Ogorodnik, 88, and his wife, Luiza, 84, died Saturday at Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview.

They are the first married couple in Illinois whom authorities publicly identified to have died during the pandemic from causes related to the disease.

Relatives said the couple came to the United States from Ukraine more than 20 years ago after they retired.

Both became citizens and worked hard to learn English and experience the traditions and culture of their new home, the family said.

“They were a beautiful couple,” their son-in-law, Ed Greenwald, said Monday. “Very loving and wonderful grandparents and very integral to our family.”

He said the family is not certain how the couple became infected.

The couple has two daughters, Irina Greenwald and Janina Schnaper, four grandchildren and other extended relatives. They worshipped at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston.

Relatives said Luiza Ogorodnik worked as a physician in Ukraine. She had a lifelong passion for learning and enjoyed reading and the theater. In an online obituary, her family described her as a “very energetic woman, full of optimism and life.”

The tribute continued, “She loved people and always sought to help those around her.”

Her husband, Feliks Ogorodnik, was a construction company supply manager in Ukraine. His family was everything to him, relatives said. He also loved gardening, often sharing his harvest with family and neighbors.

Feliks Ogorodnik died minutes before 5 p.m. Saturday, about 4 1/4 u00bd hours after his wife and in the same hospital, medical examiner’s officials said. Both had underlying health problems that contributed to their deaths.

The family planned a private funeral Tuesday. A larger memorial service will be held at a later date.

David Jacobson, founder of Chicago Jewish Funerals, which is handling the couple’s service, said virtual shiva, livestreamed funerals, recordings and other special accommodations are being offered during the pandemic to restrict attendance and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

“Here’s what we’re learning: People need community more than ever,” he said. “This is really showing us how much people need each other.”

Despite his family’s heartbreak, Greenwald said they know they are not alone in their grief.

“It’s a difficult time for our family and all of Chicago and the world,” he said. “We’re going through extraordinary times.”

Another Chicago-area family suffered a double loss recently when two siblings died nine days apart. The sisters, both in their 60s, attended church services together and were part of a tight-knit family, relatives said. One of them, Patricia Frieson, 61, a retired nurse, was the first person in Illinois to die of first COVID-19-related causes and her sister Wanda Bailey died a little more than week after her.

— Christy Gutowski

Charley Hill, 78, of Homewood. Died March 25.

‘A generous person, a giving person’

As daughter Monica Plaid remembered him two days after he died of pneumonia due to COVID-19, Charley Hill was a dedicated church trustee who “always had the key to the building, always checked in on things.”

A retired Cook County sheriff’s police department detective and negotiator, and a veteran of both the Army and Marine Corps, Hill attended South Suburban Church of God in Homewood. He and his second wife, Marie Gault, moved to a Homewood retirement community last year.

During his first marriage, to Eloise Hill, now a Bridgeton, Missouri., resident, Hill and his family bought a house in Harvey in 1975. Plaid was 4 at the time.

“We were the first African American family on the block,” she told the Tribune. “We had some really great neighbors. I remember all of it. I look back at my parents and see how much they sacrificed, and what they did to try to make our lives better than theirs. That’s what I see in my father. He was a generous person. A giving person.”

Hill joined the Army at age 18. He served in the Vietnam War and later enlisted in the Army Reserve. Plaid remembers her father attending community college shortly after the family moved to Harvey. He’d study at the kitchen table, Plaid recalled.

“These are the sacrifices some people make,” she said. “Some people don’t take care of their responsibilities. He wasn’t perfect but he forged his own path for his family and did the best that he could. I feel very grateful for him, and thankful.”

On March 19, Hill was taken by ambulance to Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest.

“It was like he’d had a stroke,” Plaid said. “He didn’t know his name, didn’t know where he was, wasn’t able to move, to use his lower body.” A few days after Hill’s transfer to Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, he was on a ventilator and sleeping much of the time.

Plaid said her father finally received a coronavirus test March 23. The results came back positive March 24. He died March 25.

“It hurts so badly,” she said. “We weren’t allowed to see him. I’ve done a lot of crying about that. I leaned on God and asked him to cover him and be with him, because we couldn’t.”

A nurse at Christ Medical Center managed to arrange a telephone call with Plaid, placing a receiver up to Hill’s ear that final day.

“I was able to tell him I loved him,” she recalled through tears. “It was all of 30 seconds. But those 30 seconds meant a lot to me.” She added, quietly: “God bless the nurse who did that.”

The Cook County medical examiner’s office listed hypertension and atrial fibrillation as contributing factors to Hill’s death. In addition to Plaid, survivors include his wife, Marie Gault and a son, Sean Hill.

Hill was also stepfather to four adult children by his second marriage and grandfather to a total of seven grandchildren. His burial will be at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood.

Memorial services are pending.

— Michael Phillips

Peggy Rakestraw, 72, of Matteson. Died March 25.

‘A beautiful lady’

Peggy Rakestraw had high standards for her two daughters.

Her youngest, Jennifer, said her mother was strict but loving. She often reminded her daughters to make sure they saved their money “for a rainy day” and to be independent.

“She was protective and wanted the best for us,” her daughter said. “When she said something, she meant it and everyone knew it.”

The 72-year-old Matteson woman died March 25 in a south suburban hospital. Though she long had been in failing health due to end-stage kidney disease that required dialysis three times a week, her daughter said the family is stunned by her sudden death and left with unanswered questions.

It wasn’t until days later that they learned the cause: pneumonia due to a COVID-19 infection. Her various preexisting health conditions were listed as contributing factors.

Jennifer Rakestraw said her family does not know how her mother became infected. She lived in a nursing home, and the last in-person contact her family had with her there was March 12 because the facility soon stopped allowing visitors due to the pandemic.

She said her mother had moved into Generations at Applewood nursing and rehabilitation center about six months earlier due to her fragile health. She was admitted to the hospital two days before her death due to “confusion” and other symptoms not typically associated with the coronavirus, her daughter said.

The family was allowed to see her only briefly that first day at the hospital.

“On top of everything else, it’s devastating we couldn’t be there (when she died)," Jennifer Rakestraw said.

On Friday, a spokesman for the Matteson facility acknowledged a resident had died after a two-day hospital stay. He said administrators had not been notified of the cause of the resident’s death. He said the facility did not have any confirmed COVID-19 cases among staff or residents as of Friday.

In a statement, facility administrators listed several safety measures. They said staff and visitors were pre-screened as of March 6. Access has been limited to “essential health care workers” since March 13. The facility “is adequately stocked with personal protective equipment and all employees who work in the home adhere to the highest standards of infection control protocol and use personal protective equipment,” the statement read.

Peggy Rakestraw grew up on the city’s South Side and surrounding suburbs. She and her husband, Bobby, were married nearly 50 years, their daughter said.

Before retirement, she was a unit clerk at the former Oak Forest Hospital for about three decades.

Jennifer Rakestraw said her mother had a good sense of humor and loved reading, especially mystery novels. She enjoyed board games, charades and watching her grandchildren play video games.

She was a great cook. Her mother had a “special secret recipe” for everything, her daughter said. Her specialties included lasagna, cornbread stuffing, enchiladas, and lemon meringue pie, to name a few.

As her health declined, Jennifer Rakestraw said, her mother remained mentally sharp and once was quick to remind her daughters that she still was the boss.

“She once told me, when she was sick and I guess I tried to make a decision for her, ‘I have a voice,' " her daughter recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, Mom, you do.’ ”

“She was a beautiful lady,” she continued, through tears. “She was loved.”

The family will hold a memorial at a later date.

— Christy Gutowski

Alvin Elton, 56, of Chicago. Died March 22.

Larger-than-life personality

Alvin Elton died March 22, nine days after his 56th birthday.

The Chicago man thought he had the flu. He was exhausted. His body ached.

“I don’t feel bad,” his wife recalled him telling her days earlier. “I’m just so tired and have no appetite.”

But, after a March 20 chest X-ray at an urgent care clinic revealed pneumonia, Elton was immediately placed on oxygen and hospitalized.

“Forty-eight hours later, he was gone,” his wife, Gretchen Meyer, told the Tribune.

Authorities determined Elton died of pneumonia due to a COVID-19 infection. He had preexisting health conditions, including diabetes, which were listed as contributing factors.

Family and friends described his larger-than-life personality and passion for competitive sports, both as a participant and a spectator. He was a popular competitive darts player on the city’s Northwest Side who also loved attending concerts, outdoor festivals, skiing and travel.

A close friend, Peter Citera, remembered Elton for his “his easy smile, infectious laughter and unparalleled love of life.”

“The two things that made Alvin happiest were sports and having a cold beer with good friends,” Citera said in an online tribute. “If the two could be combined — as they often were — well, that was absolutely ideal.”

Many called Elton by his initials, “ACE.”

He graduated Evanston Township High School, later following in his father’s footsteps while pursuing a career as a pipefitter, his wife said.

She said they met nearly 20 years ago while on opposing teams during a Thursday night Windy City Darters league match at a Rogers Park bar. She isn’t positive whose team won, but she remembers the email he sent her that next morning and their first date a day later to a Cubs game.

She said Elton was especially proud of his Native American heritage.

His parents, both deceased, grew up on reservations in different Sioux tribes in South Dakota. He spent summers there when he was younger and continued to study and pay tribute to his roots throughout his life.

His father, Arthur, was a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. His mom, Adeline, or Addie, was part of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

They met in Chicago in the early 1960s while both were taking part in a federal job training program, his wife said.

She described her husband as loving and warm, the kind of guy who easily made and kept friendships.

“He just had the most optimistic outlook,” Meyer said. “Fun just seemed to find him. There was never a dull moment when he was around.”

Meyer said she thought her husband’s condition had stabilized March 21, the day after he was hospitalized. But, on Sunday, he still was unconscious and on a ventilator. He died that night.

Wearing protective gear, she was able to be at his side even though the hospital had restricted most visitors.

In the days that have followed, Meyer described a maze of bureaucracy, misinformation, and confusion among various authorities as she sought word about the cause of her husband’s death and when his body could be released to a funeral home.

Meyer also said she has not received guidance about whether she should be quarantined. She has voluntarily chosen to do so, she said.

“It was very frustrating and something that needs to improve for other families,” she said. “I wouldn’t want anyone else in this situation to have to go through this.”

Besides his wife, Elton is survived by a sister, Anne Gavin, three nieces and a nephew. His wife said a celebration of his life will be held at a later date.

— Christy Gutowski

Patricia Ciametti, 72, dog grooming business owner, Burbank. Died March 25.

Lover of animals

Patricia Ciametti’s pet grooming business in Palos Hills was known as a place where even incorrigible animals could come for a beauty treatment. It didn’t matter how rambunctious they had been at other shops — Ciametti soothed them like a born dog whisperer.

“There were dogs nobody could get near, she’d start working with them and all of a sudden they were happy and calm,” recalled her friend Denise Urquijo. “She had this magical way of taking care of dogs and cats. She was just amazing.”

Ciametti, of Burbank, died early March 25 at Advocate Christ Medical Center of coronavirus-related causes, according to her family. She was 72.

Her daughter Mary Jones said after Ciametti fell ill, she was told by a doctor and a staffer at the state’s COVID-19 hotline that her symptoms didn’t sound like coronavirus. She didn’t receive a test until after she went to the hospital in respiratory distress, dying a few hours later, Jones said.

“I’m very upset,” Jones said. “If she had gotten tested in time, they might have been able to save her.”

Jones remembered her mother as an animal fanatic who invested her passion into her grooming business, Sit ‘n’ Pretty. That’s where she met Urquijo, who has her own business making dog biscuits. The two became fast friends, forming a sister-like bond.

“Pat was a very kind and loving person,” Urquijo said. “She treated everyone with respect. You couldn’t help but like her. When you met her, it was like knowing her forever.”

Her co-worker Char Oliver remembered Ciametti as a hard worker who put her family first, and as someone whose skills elicited deep loyalty in her clients.

“She would have people come in from other establishments that couldn’t (handle) their dogs,” she said. “A lot of these dogs had problems, but she got them done. For that her clients were absolutely grateful.”

Her cousin Kathy Soria, who grew up with Ciametti in Chicago, recalled taking camping trips to Lake Will in Wilmington, Illinois, where they would putter around on a pontoon boat.

“She’s just a wonderful, great person and friend,” she said. “I spoke with her every day. This is a big void in my life.”

Aside from Jones, Ciametti is survived by her son Michael and daughter, Vanessa; and grandchildren Cheyenne, Christopher, Steven and Paulie.

— John Keilman

John “Curt” Johnson, 93, professor emeritus, Evanston. Died March 22.

Educator, poet, ‘character’

In his 93 years, John “Curt” Johnson was fueled by a passion for reading, teaching and an overall curiosity about life.

He was an emeritus professor of English and former associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“He really loved teaching,” Carol Johnson said of her father. “The job was constant, and he was very dedicated.”

Long retired, Johnson died March 22 as a result of pneumonia due to a COVID-19 infection with coronary artery disease and chronic pulmonary disease as contributing factors.

He was a resident of the Three Crowns Park senior living community in Evanston, where he and his wife, Joan, had moved about a dozen years earlier after downsizing from their longtime home in Wilmette.

The couple was married nearly 60 years before her death in 2012.

The son of a Swedish immigrant who painted houses to support his family, Johnson grew up in Chicago and was inspired at a young age by the written word. He and his wife met at Northwestern University, where they were graduate students studying English and shared an appreciation for the arts.

Johnson, who went by the nickname “Curt,” from his middle name, loved the classical music of Mozart and Vivaldi, and the works of Victorian poets, especially Matthew Arnold.

The couple’s home was filled with books, music and flowers. Meals were served on a formally set table, and conversations were intellectual and passionate.

“They were very lovely,” said a niece, Jenifer Nollin. “I remember as a kid, I thought they both were so poised. I admired him so.”

Johnson wrote poetry throughout his life. His diverse hobbies included photography, politics, travel and gardening, especially tending to his beloved orchids.

His niece said he was tough, a stickler for proper vocabulary and grammar, but he also was “a real character” who was witty, generous and genuine. He once owned a parrot named Perry and had a unique, special talent of wiggling his ears without using his hands.

She recalled a conversation they once had about religion. Nollin said her uncle’s faith was tested with the loss of his only sibling — her mother — from cancer at an early age.

“I remember he said that he still believed in the power of love,” she said.

His daughter, Carol, recalled her father’s wisdom. There is a solution to every problem, he reminded her.

He retired from the university after a more than 30-year career in 1984 after suffering a heart attack. The John Curtis Johnson award with $500 is still given out each spring to an outstanding first-year student in UIC’s honors college.

Later, as her parents aged, they decided to move into an apartment in the retirement community. Johnson said they loved it there, and her father downsized again into an assisted-living wing as his health and mobility declined.

Carol Johnson said it was a Three Crowns Park nurse who called her March 15 to tell her they had rushed her father, who had a fever and racing heart rate, to the hospital.

“I don’t really need to be here,” Johnson said her father told her when she arrived in the ER to be by his side. “They don’t need to make a fuss.”

He died a week later. Johnson is now quarantined until the end of the month, but she has not exhibited symptoms, she said.

She does not know how her father became infected. A few other Three Crowns Park residents also have tested positive, facility officials said.

Carol Johnson said she is thankful to the staff for the care they long gave her father.

Besides a daughter, Curt Johnson is survived by his son, Richard, who lives out of state.

Their cousin, Jenifer Nollin, said she hopes their family’s loss amid a time of widespread fear will remind others what is important in life.

“Be kind to one another,” she said. “Don’t miss the opportunity to tell people you care about them.”

— Christy Gutowski

Patricia Frieson, 61, retired nurse, Chicago. Died March 16.

‘One of the sweetest people you ever want to meet’

Less than three weeks before she became the first person in Illinois to die from the new coronavirus, retired nurse Patricia Frieson posted a prophetic message on social media indicating she knew how unrelenting the disease could be, especially for those like her who suffered from respiratory illness.

“Take care everyone,” she said in a Feb. 28 message on Facebook, “(and) may the world recover from coronavirus soon.”

Frieson, 61, one of nine children in a tight-knit family, later tested positive for COVID-19 and died March 16 at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

A longtime resident of the city’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side, Frieson is remembered for her soulful, powerful voice and deep faith. She often sang with her sisters at Progressive Beulah Pentecostal Church near her home.

She loved doting on her many nieces and nephews, and was “one of the sweetest people you ever want to meet,” said a younger brother, Richard Frieson, of Minneapolis.

Frieson, who had a history of health problems including respiratory issues, pneumonia and lymphedema, wasn’t too concerned when she first checked into the hospital, her brother said. But her condition quickly worsened.

He described the added pain for the family of not being able to comfort his sister, who was in isolation and on a ventilator in her final moments.

Two days earlier, while in the hospital, Frieson posted another message on her social media page.

It read: “Until the good Lord calls Me away from this world to the next, I want to make it clear that I believe in Jesus Christ as the True Lord and Savior. Despite the fact that I am human, and I fail a lot of times, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, who was sacrificed on the cross, and died for our sins. He loves us all dearly (far more than we deserve) and forgives our sins if we are in repentance. His Word says ‘who so ever believeth in Me, will be granted eternal life.’ ”

— Christy Gutowski and Elyssa Cherney

Wanda Bailey, 63, retired nurse, Crete. Died March 25.

Sister of state’s first victim

Nine days after a retired nurse from Chicago’s South Side became the first person in Illinois to die from a COVID-19 infection, another member of her family also succumbed to the deadly disease.

Wanda Bailey, 63, of Crete, died early March 25 at a hospital in south suburban Olympia Fields.

Authorities said Bailey died of pneumonia due to a COVID-19 infection with high blood pressure, heart and lung disease listed as contributing factors.

Bailey, one of nine siblings in a tight-knit family, is an older sister of Patricia Frieson, relatives said. A Waukegan funeral home confirmed it is handling arrangements for both sisters.

A brother, Richard Frieson, from Minneapolis, said Bailey checked into the emergency room on the night of their sister’s death because she, too, was experiencing breathing problems.

He said the family tried to remain hopeful that Bailey might pull through because she was in better overall health than the sibling who had died.

The brother said it is unclear how his sisters became infected. Patricia Frieson didn’t get out much because of her health problems, he said. She had attended a funeral weeks before her death. The siblings also often attended church services together.

Relatives are now mourning back-to-back losses while in isolation.

“We hoped for the best, but it just didn’t happen,” Richard Frieson said.

— Christy Gutowski and Madeline Buckley

John LaPlante, 80, retired traffic engineer, Chicago. Died March 21.

‘He was very much an innovator’

Chicago native John LaPlante took great pride in working for the city. That didn’t change even after his boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, blamed him for the catastrophic 1992 subterranean flood in the Loop — a rebuke some quickly concluded was unfair.

But he didn’t raise a fuss. He resigned at Daley’s demand and moved into the private sector as a traffic engineer. Within a year, the city brought him back as a consultant for municipal projects.

“He took (the criticism) magnanimously, I think, and realized that’s just the way it works,” said his friend and colleague Tom Kaeser. “I think the mayor recognized that John was a good engineer. He was held in high regard.”

LaPlante died March 21 at Evanston Hospital from what his family said were coronavirus-related causes. His daughter, Leslie LaPlante, said it appears he contracted the virus on a recent trip to Egypt. He fell ill upon his return and tested positive March 10, two days after he entered the hospital.

His wife, Linda, who accompanied him on the trip, did not contract the virus, Leslie LaPlante said. Wearing protective gear, Linda and Leslie LaPlante were both with him when he died.

Leslie LaPlante said her father, who retired in 2012, was an enthusiastic world traveler who was devoted to his family, his church and his profession. After leaving his city job, he continued his work with T.Y. Lin International Group, consulting on projects all over the world.

Heather Gaffney, a retired civil engineer who worked with LaPlante at T.Y. Lin, said he was a mentor to many in the profession and far ahead of the curve when it came to considering the transportation needs of cyclists, buses, pedestrians and the disabled.

“He was very much an innovator,” she said.

Leslie LaPlante said the family plans a service “once we know what (circumstances) will allow.” In the meantime, they’re taking comfort in how LaPlante is being remembered — and how he is now serving as a reminder to treat the pandemic with the utmost seriousness.

“We’ve seen that for some people, it has driven it close to home,” she said. “I guess that does make a difference.”

— John Keilman

Michael Mika, 73, Chicago. Died March 19.

A lost patriarch

He was their hero, mentor and a dad who never let them down.

A Vietnam veteran, Michael Mika of Chicago died March 19, five days after he had been admitted to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

The 73-year-old Northwest Side man died of pneumonia due to COVID-19, officials said. Contributing factors included heart disease and diabetes.

Married for 51 years, he is survived by his wife, Josephine, three adult sons and grandchildren.

Though too distraught to talk publicly about their loss, a daughter-in-law took to Facebook to urge others to heed public health safety protocols. The family granted the Tribune’s request to publish her words, which garnered more than 400 shares, likes and comments offering sympathy and prayers.

“As people of all ages are complaining about the inconveniences they are facing due to shutdowns and (stay-in-place) orders, let me help you grasp the magnitude of the situation,” Kelly Mika wrote March 21.

Kelly Mika described the family’s heartbreak of not being able to be with their quarantined patriarch in the hospital, impatiently waiting for updates from his medical team.

“In the end, he was alone,” she wrote.

In their grief, she continued, relatives are “unable to comfort each other through hugs and family contact due to the quarantine period,” and so, “we are forced to communicate through phone calls and text messages.”

Under normal circumstances, the Catholic family would be planning visitation services and a funeral Mass. But, Kelly Mika said, they have learned “funeral homes are extremely limited on visitation services and churches are closed,” so their grieving process will be extended until a later service can be held to “honor our Vietnam Vet the way he deserves to be honored.”

She concluded, “So if your daily routine is inconvenienced, I ask you to think of those, like my family, who are dealing with an unprecedented situation. We are forced to accept it and move on the best that we can.

“I do not write this for sentiments of sorrow or pity. I simply am asking for everyone to take this seriously. My family is living the nightmare that has now become our reality. We continue to follow and respect the quarantine procedures because we are responsible citizens. Many other families have already and may sadly follow in our situation, COVID -19 related or not. However, the closures will continue to impact families just like ours.”

— Christy Gutowski

Luis Juarez, 54, transportation company employee, Romeoville. Died March 18.

A final family gathering

Luis Juarez died March 18 after being hospitalized for what he thought was pneumonia, according to one of his sons, who asked that his name not be used to protect the family now in quarantine.

The Romeoville resident worked for a transportation company and traveled often in the United States and Mexico. He returned from his final Mexico trip Feb. 28. According to his son, one of three in the family, Juarez attended a quinceanera celebration in Elgin the following day. He had no symptoms at the time.

Over the next several days, what appeared to be a common cold turned worse. On March 12, Juarez was hospitalized, according to the son, and prescribed antibiotics for what doctors diagnosed as pneumonia. By March 15, Juarez’s condition had turned critical.

“We didn’t know he had been tested,” the son said of his father testing positive for the coronavirus.

Even with the onset of COVID-19 fatalities nationwide, the son said, the Juarez family — like millions across the world — disregarded the pandemic’s spread at first.

“Most times, we tend to stay quiet and go along with the jokes and the memes,” the son said. “That ignorance and silence is killing many. My dad was one of them.”

Travel bans are interfering with the family’s wishes to bury Juarez in his native Mexico.

“That was his dream,” the son said.

— Laura Rodriguez and Michael Phillips

Carl Redd, 62, Chicago. Died March 21.

Doting grandfather

When he was in good health, Carl Redd often rose early to drive his oldest daughter to work and drop off his 9-year-old grandson at school.

Redd, 62, insisted on squeezing in every moment he could with this only grandchild, Dylan, whom he adored.

A lifelong Chicagoan who relatives say was the king of the backyard barbecue, good-natured and funny, died late March 21 at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.

He died of respiratory failure due to non-traumatic brain injury, authorities said. A COVID-19 infection, chronic pulmonary disease and other preexisting health conditions were contributing factors.

His firstborn daughter, Delliah Redd, said her father never fully recovered from a severe asthma attack he suffered in their Auburn Gresham home in late October. He collapsed “in my arms,” she said, but paramedics worked to resuscitate and stabilize him. He was treated at various hospitals.

Redd said her father finally returned home last month for a short time but was hospitalized again after getting a fever.

“We kind of figured it was getting close to the end,” she said.

Still, relatives say they are stunned and still in disbelief that he may have been infected with the new coronavirus while hospitalized.

Delliah Redd said her father previously tested negative after arriving at the VA hospital mid-February. A hospital spokeswoman did not immediately respond to the Tribune’s request for comment

His daughter said the family last saw him March 17 because the hospital began restricting visitors due to safety precautions. His wife, Lillian, donning a gown, face mask and gloves, was able to be at his side, spoon-feeding pureed food to her husband of 35 years.

Their daughter, watching from the hospital room doorway, witnessed the final moments of a man and woman who met decades earlier as employees of the long-closed Spiegel store in the city.

He could barely speak, Delliah Redd said.

“I asked him, ‘Do you know who I am?’ ” she said. “He said, ‘my oldest.’ When I asked him if he was OK, he just nodded his head yes.”

She said his heart stopped March 21 while his doctor was in the room, giving his wife an update on the phone about his condition.

Redd, a retired HVAC repairman, enlisted in the Army in 1978 and served about six years before being honorably discharged, according to his military records. He was raised in a Christian family on the city’s West Side. He loved rock ’n’ roll music and comedian Richard Pryor.

“His most outstanding feature was his larger-than-life smile,” a younger sister, Pamela Redd, said. “He always wanted to be there for his family, that was his first priority, no matter what else was going on in his life.”

Besides his wife, daughter, sister and grandson, he is survived by two other daughters, two other siblings and his mother, Pauline, who turned 83 Wednesday.

Carl Redd will be buried at Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois. Though authorities have temporarily suspended military honors, he will be laid to rest with other veterans who served their country, Delliah Redd said.

— Christy Gutowski

———

©2020 the Chicago Tribune

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