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
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