Evansville Teacher's Final Wishes Affected by COVID-19
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Carol Rogers hasn’t been able to gather with friends and relatives to celebrate her late husband Robert who died in May at age 94 from a heart condition. Instead she reads the comments on his online memorial page:
“He was a force in my life…he taught me life lessons…I wouldn’t be who I am today…his sense of humor…”
He was a husband, a father, a World War II veteran, and a life-long teacher. Teaching shaped every aspect of his life. It is what brought Carol and Robert together, “We were the big talk of the school with the kids you know two teachers dating,” Carol said.
Carol said during his teaching career, Robert taught at Henry Reis School, Bosse High School and Evans Elementary school. He coached swimming and soccer. He was a presence in the lives of hundreds of students and, as Carol learned reading his online condolences, he taught much more than what was on any syllabus, “He was extremely interested in making sure students knew how to think and not just about facts and figures. Here is another comment that I read: this great man taught me so much about life, it took growing up to appreciate what his strict but always fair behavior helped us learn.”
Shaping young minds through teaching and coaching was so dear to his heart, that Carol said even in death, Robert wanted to continue his life’s work.
That’s why several years ago he made the decision to donate his body to science, specifically to the Indiana University School of Medicine’s cadaver program.
“He felt that IU body donation was a good option. So we met with them and he signed all the papers and we did all the witnessing,” Carol said.
Then in May, when Carol realized that Robert’s passing was likely a few days away, she called the Indiana University School of Medicine to see what to do. It was then that she learned the school’s cadaver donation program had been temporarily halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of the long-standing plan to donate Robert’s body, Carol had made no other arrangements for a burial so she was at a loss for what to do. She was disappointed that Robert’s wishes couldn’t be fulfilled. But then Robert’s hospice nurse recommended Carol look into organ and tissue donation. Carol’s son David helped navigate the process.
“It is never easy to lose someone you love but when you know they are able to help others in death, burn victims, cancer patients, it helps. Dad was always caring and compassionate. In some ways he will live on through generations,” David said.
While his physical remains wouldn’t go to a medical school to educate future physicians and scientists like he had intended, Robert’s donated tissue will help up to 75 patients - a contribution toward his fellow man that David said is indicative of the way his father lived his life.
Before becoming a teacher, Robert had served in the Navy in WWII as an electrician on the USS Tarazed – a supply ship in the North Atlantic. His family said it wasn’t until later in his life that he talked much about his service. David said, because his dad never saw combat, he felt like he didn’t have the same experience as other veterans. Still, living through the war taught him about how unfair life can be and it highlighted inequities in society.
“In some of his Navy stories he would tell us it didn’t matter the color of his shipmate’s skin or ethnicity or whatever, you showed your fellow man kindness and compassion and especially today we need to see more of that. He was just there for his fellow man, it didn’t matter color of skin, ethnicity or even sexual orientation,” David said.
As a father, Carol said Robert was atypical – in the best possible way:
“This was a time when many fathers were not as involved in children’s lives, it was mostly the mothers. But I do have to say with our children, I felt totally different. He was always willing to step up to the plate. He was a wonderful husband, father, teacher and mentor to many people.”
Robert experienced deep loss in 2010 when his daughter Sarah passed away from breast cancer. It was Sarah’s example of donating her body to science that led Robert to explore the option for himself.
The COVID-19 pandemic took away a lot from Carol and David as they faced the death of a loving-husband, an involved-father, and a beloved teacher. There was no memorial, no visits from friends and no way to fulfill Robert’s wish to donate his body to science.
But his family said COVID-19 couldn’t take away Robert’s ability to serve his fellow man long after he has gone. And through Robert’s tissue donation, Carol and David have the closure they need knowing Robert would be pleased with how they didn’t let COVID-19 take away his legacy.