The Journal Gazette
Sunday, January 24, 2021 1:00 am

Hoosiers We Lost

Compiled by Indiana newspapers

The Journal Gazette is one of several Indiana newspapers that provided obituary-style profiles for a multi-newspaper reporting project, “Hoosiers We've Lost.”

Others contributing were: The Times of Northwest Indiana, The Indianapolis Star, The Bluffton News-Banner, The Journal Review (Crawfordsville), The Republic (Columbus), Brown County Democrat (Nashville), The Daily Journal (Franklin), and The Tribune (Jackson County)

Fort Wayne restaurateur employed and fed thousands

Name: Tom Casaburo Sr.

City/Town: Fort Wayne

Age: 80

Died: Nov. 23

He made a living running Fort Wayne restaurants that employed thousands and fed thousands over four decades.

It was the disciplined side of Tom Casaburo Sr.'s personality that made him a successful businessman, for years the face of The Casa Restaurant Group, now led by two of his sons.

Known as a perfectionist, Casaburo expected employees to provide exceptional customer service.

“He was exactly what a United States marine would be,” one of his sons, Jim Casaburo, said in November. “He was tough. He paid attention to detail.”

Casaburo opened his first restaurant, Casa D'Angelo on Coldwater Road, with the late Jimmy D'Angelo in 1977. D'Angelo retired from the business in 1993 and sold his share to Casaburo and his wife, Sharon.

But before the run with restaurants, Casaburo spent five years with the FBI and later in the 1970s became Fort Wayne's first public safety director. A Highland, New York, native, he moved to Fort Wayne in 1968.

Despite the restaurant grind, Casaburo made family time a priority and was known for supporting several local nonprofits.

Casaburo retired about 15 years ago and was in Sarasota, Florida – where he typically spent winter months – as coronavirus cases began rising in many states. Casaburo and his wife contracted the virus, and both required hospital stays.

He was in three weeks and spent two weeks on a ventilator before his death. It was attributed to COVID-19.

City Utilities employee left 30-year legacy

Name: Diana Kay Wotnow

City/Town: Fort Wayne

Age: 52

Died: June 14

A 30-year employee of City Utilities, Diana Kay Wotnow was a wife and the mother of two sons, including one who recently married.

The 1986 Northrop High School graduate loved music. She loved reading. She loved searching antique malls for vintage Fisher-Price toys, her family wrote in her obituary. And she loved playing with her dogs, Daisy and Dillon.

Wotnow was a kidney transplant recipient who battled the novel coronavirus for more than six weeks. And then, she lost the fight.

A co-worker, Mary Schmidt, called Wotnow's death a “terrible loss for Fort Wayne; to her family.”

The obituary said she was survived by her husband of 32 years Michael Wotnow.

Diana Kay Wotnow was one of the first 2,500 Allen County residents to contract COVID-19.

“She was the bravest, strongest, most wonderful person I ever met.” Schmidt said in June. “Diana was a young woman. She was so much fun to be around. I can hear her laugh in my head right now.”

Youth sports couch was dedicated to improving Gary public life

Name: Ezra Alexander

City/Town: Gary

Age: 59

Died: April 8

Ezra Alexander was known by Gary city officials as a consummate public servant and youth sports coach, working on multiple levels to improve life in the struggling Northwest Indiana city for decades.

Alexander, 59, director of recreation and aquatics at the Gary Department of Public Parks, lost his battle with COVID-19 in April just as the virus was beginning to impact the Hoosier state.

“Ezra has had health challenges, and he was certainly someone who we hoped would never contract coronavirus,” said longtime friend Chuck Hughes, president and CEO of the Gary Chamber of Commerce.

Hughes said Alexander was hospitalized a few weeks ago after being diagnosed with COVID-19. Alexander had been an employee of the city for about 30 years.

Throughout his career, Alexander was heavily involved in youth sports as a volunteer assistant coach for basketball and track programs in Gary. By those he was mentoring, he was known as “Coach DD,” Hughes said.

“He was very community-oriented and certainly had influence on a lot of young people out here,” Hughes said. “Assisting in youth sports was something he did on his own apart from his job because he wanted to. He was quite a contributor to the Gary community.”

Alexander was a graduate of West Side High School, class of 1979, and earned a degree in business management from Calumet College of St. Joseph in Whiting. Alexander was named after his grandfather, who was a founder of a Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, which the Gary man later joined, Hughes said.

Indianapolis couple died four days apart

Name: Joseph and Kye-Shin Kotarski

Town: Indianapolis

Age: 77 and 81

Died: May 2; May 6

If you went somewhere with Joseph and Kye-Shin Kotarski, you were likely to come across someone they knew.

Joe knew hundreds of people from bowling and his job, daughter Paula Jones said, and Kye-Shin, known as Shina, was an active member of Indianapolis' Korean community, where she helped with anything and everything.

The couple was married 55 years before dying four days apart of the novel coronavirus.

Joe was 77 when he died. Kye-Shin, or “Shina,” was 81.

Kye-Shin Kang was from Jinju, South Korea, where she was a teacher. To teach, she had to cross a border guarded by the U.S. Army, including a young military policeman named Joseph Kotarski.

“So that's how they met,” said Jones, who is 48 and lives in Fishers. They married in Korea while Joe was still in the service and married again back in the U.S., where Shina immigrated to be with Joe in 1964.

But Korea never truly left her.

She would go back to Korea for about a month each year, Jones said, until she grew older and it became more difficult to deal with jet lag from the long flights. When stateside, she spent much of her time contributing to the Korean community in Indianapolis.

Jones said her mother, a member of the Korean Catholic Church on the east side, would help with legal questions, translating — anything she could for anyone who needed it.

“She would do anything needed in the Korean community,” Jones said. “She went out of her way to help any immigrant that she could.”

Jones was one of the couple's three children. Their son, Al Kotarski, 54, lives in New Palestine, and their oldest daughter, Ruth Abraham, 52, lives in Phoenix. Abraham said her mother's strong fluency in English made her a great person to lend a hand.

“I read some of the love letters they wrote back and forth,” Abraham said, “Her English was very good.”

The community was also a source of entertainment for the couple, going to picnics and meeting with friends, though Jones said they also had their own hobbies. Shina would go to the golf course every chance she had while Joe spent many hours at the bowling alley.

Joe and Shina would sometimes golf together, Jones said, “but my mom was way more competitive than my dad, so it wasn't too fun for him.”

They spent time with their four grandkids, as well. Shina enjoyed going to watch her grandson golf with the New Palestine High School team, and Joe, who worked nights, made sure to be available to help his grandkids by day.

“He loved to bowl and babysit,” Jones said. “He helped out with anything the grandkids needed.”

Joe worked 37 years on an assembly line for Ford Motor Company, retiring in 2007 when the east-side factory shuttered. Retirement gradually meant less bowling and more trips to the gym, but he didn't stop working, taking a job with a security company.

They raised their kids to work hard, too, Jones said. “She wanted to raise us to work hard, be smart, teach us what our priorities are,” she said.

Abraham described her mother as feisty, always saying it the way it was. Her motto was, “If your mom can't tell you, who can?” Abraham said with a laugh.

Shina showed her children hard work by example, working as a waitress at Heidelberg Haus, a German cafe and bakery on Pendleton Pike, and owning a wig shop in Brightwood Plaza at 25th Street and Sherman Drive.

That doesn't mean there was no time for fun. It seemed they knew someone everywhere they went, Jones said.

Joe loved the camaraderie of being with his friends from the bowling alley or work. “He wasn't a drinker. He wasn't a smoker. But he was a jokester,” Jones said. “He was just fun to be around.”

Shina had friends from the Korean community she contributed so much to. “She probably knew every Korean that walked in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas,” Abraham said.

Together, they meant so much to so many people.

“Indianapolis is a big city but a small town,” she said. “They touched so many people's lives.”

Joe contracted the virus first. His daughters believe he caught it while working for the security company, where he regularly interacted with people from out of state.

Jones was angry that her father kept working even though he didn't need to.

“We didn't like it, and my mom definitely didn't like it,” Jones said. “But he's not one to just stay at home and sit around.”

He was taken to the hospital by ambulance on April 27 after barely making it to a doctor's appointment, Jones said. His oxygen levels were very low.

Shina was hospitalized days later after initially suffering from only a cough, which the family initially attributed to seasonal allergies.

Neither would ever leave the hospital, and they did not get to see each other while inside.

“It was very quick,” Jones said. “It was just shocking.”

Joe and Shina received the final Catholic sacraments of last rites from a priest. It was the family's chance to say goodbye.

Wearing protective equipment, two people at a time had 10 minutes with each of their parents. It was horrible, Jones said.

“They were intubated, so they can't talk,” she said. “They're sedated. It was just terrible.” She was just happy she could see them and talk to them a final time.

“We're hoping they heard us,” Jones said.

Joe died on Saturday, May 2. Shina died the following Wednesday.

“I do believe that their passing is kind of a love story because they passed so quickly together,” Abraham said. “It was like they wanted to be together.”

Hammond day care owner seen as father figure

Name: Stephan Sherrod

City/Town: Hammond

Age: 53

Died: Dec. 24

Stephan Sherrod's life's work was serving Northwest Indiana children and their families.

The longtime owner of a Hammond day care with four locations is remembered as a caring father figure who had a gift for caring for children and went out of his way to help others.

On Christmas Eve, Sherrod died from COVID-19 at the age of 53.

Sherrod ran Secrets Loving Care for more than 25 years, including three different day care sites for children and one adult day care site for seniors.

The Hammond High School graduate also served as an assistant pastor and minister of music at Emmanuel Temple Apostolic Church in Hammond.

“He was a great person to work with,” Secrets Loving Care administrator Ternessa Burts said. “He had such a love for kids. He took them to church and summer camp. He loved teaching them music, to play piano and the keyboard.”

Sherrod enjoyed taking children out to eat and to go bowling, one of his favorite pastimes, Burts said.

“For young men with no father especially, he was a real father figure,” Burts said. “He always had an encouraging word and always challenged the kids to get to their studies.”

She remembered him as a humble man and talented musician with a fun-loving personality.

“He was more than a boss,” she said. “He was always there when you needed to talk or needed some advice. He would help you feel better. He would help people with anything at all. He was a real good guy.”

His goddaughter Kristina Riddle said Sherrod was a well-known and loved figure in Hammond whose service assisted many parents.

“He ran a 24-hour service that had kids on site all day long whether the parents worked 9 to 5 or 5 to 1,” she said. “He helped so many people, including so many single working parents.”

He was a caring, supportive man, Riddle said. She recalled how at his funeral at Family Christian Center people were asked to stand if he had ever given them encouragement.

“The entire room stood,” she said. “It was such a touching moment. He touched so many different people's lives. He was a man after God. It's such a terrible loss.”

Sherrod was a humble man who was funny with a dry sarcasm, Riddle said. She remembered him as a reserved and extremely resourceful man with a calm demeanor and understanding nature.

“He was someone who loved God and tried to help as many people as he could,” she said. “He was truly a servant. He was a wonderful man who served the community.”

Award-winning gardener at care home couldn't see family

Name: Clyde Shady

City: Bluffton

Age: 82

Died: Nov. 11, 2020

Clyde Shady was a hardworking man until he had a stroke in 2018.

He and his wife Phyllis Shady lived at Christian Care Retirement Community, but by 2020, his wife lived in the independent section, while he needed more care.

He was well known in the community for his award-winning gardening. Some favorites were his strawberries in the summer and his pumpkins, gourds, squash and Indian corn in the fall. He and his wife were active members at First Baptist Church, where they were married in 1958.

Phyllis Shady, 79, died on April 20, 2020. While her death wasn't due to COVID-19, the pandemic had already caused restrictions to be put in place, including at Christian Care. Clyde Shady could not be with his wife when she died due to protocol.

In June, Christian Care posted a photo to Facebook of Clyde holding a sign with a message to his family: “Hello, I'm doing fine. Love, Dad.”

Due to restrictions, his son had not even been able to clean out his deceased mother's apartment yet. Her service wasn't held until September.

When he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Nov. 3, Clyde Shady told his son that he knew he couldn't fight it because of his current condition. His oxygen levels could not keep up. He died on Nov. 11 of COVID-related pneumonia.

Part-time musician got sick shortly after music session in March

Name: Jerry Rennick

Town: Kingman

Age: 67

Died: April 11

Jerry Rennick got his start in the agricultural industry by driving a truck.

He worked his way up the ladder into management and eventually became a salesman. And when he wasn't hunting with his dog or cheering for IU basketball, he was playing music with friends.

In early March, Rennick headed to the Bloomington area for one of his regular music sessions and got sick shortly afterward.

At first he thought the fever, body aches and dry throat were signs of the flu, but his daughter Erin Baldwin had read the warnings about COVID-19 and called the local health department. Rennick isolated himself in his apartment.

A week later, Rennick, who had COPD, sent Baldwin a text saying he couldn't breathe and was calling an ambulance. He spent three days in a Williamsport hospital before he was transferred to a hospital in Indianapolis and hooked up to a ventilator.

As Rennick continued battling the illness, his family urged the community not to shrug off the virus.

“This is not a time for finger-pointing. This is a time for love and compassion and support,” Baldwin said. “We really as humans need to come together on this. No human lives should be lost over something we can prevent.”

Mother, daughter enjoyed traveling before succumbing to virus

Name: Sharon Carr

City/Town: Crawfordsville

Age: 80

Died: Nov. 17

If you were young enough to be her grandchild, she was “Nana.”

Before her retirement, she worked at local factories and fast food restaurants. She was a member of the Crescendos Chorus and Red Hat Society and was serious about her faith, regularly attending two churches. She was an avid viewer of “Days of Our Lives.”

Like her daughter Dee, who died from COVID-19 in July, she enjoyed traveling. She once booked an excursion with a travel agency to Arizona, where she met another woman named Sharon and took in a hot air balloon festival.

An online obituary published in November said that because of the coronavirus, no public services were scheduled, but a Celebration of Life would be held at a later date.

The obit also said memorial donations could be given in Sharon's memory to the Animal Welfare League of Montgomery County.

Planned to celebrate anniversary in France in the summer

Name: Dierdre (Dee) Fettig

City/Town: Crawfordsville

Age: 59

Died: July 21

Known to family and friends as Dee, Fettig owned and operated the local ice cream shop The Big Dipper for several years.

She sold the business to raise her children, according to her obituary, and later provided home care for seniors, including her mother who lost part of her arm in a car crash.

A kid needed a ride home? She'd give them a lift. Short on cash in the checkout line? She'd pay for your groceries.

Fettig and her husband, Phil, who was born in France, had planned to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary there this summer. They met through Fettig's brother, one of Phil's bandmates.

“My uncle kept trying to get my mom to meet up with my dad,” said Fettig's 30-year-old son, Luke, “and she kept dodging him because she didn't want to date any of her brother's friends.”

Fettig warmly embraced Phil's heritage, visiting his family in France several times and whipping up special French dinners and desserts.

Luke Fettig's favorite meal was a Mississippi roast, and she made him an almond cake every year for his birthday.

She had traveled to Germany, Australia and Canada and enjoyed exploring the United States, including a family vacation to St. Augustine, Florida, last year.

Lover of life fought multiple sclerosis but lost battle to COVID

Name: Kim Blanchar

Town: Indianapolis

Age: 68

Died: April 16

Kim Blanchar loved life aggressively. She loved language, she loved people, she loved to laugh. Giving life to others put breath in her lungs.

Were it not for her bright mind, she might've been in a vegetative state years ago. That's what multiple sclerosis, a disease the affects the brain and spinal cord, does. But as her body gave way over the years, her all-consuming curiosity kept her going.

The former Brebeuf Jesuit teacher died peacefully of the coronavirus at IU West Hospital in Avon on April 16.

Blanchar was a cheerleader at Jefferson High School in Lafayette, where she graduated in 1969. And there might not be a more apt way to describe how she lived her life.

“She had that contagious kind of personality,” said Linda Long, who knew Blanchar since childhood. “When you were around her, she lit up a room.”

Blanchar loved French, which she taught at Brebeuf, and she loved to travel. She took trips with a group of high school friends even after her declining health forced her to retire in 2004 from teaching.

She coached cheerleading, was a speech meet judge and spent time as an assistant golf coach — despite not knowing much about the sport.

“If there was a need, she'd give it a try,” Bowman said.

As her health continued to decline, Blanchar moved out of her home and in with her mother, Beverly Howard, in 2014. The loss of independence and social opportunity was devastating.

“Socializing was so important to her,” her sister Tammy Bowman said. “She loved to go exercise. She loved to talk sports. She loved the Indianapolis Colts. She loved the Pacers.”

Slowly, anxiety and depression set in as her connections to the people she loved became less frequent. Eventually, she moved into a nursing home, hoping that it might lead to more opportunities for socialization.

“Once my sister was able to get to know the residents, she loved it,” Bowman said. Whether she was in the dining room or the movie room, Blanchar “wanted to make sure everybody was included and nobody was left out.”

Blanchar was taken to the hospital in April, having caught the coronavirus.

“A little bit of all of us died when Kim died,” Long said. 

'Peach cobbler lady' known as most selfless person by daughter

Name: Connie Sylene Hendrickson Thompson

Town: Indianapolis

Age: 58

Died: April 21

To many around Indianapolis, Connie Sylene Hendrickson Thompson was known simply as the “peach cobbler lady.” Hendrickson Thompson sold her famous, homemade peach cobbler to businesses around the city and also brought her delicious dessert to serve as the perfect ending to a family gathering.

While her daughter loved that peach cobbler, Aleia Simone Thompson will remember her mother as the “sweetest, happiest, most selfless, outgoing, hard-working person” she ever knew.

“She's the reason I graduated college,” Aleia Thompson said.

After more than three weeks in St. Vincent Hospital, her mom died April 21 of COVID-19.

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Hendrickson Thompson will be remembered by many as a compassionate, industrious woman and devoted mother. She was always intent on “living my best life,” a phrase she had put on a T-shirt she wore often.

“Oh, she was a very sassy lady,” Aleia Thompson said. “She was very happy and outgoing. She really just loved to be around family and friends. She wasn't ever judgmental or a gossiper. She just loved you for who you truly were.”

Hendrickson Thompson's career included stops at McDonald's, Glass Container, Hooks, and 27 years in the advertising department at The Indianapolis Star & Indianapolis News. She juggled multiple jobs at one time to provide for her daughter.

“She always was doing everything possible to make me happy,” Aleia Thompson said. 

Now a proud Indiana State University graduate, Aleia Thompson never found college easy. She cried almost daily, telling her mother she wanted to quit.

But Hendrickson Thompson never let her. Instead, she listened to her daughter, then pushed her to persevere.

Part of Aleia Thompson's motivation was knowing her mother was going through similar challenges. While Aleia Thompson was at Indiana State, Hendrickson Thompson was pursuing her associate's degree from Ball State University.

“We graduated the same year, and she didn't even go to her own graduation,” Aleia Thompson said. “She came to mine. She even got up early that morning to design my grad cap. … She loved me so much. She was very proud of me.”

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