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

Remembering their lives

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)

Joyce Ann Jones

Age: 71

City/Town: Fort Wayne

Died: Nov. 7

Jones had plenty she loved in life: cooking, playing bingo, karaoke and watching Colts football with her husband, Paul.

She was witty. She was caring. She was selfless, according to her obituary. But above all, she was strong.

Her family saw her at her weakest point, afflicted by the novel coronavirus and forced to be on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit.

She was on the ventilator 41 days, off the vent for 10 days, but then back on the breathing machine before she died, her daughter, Lori Anthony, said.

She just missed – by less than two weeks – celebrating her 72nd birthday. 

A native of Decatur, Jones spent her last days at Lutheran Hospital. She was surrounded by her family at Lutheran Hospital when she died.

Jones babysat her great grandchildren. She loved family and was the first to arrive at every gathering, her obituary said.

And she could be direct.

“Joyce was never afraid to tell it how it was, and people admired her for that,” the obituary said.

Don Whan

City/Town: Fort Wayne

Age: 67

Died: April 3

Don Whan was devoted to his wife.

He was married 42 years to Debra Whan.

He was easy-going, an “awesome father and grandfather and husband who made friends wherever he went.

“He could strike up a conversation with anybody,” Debra Whan said in April.

That was when she last saw her husband, a sports fan who loved Purdue University. Don Whan, who had diabetes, caught what he and his wife thought was a cold in February.

He continued to struggle and, in March, visited three walk-in clinics.

At the time, he did not have symptoms such as a fever or trouble breathing that are associated with COVID-19.

At a March 25 visit, he received a chest X-ray, was diagnosed with pneumonia, and sent home.

“He just didn't get any better,” Debra Whan said.

On April 2, Don Whan asked to be taken to the hospital. He was having trouble breathing. Her husband's heart and kidneys were failing.

On April 3, after receiving a call he was not doing well, Debra Whan rushed to the hospital to be with him.

Five minutes before she could arrive to his hospital floor, after suiting up in a gown, mask and gloves, Don Whan died – two days after their 42nd wedding anniversary. Debra Whan learned while making funeral arrangements that Don had tested positive for COVID-19.

Darlene Spencer

City/Town: Hobart

Age: 59

Died: March 31

As a grandmother of four, a pastor's wife, a Hobart church music director and a Hammond school bus monitor, Darlene Spencer wore many hats.

In March, she became one of the first Hoosiers to contract and then die from COVID-19.

Her family remembers her as a loving grandmother who enjoyed summers with her husband and grandchildren at the Jellystone campground in Plymouth.

Her husband, Jeff Spencer, pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Hobart, knew Darlene as a sometimes stubborn and hard-headed woman who always thought she was right – and often was.

But she also was the loving and kind grandmotherly type who “adopted” more grandchildren into the family fold just by looking out for people.

She enjoyed taking goody bags to hospitalized children at Halloween and raising funds for abused women and children shelters.

Jeff and Darlene both fell ill with COVID-19 in March and at one point were hospitalized at the same time, in separate rooms, at Community Hospital in Munster.

Though Darlene was unable to speak in her final days, Nurses there used iPhone FaceTime so Jeff could have visual contact in her final days.

Then doctors told Jeff that Darlene showed no signs of brain activity, and the machines that were sustaining her were shut off.

Dale Bock

City/Town: Koontz Lake

Age: 69

Died: May 1

Dale Bock survived 30 years as a cop in Lake County – one of Indiana's highest-crime areas.

But in March 2020, a “terrible roller coaster ride,” courtesy of COVID-19, killed the retired police veteran.

His brother, Tom Bock, watched the toll the virus took on his otherwise healthy sibling.

The sickness started out like a cold, but the struggle went on for several weeks in a Lafayette hospital.

“One day we would go up and think everything is improving. The next two or three days we would fall back again worse than where we started,” Tom Bock said of his brother's coronavirus battle.

“I wouldn't wish that ride on anybody.”

In the end, Dale lost his fight.

The big brother who had interested Tom in becoming a police officer was gone.

Today, Tom remembers working at the Region steel mills in the early 1980s but spending patrol shifts riding with Dale, then a police K-9 handler. It was during those ride-alongs that Tom decided to become a cop.

Dale Bock served the Lake County Sheriff's Department for three decades and was a lieutenant, K-9 trainer and handler and SWAT team sniper before retiring in 2005. He also worked with the North Liberty Police Department for 10 years.

“He worked out in Gary and he has been in shootouts and all kinds of dangerous situations – and each time he walked away,” Dale's son Scott Bock recalled. “And it's this virus that takes him out.”

Dr. Okechi Nwabara

City/Town: Gary

Age: 68

Died: Jan. 4, 2021

Dr. Okechi Nwabara was known by family and friends as both a warrior and a gentle giant who freely gave bear hugs.

Nwabara, 68, died Jan. 4 from complications due to COVID-19, said his daughter, Olaocha Nwabara.

“I guess what is resounding was he was a healer as a doctor medically, socially and spiritually. ... His heart was wide open, and he understood that that helps heal as much as medicine,” she said.

Although her father could have retired, he chose to stay on at a Northwest Indiana hospital to fight what he termed the war against COVID-19.

“He told me, 'I have the power to help, so how can I sit this out? End of conversation.' He worked until his final breath. He didn't take any breaks. I will forever know he went out like a warrior; strong but gentle,” Olaocha Nwabara said.

Dr. Nwabara, who served as a local physician for almost 40 years, was born in Umuahia, Nigeria, on Dec. 2, 1952, at Methodist Hospital in Amachara.

He came to the United States in 1970, joining his mother and siblings who were already in Mount Pleasant, Michigan.

He graduated with his medical degree in December 1980 from the University of Michigan's Medical School in Ann Arbor, did his rotating internship followed by residency in internal medicine at Wayne State University Hospital, Detroit, and finished in 1984.

Nwabara then held a practice in Gary and worked in hospitals and nursing homes throughout Northwest Indiana for almost 40 years.

Stephanie Spencer, a nurse practitioner who worked with Nwabara at both Northlake and Southlake Methodist Hospital campuses in Gary and Merrillville, said, “To know him was to love him.”

Spencer said working with Nwabara “changed her life in so many ways.”

She recalled her last conversation with him in which he was pushing for her to get her COVID-19 vaccine shot.

“I can't believe he is gone,” Spencer said. “One of the nurses referred to him as a gift we could not keep.” 

Al Braccolino

City/Town: Crown Point

Age: 90

Died: Nov. 26

“I'll see you in heaven.”

It was the last thing Al Braccolino, 90, of Crown Point, told one of his daughters as paramedics loaded him into an ambulance Nov. 16 as COVID-19 forced him into the final fight of his life.

Ten days later, the chair Al usually occupied at the Thanksgiving table would sit empty. The husband to his wife of 70 years, father of three and grandfather of six died on the holiday.

Al's daughter, Sandra Noe, was herself suffering from COVID-19, which she contracted while caring for her sick parents, when the virus forced Al's hospitalization.

Noe, 66, is no stranger to helping elderly shut-ins weather isolation.

As executive director at Meals on Wheels of Northwest Indiana, Noe oversees the delivery of life-sustaining food to about 1,600 people every day.

But on Nov. 6, Noe and her sister began providing life-sustaining care for their parents, Al and Marge Braccolino, after the elderly couple fell ill with the coronavirus.

Marge, 89, who already suffers from Alzheimer's disease, weathered the virus without serious symptoms, Noe said.

But Al, 90, took a sharp turn for the worse when his blood-oxygen levels plummeted, Noe said.

It was a nightmare come true for Noe.

“When we first began seeing the effects of the virus in this country back in March, I thought my worst nightmare would be having to put one of my parents in an ambulance and then never see them again,” Noe said.

“Now I'm living that nightmare.”

Noe said she is maddened by the lack of urgency so many in our society are giving to such a deadly virus.

“I see people every day who aren't paying attention,” said Noe, referring to people who don't wear protective masks, who creep up too closely on one another in public or who otherwise are going about life as if precaution and social distancing weren't the orders of the day.

“They need to know that my reality could be their reality.”

Walt 'Junior' Neuenschwander

City: Bluffton

Age: 76

Died: Dec. 2

Walt “Junior” Neuenschwander had been healthy, active and full of life, his daughter Kathy Steffen said, until COVID-19 took him within a month of his diagnosis.

It happened quickly, and it's still hard for her to believe her father is gone.

Walt tested positive for COVID-19 on Nov. 7 and was admitted to Bluffton Regional Medical Center eight days later. Four days after that, he was put on a ventilator at Dupont Hospital in Fort Wayne. He died Dec. 2 at the age of 76.

He was a dairy farmer for 22 years, receiving the “Outstanding Young Farmer” award twice. He retired from Edy's Grand Ice Cream after 21 years, and was listed on the company's “I Made a Difference” Hall of Fame.

His hobbies included wintering in Florida, golfing, traveling and attending his grandchildren's sporting and musical events.

Walt had a joke for any situation and was the life of the party, his daughter remembers. His joyful spirit attracted people to him.

His family joked about how easily Walt could cry, but they say it's because he was the most loving and tender man who showed that love and compassion to everyone he met.

He was his daughter's hero. He was generous and godly.

“Dad was becoming frustrated with this world; but only because he cared so much about it,” Kathy wrote for her father's funeral. “He made a difference, and I guess that's why it is so very, very painful to let him go. Dad wasn't perfect – but he is now.”

Jeanette 'Jan' Diehl

City: Bluffton

Age: 89

Died: Nov. 23

Jan Diehl spent 22 years of retirement in sunny Florida with her husband, Don Diehl. They were married for 54 years.

She loved spending time on the beach and collecting shells.

Even though the couple were from the Chicago area, they decided to enter the next phase of retirement at Christian Care Retirement Community in Bluffton, where their daughter is the administrator.

When Diehl's husband got sick in early November, they were both tested for COVID-19. The results came back negative, but still, Don Diehl was sick. His oxygen level couldn't stay elevated, and he died on Nov. 5.

The next day, Jan Diehl tested positive for COVID-19. She was sick but was eventually moved out of the COVID ward. Then she just seemed to lose her appetite, her daughter said.

Jan Diehl had dementia, so the death of her husband had to be explained multiple times on multiple days.

The moves from the home she shared with her husband to the COVID ward and then to her new home were a strain, due to her condition.

Then her oxygen levels began to drop, similarly to how her husband's had.

Jan Diehl died 18 days after her husband.

Lloyd 'Lucky' Hall

Town: Indianapolis

Age: 69

Died: March 29

Lloyd “Lucky” Hall showed the way.

Whether it was life advice, business assistance or encouragement to pursue education, Lucky was there to steer people in the Black community on the right course.

“He liked mentoring and helping people to set up, with business or legal services or help with their taxes,” said his wife of 28 years, LaVreen Hall. “His friends were his friends for life and he felt a responsibility to take care of them.”

Hall, 69, died March 29 from respiratory complications related to the coronavirus at Community North Hospital, said LaVreen. A father of six, Hall was laid to rest with military honors at Crown Hill Cemetery on April 2.

Born in East Chicago, June 16, 1950, Hall knew a lot of people. Through the years, he served on several boards, foundations and church groups, stayed in close contact with his college fraternity brothers and rubbed shoulders, it seemed, with any one of importance who passed through the Circle City.

“I asked many a time, when so many people stopped him, 'How do you know that person?'” his daughter Sirrea Hayes, 35, said.

Hall graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington in 1975 and earned his nickname shortly after when he joined the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany. There he formed a band, which played for troops at various bases, LaVreen said.

“He met a lot of famous people that way, Aretha Franklin, the Temptations, and his friends started calling him Lucky for doing so,” LaVreen said.

Hall was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in 1984. Despite his musical acumen, he chose academic and leadership pursuits when he returned to Indiana.

He had studied accounting and business administration at IU and was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. He went on to study information technology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and leadership development at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

He was committed to convincing African Americans to pursue continuing education – and his family set the example.

LaVreen, 54, got a master's degrees in theology and mental health counseling. For a couple of years, starting in 2008, LaVreen, Sirrea and Lucky were students together at Lake-of-the-Woods College, even attending classes together.

“The professors got a kick out of it,” Sirrea Hayes said, “we competed to see who could get the best grade-point average.”

For years, Hall had a home-based accountant and tax services business on the east side and northeast sides, spending much of that time getting financial affairs in order for friends and local entrepreneurs, said Gary Hobbs, a friend of 30 years.

“He did taxes for individuals and small businesses in the community,” said Hobbs. “But he would go above and beyond what he needed to. He would educate people. He spent an inordinate amount of time teaching people about the law and business.”

Hobbs, who owns Sprowl Funeral Home with his wife, Lori, and calls Hall his mentor, was one of the beneficiaries.

“Every major decision I made was with his advice, to getting my MBA to advice on my marriage, to advice on the business,” he said. “He was the most selfless person I ever knew.”

Martin Weingarten

Town: Carmel

Age: 100

Died: April 16

Martin Weingarten was born amid the Spanish flu, during the most severe pandemic in recent history, the son of two candy shop owners in Austria.

He would grow into a curious and anxious teenager who would watch from his family's fourth floor apartment as the Nazis brutally beat his Jewish neighbors on the sidewalks of Vienna.

Weingarten escaped and spent a glorious 80 years in the United States, first in New York working for his uncle and then at a U.S. Air Force base. Then in Maryland, as an employee of the United States Census Bureau.

Weingarten died April 16 in Carmel amid the world's most recent pandemic, coronavirus ruled his cause of death, according to his nephew Joe Weingarten.

He never knew he had contracted COVID-19. By the time he died, Weingarten suffered from dementia, his nephew said.

But this 100-year-old man never let the trials of his life taint his outlook or destroy his goodwill.

“Oh, he was very friendly, very happy,” said Joe Weingarten, 75, of Fishers. “He was always the nicest guy in the room. He was always smiling, always one of those kind- hearted fellows.”

Weingarten was born Nov. 28, 1919, during the Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic. That health crisis was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The flu spread worldwide and, from 1918 to 1919, infected 500 million people, one third of the world's population. The number of deaths is estimated to be at least 50 million, with about 675,000 in the United States, the CDC says.

Weingarten, however, was born safely to Mancie and Isak Weingarten, the youngest of three boys.

The family lived in an apartment above the candy shop in “calm surroundings” with a “close-knit family,” Weingarten wrote in a 9-page, 45,000-word document for his family he titled “A Brief Personal History of My Self and Family.”

By the time he was a teen, Weingarten's parents sold the candy shop and opened a general store, offering household items like soaps, cleaning compounds and a variety of fragrances. It was a great financial success, enough so that the Weingartens bought two four-story apartment buildings and moved their family into the top floor of one of them.

Weingarten even as a young boy was always interested in world events. He became more interested as the world around him turned dire. Adolf Hitler, leader of the Nazi Party, was insisting that Austria be merged into Germany.

“In the end, Hitler managed to lure the head of the Austrian government to a fateful meeting, where he forcibly detained and stripped him of his position,” Weingarten wrote.

That meeting was followed by Germany's invasion of Austria on March 12, 1938.

“We as a family, along with some Austrians and the entire Jewish population were stunned as we witnessed the rapidity of these developments,” he wrote. “All of these events made it clear that Jews were no longer safe in Austria and that it was necessary to consider alternatives.”

Within weeks of the invasion, Izak Weingarten was picked up, along with other Jewish business owners, by Nazi authorities. He was held in detention and threatened. He was eventually released, only after he agreed to give up his general store and appoint an administrator for the apartment buildings.

“All of us were, of course, relieved to see him come home safely,” Weingarten wrote. “The loss of property and income was no longer important.”

Weingarten, 18, and his brother Morris managed to obtain the appropriate documentation and, in the summer of 1938, left Vienna by train headed to Konstanz in Germany. There, they hoped to cross into Switzerland. The Gestapo, German secret police in Konstanz, had been rumored to help guide emigrants across the Swiss border.

“Emigrants were allowed only to take 10 deutsche marks out of Germany, but our father had given us a number of dollar bills which we hid in a stick of shaving soap,” Weingarten wrote.

With the help of Gestapo officers, housing was arranged for Weingarten at a nearby abandoned former hilltop hostel in Switzerland. While there with other Jewish young men, they performed labor, repair and maintenance and, sometimes, played games and sports.

In early March 1939, after almost eight months in the camp, the Weingarten brothers received word from the American Embassy in Zurich that their entry visas were ready. After making their way to Zurich and then Antwerp, they boarded a passenger ship bound for New York.

“Our crossing of the Atlantic Ocean started in the second half of March, 1939. We encountered some stormy weather but managed to avoid a serious bout of sickness,” Weingarten wrote. “We arrived safely in New York on April 4, 1939.”

Throughout the next 80 years, Weingarten would never take for granted the life he was living.

A stint in the U.S. Army in 1943 before being medically discharged for scarlet fever. Earning his college degree in business administration and statistics in June 1959.

And his marriage to his dear Elisabeth in February of 1950.

At 39, after working for his uncle for nearly two decades, Weingarten landed a job as a management analyst at an Air Force Base in Rome, New York. He later was transferred to the Census Bureau in Suitland, Maryland. He ended his 26-year career there as senior economic adviser to the assistant director for economic fields in 1984.

“My retirement activities do not revolve around golf or frequent travel,” Weingarten wrote. “I prefer to read, follow current events, and watch financial markets for investment opportunities.”

Until a few years ago, Weingarten still read the Wall Street Journal every day, his nephew said. When visiting him one day at The Stratford in Carmel, Joe Weingarten noticed the newspaper tucked under his uncle's arm.

He asked someone at The Stratford if he still read it. “No, he just carries it around,” he was told. Joe Weingarten canceled his uncle's subscription. The next time he visited, Weingarten had found a copy of the IndyStar and had it tucked under his arm.

Weingarten and Elisabeth came to The Stratford about 10 years ago to be near his nephew. He and Elisabeth, who died several years ago, never had children, due to her time in four concentration camps. 

Listing for COVID-19 deaths

Along with daily coverage about the novel coronavirus, The Journal Gazette plans special coverage in March, the one-year anniversary of when the global pandemic was declared.

We would like to take note of the COVID-19 victims in an abbreviated, free listing.

If you have lost someone in your immediate family who died in Allen County, please email to the following:

• The name of the individual (it should be the same as it appears on the death certificate, for verification purposes)

• City they lived in

• Their age

• Exact date of death

• In three words or less what their occupation was or whether they were retired

• Your connection to them

The deadline is Feb. 1.

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