Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A strong message from a man who died of COVID-19 June 11, 2021

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 10:41 AM
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Robert Tersteeg. Image from KLGR website.

HIS LAST NAME, Tersteeg, grabbed my attention as I scrolled through the local funeral announcements on the KLGR radio website. I occasionally check the site since I grew up near Redwood Falls.

Back when I lived in this region of southwestern Minnesota, I associated the surname Tersteeg with a grocery store in this Redwood County community. My mom shopped there and my siblings and I sometimes accompanied her.

But the obituary was for Robert Tersteeg, 46, of Minot, North Dakota, and a native of Bird Island. Not someone from my home county, but from neighboring Renville County. Still, I read the obituary given Robert’s young age and familiar name.

He died on June 3 at the University of Minnesota Hospital “after a fierce battle with COVID-19.”

Now that could be the end of the story. But Rob’s family—or more accurately Rob—wanted more to be shared about this “vicious virus.” The part that humanizes COVID-19, that reveals the regrets of a man who died from the virus:

Rob’s final wish was that his journey with COVID might save even just one more loving husband, son, father, uncle, friend. Rob regretted not being vaccinated and, immediately upon hospitalization, made Amy (his wife) promise to vaccinate the kids (Nikolai, Olivia, Kaylie).

Saturday morning those who loved Rob will gather for his funeral at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bird Island. He is not just another number in the statistics of COVID deaths. He was a family man who loved and was loved. And now he is gone, too soon, leaving one final wish—a desire to save lives with his message to “get vaccinated.”


NOTE: If you are anti-vaccine, please do not comment on this post. I won’t publish your comment on this, my personal blog. I feel grateful to Rob’s family for publicly sharing his final wish/message in a desire to save lives.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “A strong message from a man who died of COVID-19”

  1. cheryl schrader Says:

    Thank you for publishing this. Having a son who fought this infection brings it home to me. Also at the same time my mother died from pulmonary fibrosis, which is very close to what the COVID patients face, often the ones who did not get very sick or sick at all. That does not make you off the hook. Pulmonary fibrosis is horrible, leaving one to fight for every breath. PLEASE GET YOUR VACCINE.

    • Cheryl, thank you for your powerful personal message about the need to get vaccinated. I am sorry for your two recent losses. Of your son due to a workplace accident. And of your mother due to pulmonary fibrosis. That’s a lot of loss in a short time. My heart hurts for you and I am deeply sorry.

  2. So many this last year have lost friends and loved ones. Please people get vaccinated.

    • In my county of Rice, 110 people have died from COVID. In our circle, about a dozen family and friends have lost loved ones to the virus. That’s a lot of deaths, a lot of people grieving…

      The percentage of the county population (ages 12+) with at least one dose of the vaccine is 61% in my county of Rice, according to the MN Department of Health. We can do better. The vaccine is readily available, so that’s not the issue. The statewide vaccination percentage is 63%. Vaccination rates are especially high in the metro counties, in Olmsted County (home to the Mayo Clinic) and in Cook County (Grand Marais). Many rural areas are really lagging and those are the counties with the highest COVID infection rates in Minnesota.

      How is your daughter-in-law managing at her job treating COVID patients? You shared awhile ago that people were growing especially demanding and not treating medical personnel with kindness or respect. I hope that has changed.

      • Thanks for asking about my daughter-in-law who is a RN on a COVID ward in a major St Louis, MO hospital. She is extremely exhausted and the increase of harassing statements and demanding patients and their families has sent her looking for another job. She hasn’t been successful in her job search yet but I keep hoping she will find something that takes her out of such a hostile work environment. Plus…her husband is deployed again with the Army Reserves.

      • Paula, I’m sorry about the hostility your DIL continues to face as an RN on a COVID ward. This is horrible. She’s trying to save lives and then is treated with such disrespect. I don’t blame her for wanting to leave.

  3. So impactful and powerful! I wish our family friend had the chance to be vaccinated and lost his battle with covid back in February (just was not available). His death did push a good majority of family and friends to get vaccinated once available. Take Care

    • Renee, I’m deeply sorry for the loss of your family friend due to COVID. You’re right about no (or minimal) vaccine availability in February. So many lives could have been saved. I think back to the polio epidemic (yes, I’m old enough to remember the end of that) and how people suffered from that crippling disease. All too often it takes a personal loss for people to recognize the deadliness of something like COVID and then the importance of vaccination.

      My Aunt Deloris died at age nine months from whooping cough. Some 15 years ago I caught whooping cough and was so ill I needed an inhaler and a steroid. That illness stretched into three months of being really sick (gasping for air, coughing, etc). Yes, I was vaccinated as a child for pertussis. Unbeknownst to me, I didn’t know boosters were needed and was not informed by my doctor until after the fact. It was that bout with whooping cough which placed me in the “high risk” category for complications if I got COVID. Knowing how sick pertussis made me, I didn’t want to risk getting COVID. I recall asking my doctor all those years ago where I may have picked up COVID. He answered, “You could have got it waiting in line at the grocery store.”

    • I am sorry your aunt died so very young. Whooping cough is highly contagious. Not good your doctor did not tell you about the boosters. I got my flu vaccine and tetnus booster within weeks of each other last fall for added protection with being asthmatic and with the surge in covid cases. Like you my M-I-L had whooping cough a few years back and she was so sick. I think it took her over 3 months to not get winded just walking around the house.

      • Renee, I’m sorry you deal with asthma, but thankful you recognize the need to take extra preventative precautions. I’m sorry your MIL also had whooping cough. Like hers, mine also lasted three long, horrible months.

  4. This make me sad!

  5. I am so sorry to read of yet another death — but what a gift he gave in death to encourage others to get the vaccine.

    • I agree. It took courage to publicly make this statement given all the anti-vaccine rhetoric out there.

      I have a friend whose son and family are flying here from their home in Brazil later this month so they can get vaccinated. The oldest daughter has Downs Syndrome so is at high risk should she get COVID. My friend tells me only 5 percent of the population in Brazil is vaccinated and that it could be many many months before her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren could get vaccinated. To think they are flying here from Brazil to get vaccinated when so many people right here in America are turning down the opportunity to get vaccinated (thus protecting themselves and others)…

  6. Art Brown Says:

    Thanks for posting this, I never grew up with Rob but worked with him for several years. what a special guy with the heart of gold. The love for his family is evident by asking his wife to have the kids vaccinated. Rob will be missed but his love will carry on for years. I was vaccinated so that my wife and my grandchildren may enjoy me for years to come. Rest in Peace Rob.

    • Art, thank you for taking the time to comment on your connection to Rob. Via your words, you have shown me, and my readers, what a wonderful co-worker, friend, father and husband Rob was and we need to hear that. Perhaps this will convince someone to get vaccinated. Your reasons for getting vaccinated ring true with me, too. Getting vaccinated is a gift to those we love and even to strangers. Thank you, Art, for caring so deeply. I’m sorry for your loss of Rob, but thankful for the time you had with him.

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