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When Amy Gardner was younger, she was, admittedly, a troublemaker. Her transgressions were generally kids’ stuff, like taking her parents' car for a joyride or talking back to a teacher.

But whatever the situation, her dad, Michael Everhard, of Fonda, was always on her side.

"He always had my back," Amy said. "Even when I was guilty, he was there no matter what."

One day when her dad picked her up from school, Amy told him how an art teacher had grabbed her by the ear. Michael wasn’t about to let that sort of punishment go.

"How would you like it if someone grabbed your ear?” Amy remembered him asking the teacher.

Her dad was always "a protector," she said, especially of his kids. When she was learning to ride her bike — a blue Schwinn with pink lettering — she flipped and burst her lip.

Michael was quick with the perfect cure for a bad fall: a cone of bubble gum ice cream.

But when he died of COVID-19 at age 65 on June 18, there were no quick cures for the unbearable pain.

A U.S. Navy veteran, Michael worked as a truck driver and started an auto repair business with his son Steven.

Back in March, before acronyms like PPE were commonplace, Amy was explaining to her dad that he needed to be careful while working for his longtime employer, the Tyson Foods plant in Storm Lake. 

"Just make sure (you’re) using hand sanitizer and don't get close to people," she texted him, "If (you’re) 6 feet from someone, you can get it."

"That's hard here," he wrote back.

Diagnosed with a chronic disease that obstructed his air flow, Michael understood that the coronavirus was proving increasingly deadly when pulmonary disease was a pre-existing condition.

So when he was rushed to the hospital at the end of May, he knew the odds.  

"My last conversation with my father, he was crying, said he wasn't going to make it. They put him on the vent on the third day," Amy said.

Samantha Everhard, 23, Amy’s daughter, said she can still hear her grandfather — an unapologetic Minnesota Vikings fan — yelling at the small players on the TV.

"'Get going!' ... 'You better get that ball now!'" Samantha remembered Michael shouting. "When he would yell at the TV, I would laugh at him. He'd always act like the players could hear him."

Samantha still has Michael's beloved Vikings jersey bearing the name of Kirk Cousins, his favorite player.

To her, Michael was more like a dad than a grandfather. They talked every day, she said, and she told him everything.

"It's not the same as it was," Samantha said. "It's hard to go from every day talking to someone — sometimes five or six times — to just not being able to talk to them.”

Samantha started her own family a few years ago with her toddler, Asher, 2. This summer, she had another baby, Mia, who will never get to meet her great-grandfather. 

“I keep thinking, ‘I wish I could call my grandpa,’ but I can't,” Samantha said.

Iowa Mourns is a series of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at ccrowder@dmreg.com.

Zachary Oren Smith writes about government, growth and development for the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Reach him at zsmith@press-citizen.com, at 319 -339-7354 or on Twitter via @Zacharyos.

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