An old movie fanatic, Gerald 'Jerry' Schleis named his dog Rita Hayworth
A Cubs fan, the "flower lady," husbands, wives, and more are part of the more than 1,400 Iowans lost COVID-19 as of early October 2020. Des Moines Register
Words and phrases describing Gerald "Jerry" Schleis pour out of his wife, Marie Farrell, like a cup overflowing.
Generous. Friend to everyone. Modest but proud. An old-school craftsman. Staunch union man. Completely, totally and utterly unique.
There's an old Sam Walter Foss poem that describes him well, Marie adds: Let me live in my house by the side of the road / and be a friend to man.
Except Jerry wouldn't be content to just sit in that house.
"He'd go out walking in the road to look for those people to befriend or people that were in need," Marie said.
On Aug. 16, Jerry was hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, having contracted the virus about a week earlier. He died in Sioux City on Sept. 13 at age 77.
Born on Christmas Day 1942, Jerry grew up in Climbing Hill, Iowa, a town of about 100 residents south of Sioux City. During his 77 trips around the sun, Jerry lived in well over a half-dozen places, including Minneapolis, Washington state, Las Vegas and Tucson, where he met his wife.
Growing up on a steady diet of adventure novels, Jerry’s escapades, wanderlust and derring-do were the stuff of legend, Marie said.
He once flipped and sank a boat while racing in a lake. A longtime member of Sioux City’s El Forastero Motorcycle Club, he restored and custom-built countless boats, cars and motorcycles. And he was a licensed pilot of ultralight airplanes.
"His obsession with that flared up, and the next thing you know, he had three-and-a-half ultralight airplanes," Marie said with a laugh.
Most famously, he was once hit by a train while driving a semi-truck. As the engine careened down the track with his cab jammed to its front, Jerry got scorched by the train's headlamp.
Although he jockeyed between trucking and carpet laying for years, the latter was Jerry’s primary trade. When the couple lived in Las Vegas, Jerry was personally recruited by casino magnet Steve Wynn to install carpet in The Mirage casino’s suites because of his deft hands, Marie said.
He loved laying carpet up until the day he retired at age 68.
"Most (layers) have physical problems, get out of the trade," Marie said. "He always said that longevity was because he was trained properly."
Known for his looooong beard, Jerry was also a stained-glass window maker and an old movie fanatic — even naming his small Havanese dog Rita Hayworth.
Always the first person to lend a hand, Jerry had dozens of 50- and 60-year friendships, Marie said. Around Christmastime, he'd give out $20 tips at drive-thru windows.
Even as his prognosis got worse, that innate desire to help stayed strong, Marie said. During one of their last phone calls, Jerry asked Marie to go through his wallet and find the business card of the woman who'd helped him with Medicare.
"He said, 'I was talking to the nurse overnight, and she's about to retire, and I told her that I'd get her the name and number of my gal,'" Marie said.
"So, there you are in the fight for your life, and you're making a friend, and thinking about, 'How can I help this woman?'"
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 email@example.com.
Iowans lost to COVID-19
The following are deaths from COVID-19 added in the past week to our list of more than 200 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.
Joan Bauer, 86, Manilla. Taught Catholic classes at Sacred Heart Church for more than 30 years.
Forrest Buffington, 80, Mason City. Loved rocks and "anything with wheels and a motor."
Stephen Evert, 77, Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. An out-patient counselor who worked in hospitals in Las Vegas, Des Moines and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
Benedict Howard Hofmann, 91, Iowa City. Childhood neighbors with the woman who became his wife.
Ann E. Hinkhouse, 74, Tipton. Worked as a parish nurse for Zion Lutheran Church.
Helen Lowery, 97, Davenport. A member of the "Groovy Girls," a women's lunch group.
Eunice F. North, 80, Boone. Drove the Boone County Educational Library bus.
Eleanor Moody Pettit, 90, Cordova. Traveled the country with her friends, reading to the drivers from the backseat.
Cleo 'Bud' Ping, 88, Sloan. Loved reading Westerns and historical novels and attended metal detecting conferences.
Ronald Roberts, 81, Chariton. A sociology professor at the University of Northern Iowa for three decades.
Casey Tweedy, 34, Algona. Loved riding his bike, lifting weights and playing basketball.
Roald Tweet, 87, Quad Cities. Beloved Augustana College English professor, Quad-City cultural icon and longtime radio personality.