CORONAVIRUS

Heritage resident in Cedar Rapids, Longtime Regina teacher among recent coronavirus deaths

John DeMarco was first Johnson County fatality, Vicki Snarzyk was resident of Heritage in Cedar Rapids

Vicki Snarzyk, taken during her senior year of high school. Snarzyk died on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 in Hertiage Special
Vicki Snarzyk, taken during her senior year of high school. Snarzyk died on Wednesday, April 1, 2020 in Hertiage Specialty Care as a result of COVID. 19. (Photo courtesy of Judy Fletcher.)
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No matter how they were described by their loved ones, these individuals had one thing in common — the people in their lives did not expect them to be the ones who succumbed to coronavirus.

As of Monday, 25 Iowans have been reported to have died as a result of the novel coronavirus, including six in Linn County and one in Johnson County.

Those deaths include Vicki Snarzyk of Cedar Rapids and John DeMarco of Coralville.

DeMarco, 73, was a longtime teacher and coach at Regina High School in Iowa City who died Saturday. He is the first reported fatality in Johnson County as a result of COVID-19.

Known as “Coach D,” DeMarco had been a physical-education teacher since 1981 and had been the football coach from 1985 to 1995.

DeMarco, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., was well-loved by students and teachers alike. According to fellow staff, DeMarco had a nickname for everyone. He called Marlene Frantz, Regina’s office manager, “Munchkin.”

“Ive been there 51 years and I’ve seen a lot of people. John was one of the very best ones,” Frantz said. “He was top-notch. He cared about everyone and the kids enjoyed him and his classes.”

Marv Cook, Regina head football coach, recalled that DeMarco had “an unbelievable rapport with every kid at Regina.”

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“He always had a way of spending 30 minutes, 30 seconds or three minutes with kids that made them better,” Cook said. “I know I always felt that way when I’d walk by him. He always called me Cookie and would always have a smile on his face and give me a pat on the back and an encouraging word right before football season.”

Teachers at the Catholic high school said DeMarco hadn’t been feeling well while the school was closed and, according to alumni, had received treatment for the virus at two hospitals before his death over the weekend.

Barb Reilly, the Talented and Gifted coordinator for Regina, said the term “older adult” used by public health officials to describe DeMarco’s age range didn’t fit him. He was a very health-conscious person who ran every day, had a good diet and could “bench press more than most kids in high school.”

When Reilly found out DeMarco was ill, she thought, “If anyone can get better, he will.”

“Then when (his death) came about, it floored me,” Reilly said. “This must be a terrible thing to go through.”

When a tragedy occurs, the school typically would come together for a prayer service. But with school closed and social distancing guidelines in place, memorials have been restricted to online, which has been difficult for some in the community, Regina Principal Glenn Plummer said.

“He was Regina,” Plummer said. “When you think of how he lead his life and treated people, that’s what we want from all of our students when they graduate — to do things the way he did. He modeled the expectations of behavior and how to treat people and how to push yourself. Losing that model is tough.”

DeMarco’s wife, Diane DeMarco, is a former University of Iowa gymnastics coach.

‘They’re doing everything right’

Not being able to celebrate the life of Snarzyk after her death this past week has been difficult for her family, according to her sister, Judy Fletcher.

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Snarzyk, 61, was a resident of Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids until her death on April 1. The center, at 200 Clive Dr. SW, has become an epicenter of a COVID-19 outbreak in Linn County after two staff members had tested positive for the virus on March 24. Two days later, four patients were infected.

Fletcher, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., said that her sister was exposed to the affected staff members and that Heritage officials were testing every resident. Her worst fears were confirmed a couple days later when Snarzyk tested positive.

Complications from Snarzyk’s diabetes required her seek nursing home care in 2013, but had otherwise been in good health. But within a few days of her March 26 diagnosis, her condition deteriorated rapidly.

As Snarzyk had signed a do-not-resuscitate order, her family opted not to have her taken to the hospital to be placed on life-support. When she died, her body was cremated immediately.

“She wanted to be an organ donor her whole life,” she said. “But now because of (COVID-19), it just out the window. It’s devastating.”

Fletcher applauded Heritage staff for their care, particularly during this trying time. She said their mother, who died in 2016, was a former health inspector for the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals and helped select Heritage Specialty Care when Snarzyk moved into the facility.

Fletcher nor her brother, Brian, were able to be with Snarzyk when she died. Instead, a nurse held up a phone to Snarzyk’s ear so Fletcher could say goodbye.

“They’re doing everything right, but this virus spreads like wildfire,” she said.

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Snarzyk, a graduate of LaSalle High School in Cedar Rapids, was “was such a kind, gentle human” who always put everyone first. She was the volunteer coordinator at Heritage, organizing carolers at Christmastime and trick-or-treaters during Halloween.

“I used to talk to her twice a week and I find myself picking up the phone to call her. Realizing she’s not there sucks,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher is a phlebotomist and specimen processor at Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge and has seen the impact of COVID-19 on a health system firsthand. She criticized Gov. Kim Reynolds for her decision not to issue a shelter-in-place order for the state.

“I don’t think it would have done anything for (Snarzyk), given the circumstance of the employees,” Fletcher said. “Do I think it would help now? Absolutely.

“Shut it down and shut it down now. We’ve had a shelter-in-place (in Colorado), and it is the best thing that could have been done.”

Gazette sports reporter Jeff Johnson contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.

Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

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