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'Uncle Al was just like the coolest person'

'Uncle Al was just like the coolest person'

From the The cost of COVID: Remembering lives lost in Southeast Nebraska series
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Alan Burr was the uncle who sent clever birthday cards to his nieces and nephews and always had a joke when the family gathered.

“Uncle Al was just like the coolest person,” Shelli Keller said. “Having an uncle who was an artist and doing his own thing, living a totally different life, was the best.”

Burr grew up in Talmage. He earned a master’s degree in art from Pittsburg State University, went off to teach in small-town Iowa before coming back to Nebraska to work in manufacturing plants near Grand Island.

After he retired, he moved to Humboldt and bought a piece of farmland so he could hunt deer. He named the place Antler Acres, built himself a cabin, rented out the pasture.

He fished and volunteered at the dog rescue in Auburn. He painted and created collages made of wood — reclaimed barn planks, old picture frames, tree limbs cut into silver dollar-sized slices.

The 73-year-old never married. He’d been engaged in college, but it didn’t work out, his little sister Beverlee Keller said.

But he wasn’t lonely. He liked to do things his way, in his own time, she said.

“He did what he wanted, when he wanted to.”

He was smart. Filled out the crossword with an ink pen and never needed Google to help him tease out an answer.

Burr had a bucket list, and Beverlee and her family helped him tick things off after he’d moved closer to Lincoln four years ago.

A trip to wine country. A NASCAR race. A visit to a craft brewery.

Shelli was on that Napa Valley trip.

“We’d stay up late at night talking,” she said. “We had all these plans to do other stuff.”

They’d set a date for Burr to come visit her in Des Moines, Iowa. He could see her new house, and they’d go antiquing, check out a salvage yard or two.

The pandemic delayed the trip, and then Burr got sick. A friend checked in on him each morning and evening, and Beverlee called twice a day.

He ended up in the hospital the day after Christmas.

“He’d say I had him kidnapped,” his sister said. “That’s what he called it."

Burr had been a long-time smoker, and she knew he was at high risk.

Her brother ended up with two kinds of pneumonia, Beverlee said. And when he was no longer contagious with the virus, she was able to visit his bedside.

After he died, they discovered poems he’d written. They heard from former students who’d never forgotten their funny teacher. They tallied the items left on his bucket list: See Alaska. Travel abroad. Get a tattoo. Visit the Henry Doorly Zoo. Cheer at Husker baseball games. Buy a pair of snakeskin boots.

Two months later, Beverlee can’t talk about her brother — “the life of the party” — without tears.

“Anytime we could be together was fun,” she said. “He would walk into a room, and you knew there was going to be laughter.”

— Cindy Lange-Kubick

 

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