When a new family moved in down the street, my mom offered a helping hand. The Zubecks settled into a modest home on the corner of Ferrel and Fourth Streets in 1985, and we were just around the block on Fourth. My mom and Tina Zubeck met at a session of “Story Time” for kids at the Mid-Continent Public Library, then located on Main Street. In the spring of 1986, Tina asked my mom if she would accept the challenge of some babysitting assignments for her two children — Bobby and Ashley — with mom at home tending to my just-born baby brother, Rex. Mom accepted, happy to make a little extra money. I like to think Bobby and I became close friends from the start. Yet, my mom will tell you that Bobby didn’t much enjoy the babysitter and never really wanted to come inside, more than once shedding some tears as mom dropped him off. Ashley would walk right in, but Bobby was a little less sure. Bobby and I were the same age and went on to attend school together — K-12 — at Platte County R-3. To this day, I can still call him a friend, me back working at the hometown newspaper and him a flight instructor in California with the US Navy. Bobby’s familiar voice greeted me on the phone late Tuesday morning. Sounded good, although I wish it had been under different circumstances. We hadn’t seen each other lately, but I needed to talk with him about his mom, Tina. She died Monday at the age of 55, unable to win a second battle with cancer. Tina Zubeck helped take care of so many children during her 24 years of service with the Platte County R-3 School District, a story I tried to chronicle starting on the front page of this week’s Citizen. There’s so much more to tell. My story starts over in the sixth grade when Bobby and I were assigned to the same home room — Mrs. Schultz — and class rotation. Many members of our normal circle of friends were placed elsewhere, and we gravitated toward each other. I have fond memories of nights spent at the Zubecks that year — a chance for Tina and her husband of more than 30 years, Bob, to in a small way return the favor from my mom taking care of their kids. Tina always made you feel welcome, as so many of Bobby, Ashley and youngest daughter Ellen’s friends can attest. There are no strangers. “Can I get you anything? How about a snack? Are you thirsty?” Those were great times. Bobby and I would spend time wearing out their desktop computer. We played a lot of “Tom Landry Strategy Football” — we were pretty good at calling plays — and “Myst” — a puzzle game we probably weren’t smart enough for at that time. Ashley, two years younger, mostly avoided us, and Ellen, another three years younger, was only vaguely interested in how two middle school boys were capable of wasting a weekend night. That’s my fondest memory of the Zubecks. There are countless other stories out there of how Tina Zubeck made an impact. And I know this because long after Bobby and I graduated high school in 2001 and went our separate ways, Tina continued to work in the community and left an indelible legacy through her passion for education. Every kid deserved a chance in her eyes. Time has long since separated me from many of my boyhood friends. It’s hard to keep up with everyone, but I recently noticed tinazubeck.com — a blog chronicling Tina’s treatment for Myelodysplastic Syndromes, the cancer which ultimately took her life. Tina survived a bout with lymphoma more than a decade ago despite long odds, and many believed her indomitable spirit would carry through again. From the blog entries, she didn’t go without a fight while maintaining a positive outlook. In the end, some enemies we can’t see and still don’t fully know how to fight. I recently messaged Bobby on Facebook, told him to keep his head up and stay strong. I didn’t know the end was so close, but I’m glad I took the time to make contact. When I heard the news Monday night, I immediately texted my mom. It was pretty clear that both of us were quick to draw up memories. “They were nice people — very warm, very friendly,” my mom told me Tuesday afternoon. “I will tell you that as I got to know her better, she was always a caring person. She was always gracious and considerate.” The Zubecks long ago moved from downtown to a bigger place out in the country. It’s the same home Bob and Tina shared throughout the graduations — high school and college — of three children, through two battles with cancer. Time and distance separated my family from the Zubecks, but mom ran into Tina at Price Chopper a few years back — their first encounter in a long while. Tina never hesitated, hugged my mom and told her how glad she was to see her. They talked for about 30 minutes, Bob patiently waiting to finish up the shopping. Tina Zubeck cared about everyone. That’s her legacy, and it’s a darn good one.
Ross Martin is publisher of The Citizen. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Citizen_Ross.