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In memory of 5 amazing Americans lost to COVID

Each week, PBS NewsHour pauses to remember five Americans lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, and shares memories and highlights from their lives.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    While new coronavirus cases continue to drop in the U.S., the immense toll of the virus remains a constant for so many families who have lost loved ones during this pandemic.

    We pause to remember some of their stories.

    Kao Ly Ilean Her was a trailblazer dedicated to helping new immigrants and Asian Americans gain access to resources she never had as a young refugee in the 1970s. Known as Ilean to family and friends, she fled war in Laos to a small town in Iowa at the age of 7, helped to raise her four younger siblings while their parents worked long factory hours and went on to become the first Hmong woman admitted to the Minnesota Bar Association.

    Empowering young Asian American women was a special focus of Ilean's. She leaves behind a series of nonprofits and an annual summer festival in St. Paul that celebrates Asian cultures across Minnesota. Ilean was 52.

    Seventy-four-year-old John "Jack" Delano Harding was a renaissance man, his wife said. He had a passion for the outdoors, art, and theater, among other things. A family man, he loved to share his hobbies with his wife, kids and grandkids.

    Above all else, Jack was drawn to science and all its possibilities. He loved discovery and collaboration. He dedicated himself to the field of molecular biology, and went on to work at the national institute of health in Maryland running its Primate Research Center for almost 18 years. His wife said that breaking new ground that could better people's lives is what endeared Jack to his work.

    Simone Parker's favorite place was in the classroom, according to a close family friend. As a high school chemistry teacher in Trigg County, Kentucky, for the past two decades, Simone brought inspiration and encouragement to every one of her students, especially those who struggled.

    After Simone's passing, the school honored her with a painting and a plaque that included her usual saying to her students — quote — "Be good. Be careful. Come back to me tomorrow." Simone was 46 years old.

    Cole Brooks served his small town of Nowata, Oklahoma, as a paramedic for the last eight years. Age 60, Cole was a humble man of faith, a cowboy through and through who would help anyone he could, said his wife.

    The father of two beat cancer in 2018, then immediately went back to work on his ambulance crew. The Nowata Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department held a processional in Cole's honor after his passing, as his family brought him home for the last time. The Nowata Area Chamber Of Commerce later named him hero of the year.

    Growing up in the Phoenix suburb of Tolleson, Arizona shaped Hector Zaragoza's life. Hector became a hometown hero when, in 1961, his predominantly Hispanic little league baseball team won the Arizona state championship. Hector went on to serve in Vietnam.

    After the war, he became a high school art teacher. A sensitive soul, he expressed everything through his art, said his family, and loved sharing art's healing nature with his students. A beloved father and brother, Hector saw beauty in everything around him, especially within his family. He was 71.

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