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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A south metro father lost his life to COVID-19 just weeks before his son’s high school graduation.

Rafael Martinez Contreras died on May 7 at the age of 54. He was remembered Thursday at a family-only virtual funeral.

Rafael loved Mexican music, soccer, and his family — and people love him. Rafael Martinez, Jr. is his oldest son.

“Chaska is kind of small, and a lot of the Hispanic community, we all know each other. He was always like the funny joker at the party and … kinda making jokes here and there, and always giving you a helping hand whenever you needed something,” Martinez, Jr. said.

He told us about how his dad’s life started, near Vera Cruz, Mexico. He moved to Minnesota, got a job, home and met his wife. He still called his mom in Mexico every single night.

“Every day at 7 sharp, right after he got off, and just talk about what was going on in his life and asking her how everything was over there every day, and I find that incredible,” Martinez, Jr. said.

Rafael Martinez. Jr. (credit: CBS)

Also incredible was the response that they got from the community when Rafael died of COVID-19, from a car rally to a financial boost. His friends raised nearly $20,000.

“We weren’t expecting a lot, we were just doing it to help my mom, and a lot of people came forward, and honestly that just shows what kind of person he was, what kind of people he surrounded himself with. He always had people who loved him and really cared for him,” Martinez, Jr. said.

Love the family will need in his absence. Rafael’s wife got COVID-19 first, then Rafael, who was diabetic, also got it.

“He had a sore throat, had trouble breathing, and then he lost a lot of appetite, he would never eat,” Martinez, Jr. said.

After a few days at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, he passed away. He will miss his youngest son’s official graduation, and his sons and wife will deeply miss him.

“He really wanted me to become something in this life, and I hate the fact he won’t get to see what I really was gonna be in this life, so that’s probably the hardest part for me,” Martinez, Jr. said.

He says he and his brother will continue to honor their father. Martinez, Jr. plans to study physical therapy, while his brother plans to start college at Normandale Community College after graduation.

Click here to visit the family’s GoFundMe page.

CONTACT US: Do you have a story about the COVID-19 pandemic to share with us? Please contact us here.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

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