By Jennifer Mayerle

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesota set a grim record on Wednesday in its fight against COVID-19.

The disease killed 56 Minnesotans Tuesday, with about 300 losing their lives just since the start of November.

That includes veteran Sturgiss “Bear” Banker. The father of four was a Korean War veteran, Crystal police officer, scoutmaster and mentor. Mike Banker is one of his children.

“He had a great heart for us, his kids, but his heart was a lot bigger than that,” Mike said.

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His family says the 91 year old wanted his kids, and others in the community, to have a positive upbringing. For his children, he made experiences happen even on a tight budget. He showed up for his community in numerous ways, and worked for years as a juvenile officer.

“It always impressed me that my father was so well respected as a police officer. They would thank him, if he was there with me, for arresting them,” Mark said.

Known to his family as “Bear,” he gave all of his grandkids teddy bears, according to daughter Cheri Herbst.

“He could be a teddy bear, or he could be a growly bear, you just had to know how to approach him. But as he got older he got sweeter and he got funnier,” Cheri said.

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COVID continues to impact the older population in Minnesota most. While the state has seen a death under the age of 4, and reports 64 deaths between ages 20 and 50, the state is losing many in communities with a rich history. More than half of the state’s deaths are above age 80.

“The COVID just happened so fast. He was very healthy, and it took him in three days. So I guess what I want to say to people is it is real, and take precautions,” Cheri said.

Bear’s family say they were comforted by a caring nursing home staff that helped them talk to him through his first-floor window in his last days.

So far this year, COVID deaths are higher than the total number of accidental deaths in all of 2017. That includes car crashes and deadly falls.

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Jennifer Mayerle

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