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Every day, health officials, politicians and journalists pour over updated numbers meant to shed light on the COVID-19 pandemic in Utah. But each statistic represents a person — including each number in the death count. In the past nine months, hundreds of Utahns have lost their lives due to the disease. As 2020 comes to a close, KUER is remembering the lives of a few of them.

More Than A Number: Remembering Kelly Rindlisbacher

An illustration of a smiling man wearing a white shirt and red tie.
Renee Bright
Kelly Rindlisbacher was 61-years-old when he died of COVID-19 in August.

Kelly Rindlisbacher died from COVID-19 in August at the age of 61. Up until then, he spent more than three decades devoted to Cache County schools, first as a teacher and eventually as a principal.

He was fun, big-hearted and quick with a joke. And according to his son Jared Rindlisbacher, it was easy to know when he was nearby.

He always had a big key ring … on his belt loop,” Jared remembered. “So you could always hear the jingle of his keys coming and you knew Dad was either coming down the hall of the school or coming home.”

And when he walked in the door, he would be in a good mood and smiling, his wife Lori said.

 A couple smiles for a close-up portrait in formal attire.
Courtesy of the Rindlisbacher family.
Kelly and Lori Rindlisbacher first met at church in their twenties. Even then, she said, he was fun, full of life and excited — qualities that permeated both his work as an educator and their decades-long marriage.

“He would often come home at the end of the day and say, ‘I have the best job in the world,’” she said.

Lori added her late husband loved his students and would do nearly anything to help them succeed. She shared one memory of just how far he went to motivate his elementary schoolers to read.

“When the students met their school wide goal, he dressed up like a princess and kissed a pig in front of the whole school,” she said. “He loved it. He was a kid at heart.”

In a tribute released after his death, the Cache County School District remembered their former colleague fondly.

“Above all, Kelly Rindlisbacher will be remembered as a good man with a kind, generous heart,” the district said in the post. “Kelly will be sorely missed by his Cache County School District family.”

Kelly was also a music lover — an indomitable force, his children said, when it came to oldies music trivia — and a passionate collector. He packed his workspace with everything from ostrich eggs and shark jaws to trinkets from family trips and authentic NASA equipment.

“He just filled up his office out at the school with astronaut gloves and jackets and rocket patches and models of rockets,” said Jared. ”That was something he really enjoyed and was able to share with the students.”

A family poses for a portrait in a park.
Courtesy of the Rindlisbacher family.
Kelly Rindlisbacher is survived by his wife Lori Rindlisbacher, children Ryan & Victoria Rindlisbacher, Jared & Sally Rindlisbacher and Trae & Jamie Mangum and three grandchildren Skye, Brooks and Bridger.

The office collections served dual purposes, Lori added. Not only did they bring her late husband joy, but they also helped lift the spirits of students sent to his office for “less inviting” reasons.“

He had lots of interesting things for kids to look at,” she said. “It always made things better.”

Making things better was one of Kelly’s core values, said his daughter, Jamie Mangum.

Whether he met someone at school or church or the grocery store, he wanted the people he interacted with to feel better at the end of a conversation than they did at the beginning, she said.

Mangum added her dad often kept a sign at his office with a mantra that she said described his legacy: “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

But after losing her dad, who was diabetic, to the pandemic, Mangum said she now has less patience for people who aren’t taking it seriously.

“I have pictures on my phone of our dad on FaceTime and what it looks like to be intubated and sick with this virus,” she said. “You really just want to post them everywhere and say, ‘This is really happening.’”

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
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