When Barbara Jean Sherman first met Jerome George Sherman, a military man with orders to post in Fairbanks, Alaska, she knew there was a spark. But she couldn’t have known how their love would bloom across 3,000 miles of land and sea — especially back in the 1950s.
The pair spent months writing long letters, stealing chances to talk on the phone and even recording vinyl records of their voices to send to one another.
"It's hard to think of what it was like back then," their son Jerry Sherman said. "A voice recording may not sound impressive now, but it took a lot of effort, and time, and waiting for something like this to work.”
Barbara eventually made the move north, starting a new life with her formerly long-distance love and making many new friends, including a group of Inuit Alaskans who performed a "blanket toss" — throwing her up in the air and catching her in a quilt — when they learned she and Jerome were engaged.
On June 4, 1955, Jerome and Barbara married. They spent several years in Alaska but ultimately moved back to Iowa, settling in Cedar Rapids and raising five sons.
Sherman, who died on July 14 in her beloved hometown after a short battle with COVID-19, devoted most of her adult life to bringing pressure to bear on things she wanted to see happen in the world. She was 85.
Barbara was passionate about what happened in Cedar Rapids, Jerry said: It didn't matter if the issue was big or small. When Barbara had an opinion, she was going to make it clear to everyone.
"She liked to get involved," Jerry said. "She was sociable, she was engaged, and you could tell she cared about everybody."
As a mother, Barbara, an active PTA member, insisted all her children learn to play music and, through intensive summer classes, to speak Czech. The Sherman abode became the "hangout house," where friends were invited over for lunch, dinner or a dip in the pool.
"We had a lot of friends who thought of her as their mother, too," Jerry said. "They'd say, 'God, I wish my mom was like your mom.' And we didn't understand — we thought everyone's moms were the same. We didn't know how lucky we were."
Passionate about living in the Czech Village section of Cedar Rapids, Barbara volunteered often at the National Czech and Slovak Museum & Library.
Although her family came from Germany and Ireland, her interest in Czech culture extended to buying traditional Czech uniforms and eventually traveling to the Czech Republic.
Barbara was the tour guide when the "three presidents" — United States President Bill Clinton, Czech Republic President Václav Havel and Slovakian President Michal Kováč — visited the Czech Museum in 1995.
"As a tour guide, she was really able to show how much she cared about this culture and share that with other people," Jerry said.
And, Barbara was just as invested in local issues as in international affairs. She went to Cedar Rapids City Council meetings and wrote many Letters to the Editor in the Cedar Rapids Gazette in which she shared her opinion on community issues, like, famously, whether to add more casinos to the area or stick with just one, the stalwart Riverside Casino & Golf Resort.
"Dan Kehl (Riverside's owner) already is rich with his three casinos and he should have the competition so Cedar Rapids could get some needed help. We need to keep more of our money here," Barbara wrote in a 2014 letter to the Gazette. "Try to attend the public meeting when it comes to Cedar Rapids and give your opinion."
In all aspects, Jerry said, Barbara wanted to do best by her community.
"Everything she did, she did while thinking about the people around her," he said. "She really, truly cared about what happened to her city."
Iowa Mourns is a series of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19 during the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at email@example.com.
Robin Opsahl covers trending news for the Register. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org or 515-284-8051.
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