COVID-19 veteran honored

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LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) — Last week we shared the story of Jose Rivera, a well loved Lancaster man, who died of Covid-19. Since then, Jose’s neighbor has led an effort to pay tribute to him.

“No one could light up a room like Jose,” said neighbor, Mike Hallmark.  ​

Jose Rivera was a beloved father, husband, grandfather and friend taken too soon by the virus.​ Mike Hallmark met Rivera just a few years ago.​ ​

“We’ll never forget but Jose was one of the first neighbors who introduced himself to us,” said Hallmark.  ​ But his kindness and willingness to help others, left a lasting impact. ​ A good neighbor, a volunteer, a pillar in the Hispanic community.​

​”That’s what made me think, a man like this only comes around once in a while.” said Hallmark.  “And I would like him to have some kind of recognition.” ​ So News 4 helped Hallmark get in contact with the Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY. ​ ​

“Jose, we knew him from childhood, we knew his family, we knew his parents,” said Casimiro Rodriguez , Hispanic Heritage Council of WNY president. 

Rivera had recently retired from General Mills, after working 40 years there. ​ His top priority was keeping employees safe, even taking the time to teach safety classes in Spanish. ​

He was also a proud US Navy veteran who served his country as a medic from 1973-1977 in Japan. 

“He was a veteran, his service to community, that rung a bell. Our organization stands for recognizing the contributions of Hispanics in WNY so that clicked as well,” said Rodriguez. 

The council then got the ball rolling, contacting Erie County Legislator Frank Todaro, who resides over Rivera’s district. ​ ​

Todaro honored Rivera at the end of Thursday’s session, then delivered a proclamation to his wife Maureen, outside their Lancaster home on Saturday. ​ Fellow neighbors were there for the special moment. ​

“It’s nice to know he was appreciated,” said his Maureen Rivera.  “The outpouring of love and support has been wonderful.”

And the veteran’s service is also being honored. Congressman Brian Higgins has arranged to present Rivera’s military medals and a Vietnam commemorative pin at the Erie County Naval and Military Park, at a later date. ​ ​

For neighbor Mike Hallmark, playing a small roll in recognizing his friend means everything. ​ “People won’t remember what you wrote and people won’t remember what you spoke, but people will remember you by how you made them feel,” said Hallmark. “And that comes to mind for Jose.”

Gabrielle Mediak is a reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2019. See more of her work here.

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