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Lancaster man died from Covid-19 after lifetime of helping people

Jose Rivera filled his life by helping people, as a medic in the U.S. Navy, as a volunteer building Habitat for Humanity homes and as a union safety officer at General Mills in Buffalo.

"We’d be driving and see someone who needed help. It was instinctive that either one of us would pull over," said Maureen Rivera, his wife of 15 years. "He had an infectious smile, and a unique way of making anyone feel comfortable.”

Maureen Rivera, who works as a visiting nurse, cared for her husband at their home in Lancaster until the 11th day of his battle with Covid-19 when she said he began to shake uncontrollably.

He was rushed to Mercy Hospital on April 4, and he tested positive for Covid-19.

Rivera, 65, who has six children, was transferred the next day to Catholic Health's Covid-19 treatment facility at the St. Joseph Campus, and put on a ventilator. He died on April 24.

Maureen Rivera said she could not visit her husband at the St. Joseph Campus because of the virus, and had to rely on daily phone calls from the staff for updates on her husband's condition.

“ ... He was bad, and I could see the writing on the wall,” said Maureen Rivera.

While Rivera was in the hospital, neighbors created an illuminated fairy garden on his front lawn as a tribute, said youngest daughter, Logan Rivera.

Rivera was raised in South Buffalo and attended South Park High School before moving to San Diego, where he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1973. He served six years in the Navy and was stationed for a time in Okinawa, Japan, where he served as a medic.

It was there he learned to be a disc jockey, a craft he would draw on throughout his life. Known as “Gigger,” Rivera worked parties, weddings and reunions, recalled his wife.

Rivera worked for 40 years as a forklift operator at General Mills before retiring when he was 61. He also served as safety chairman with the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers & Grain Millers Local 36.

Eight months ago, the Riveras moved from Cheektowaga to Lancaster. Just before he became ill, he was planning a driveway dance party in his neighborhood because he thought people needed a fun diversion, said Maureen Rivera.

In Cheektowaga, he had fought for neighborhood stability, against zombie homes and served as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, recalled Diane Benczkowski, the town supervisor.

“He was always respectful, never adversarial and became a partner with the town. When Garden Village Plaza stood vacant for 20 years, Jose advocated for redevelopment. He was always willing to help anyone he could,” Benczkowski said.

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