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click to enlarge Robert Hager

PHOTO BY MARK MCKENNA

Robert Hager

We are sad to report that Robert "Bob" Hager — a U.S. Army veteran who detailed his journey from homeless to housed for the Journal — has taken his last walk. Bob died of a heart attack July 24, 2020, alone but surrounded by four walls in his own home, the Journal has learned. He was 63.

In recent years, Bob could be found walking through Eureka at almost any time of day, a U.S. Army hat barely containing his wild spray of gray hair and a coffee cup in hand, chatting up anyone in his path. He was a poet, a writer, a baritone, an artist and a husband. It was the last one that he felt defined him, and his devotion to Kathleen, "Kat" as he called her, was obvious, both through their 17 years of marriage in which they were inseparable and after her death, when, heartbroken, Bob worked tirelessly to cobble together the funds and move the necessary Veterans Affairs bureaucracy to lay his love to rest in Ocean View Cemetery.

We first introduced Bob and Kat to our readers back in September of 2016 after meeting them at a low point in their lives, as they'd just been forced to leave the Budget Motel when the city of Eureka condemned it after months of trying to force its owner to bring its slum-like conditions into compliance with city codes. Standing next to Kat, who used a wheelchair due to a medical condition, Hager explained the couple had moved to Humboldt County about a year prior from Wisconsin, looking for a quiet life along the Pacific Coast. Their room at the Budget wasn't much — the roof leaked and it was moldy and full of cockroaches — but it's what they could afford and gave them a place to be quiet and together, Bob said.

Hardship followed when that stability was taken away. The couple spent some time in local shelters — where they had to stay separately, which ate at them. But they passed their days together, with Bob pushing Kat around Eureka at a steady stroll between stops at benches and coffee shops, where Kat would read whatever novel she was nose deep in at the time.

"If you spend any time in Old Town, you probably saw us, me pushing Kat in her wheelchair, a book in her hand," Bob once wrote in these pages. "In fact, if I walked around without her, nobody recognized me. We were always together."

Kat's death in July of 2017 left Bob at once gutted, lost and seeking purpose. Purpose he seemed to find in his quest lay Kat to rest, which he finally did with the help of VA survivor's benefits, burying her at Ocean View Cemetery, where he'd go visit her regularly. He then shifted his gaze to finding housing — just a place to call his own. And as he did, he started writing again, filling his journal with poetry.

We were lucky enough to convince Bob to write a few pieces for us: "A Homeless Survival Guide," which graced our Oct. 26, 2017 cover, and a couple of columns. They all offered readers a glimpse into the realities of living houseless, the unrelenting grind of trying to find some semblance of comfort and security.

We fear even a roof and a heater weren't enough to provide Bob those things, to undo a childhood marred by trauma or put a salve on the wound of Kat's death. (He once told us that for 20-plus years, home was simply wherever Kat was.) But we are at least grateful he died indoors, in his home.

Bob's journey isn't over, however. The Humboldt County Coroner's Office tells us that it is holding his cremated remains, having been unable to find a next of kin to release them to. We've inquired if there's anything to be done about that, relaying that one of the first things Bob told us about him and Kat is that they didn't "have any kinfolk."

Our hope is to find a way to lay him to rest at Ocean View Cemetery next to Kat, the only place he ever wanted to be.

Thadeus Greenson (he/him) is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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