Jerry Ubert helped start the Hays Kiwanis Club flag project 20 years ago and it is believed he never missed putting flags out on display five times a year, every year. Until Labor Day, on Monday.
Ubert, 71, died Monday after a short illness. He was active in the Hays community, including with the Hays Bowling Association and Kiwanis Club.
"He had so many niches of family connections – the bowling family, the Kiwanis family," said Mary Hammond, who, like Ubert, was a former Hays Kiwanis president and former Kiwanis state governor. "He touched in so many different ways.
"He was just a joy to be around," she added. "If we stopped and thought about how Jerry lived his life, we learned how to be thankful for what we have."
The local Kiwanis club can be thankful for Ubert’s idea for a fundraiser and service project. After he learned of a flag project from the Kiwanis club in Elkhart, a similar project in Hays was approved, starting in 2000 with about 70 to 75 flags displayed on five holidays. Ubert and Kim Zinszer became co-chairs of the project, which has turned out to be the club’s main fundraiser to benefit local non-profit groups.
"He was good at orchestrating everything with the flag program," said Zinszer, adding the program grew after several people wanted flags displayed after 9/11 a year later. "We had a big uptick of people who wanted flags in their yards."
Club members displayed 1,312 flags on the Fourth of July and about another 1,300 on Monday.
"Jerry never stopped finding ways to keep it growing," Hammond said, adding flags were initially stored in his garage until the project became so big, they had to have a storage unit.
Ubert also played a big role with the Hays Bowling Association. He was inducted into the HBA Hall of Fame during the 1998-99 season. Ubert helped out in myriad ways, including the junior bowling program on Saturday mornings. His sons, Kevin and Keith, became expert bowlers, each rolling numerous 300 games.
"He knew everybody by name, and everybody knew Jerry," said Tyler Herreman, whose parents bought Centennial Lanes in 1979. "Jerry was an invaluable member of the Hays Bowling Association. He was just a fixture around the center for years and years."
Ubert also was someone to rely on at James Motor Company, where he worked for 36 years until he retired in June. Herreman said his parents bought cars only from Ubert for the last 30 years.
"He took care of the customer, dealing with people," said owner/dealer Stan Dreiling. "He was just a blessing to know. He always had a positive attitude about everything. He looked forward to retiring, do more of the Kiwanis projects."
Dreiling and Ubert were veterans.
"He was a believer in the flag," Dreiling said.
Come November, Kiwanis Club members will again put out flags, for Veterans Day. Ubert will be there, in spirit, Hammond said.
"He will always be with us every time we do the flag projects," Hammond said. "I don’t think you can do a flag project without thinking about him, wishing he was there. He will be like our flag angel, looking over our shoulder. We will proudly continue this project in his honor."
Kiwanis members had planned to drive by Ubert’s house after picking up flags on Monday, to honk their car horns and say hello. After learning he had died earlier in the afternoon, members were unsure what to do, but Ubert’s family said come on by. Hammond estimated about 20 vehicles drove by the house early Monday evening.
"We maybe didn’t whoop and holler as much, but it was amazing" to see all the vehicles, Hammond said. "I think it was a very fitting tribute to this man, to say we loved him and thank him."