Jerry Krouzel has planted trees for most of his life. He hadn’t finished.
The 79-year-old was working on a tree-planting job just two weeks before his family said COVID-19 brought down the tall and dreaded ranger.
Krouzel’s daughters believe he was infected on May 2 or 3 by a tree-planting crew on their way to a site near Burns Lake, British Columbia.
He died on May 18 in his basement suite in Quesnel after refusing medical treatment for COVID-19.
9 infected, 1 death in the epidemic
The veteran tree planter had sent messages to his family members about a colleague who was coughing during transport to a planting site. Krouzel left the site fearing an infection after working his last day on May 9.
His family say he wore a mask and was wary of COVID-19, but chose not to be vaccinated.
Construction sites linked to two Quesnel-based reforestation companies – Dewan Enterprise and Mikegrosite Consulting – were closed after an outbreak of COVID-19 which, as of May 21, had infected nine people and killed one.
Public health investigations “have determined that infection control measures were not sufficient to prevent further transmission of COVID-19,” according to the Northern Health Authority. The British Columbia coroners office and workplace safety authorities are currently investigating.
12 million trees
Krouzel’s eldest daughter has questions about her father’s death to which she wants answers.
“Her hands have sculpted the appearance of part of our planet,” said Romana Krouzel, 56.
His 32-year-old daughter Aida Krouzel estimates that her father has planted around 12 million trees throughout her life.
“He just loved being outside helping the community and the forest,” she said. “He had been planting trees since he was 13 in the Czech Republic in the forest cadets, so it is very possible that he planted millions of trees there,”
John Mills hired Krouzel over 30 years ago and said Krouzel works more than men a third his age.
“You put it with younger guys if you want to motivate them,” Mills said.
Despite some “crazy ideas” he said Krouzel was nice. Mills said he was considered a staple at the Quesnel Farmers Market, where he was often seen in his signature bandana and “fancy shoes”.
Jaromír Kroužel was born in Czechoslovakia in the early 1940s. He attended a forestry school, where his family says he excelled as a sniper and falconer.
His family later say he trained judo and was shortlisted to be the coach of the Czech Olympic judo team. But Krouzel gave up his chance to go to the Olympics when he fled in 1968 during the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Krouzel moved to Montreal and worked as a cheese maker, before running a dairy business in Manitoba and later becoming a real estate agent in Alberta.
“He was a borderline genius,” said Romana Krouzel, adding that he also had an indomitable spirit and piercing blue eyes.
“I don’t know if he had any illusions of grandeur or if he simply refused to accept limits.”
In his 40s, Krouzel left his family in Alberta and returned to forestry, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle in a van and traveling the world.
Later in life, Krouzel met her second partner in Thailand and they had a daughter, born in Bangkok.
Aida Krouzel, 32, said she later moved to Canada and grew up in northern British Columbia, often dragging her dad into chopped blocks as he replanted while she was not. was only five years old.
“To me it was nature – it was the smell of pine – the wind whispering through the trees,” Krouzel said.
He never lost the athletic discipline he had developed by practicing judo.
Aida Krouzel said she had never seen her father smoke, drink or even eat junk food. He cooked an average Czech meatloaf and grew an impressive garden. He loved organic food and researched holistic health practices.
She spoke to him in the days leading up to his death and urged him to go to the hospital. But he was trying to fight the infection at home.
She said she wished the person who infected her father hadn’t gone to work. She wishes her new fiance could have met her father.
“I certainly would have wanted to change that – I could have spent more time with him.”