Life remembered

Jeff Faulhaber, of Dubuque, stands with his wife, Judy Faulhaber (center), and children (from left) Lanie, Colin and Jesse.

On weekends, he offered to take his family shopping. He didn’t care for it, but he knew how much it meant to them.

He was not one to buy a lot of things. Working and getting things paid off was Jeff Faulhaber’s aim.

“He was so financially responsible it was ridiculous,” said his wife, Judy Faulhaber, of Dubuque. “He would joke about me and say, ‘If you had $1, you would spend $1.05.’”

But his family knew there were things that Jeff would enjoy and benefit from, especially after he got sick — a dog, a new recliner. His family would be the ones to purchase them.

“He would complain first and appreciate second,” said Jeff’s son, Colin.

Jeff died Sept. 30 from bile duct cancer at the age of 54.

He lived modestly and practically, teaching himself things that he didn’t know and making sure his family was cared for.

Jeff was born to Anthony and Carole Faulhaber on April 16, 1967. Anthony worked as a lineman at John Deere Dubuque Works, while Carole was a hairstylist and homemaker.

Jeff, at age 15, started fixing and restoring cars, helping his uncles, who were equally passionate.

He graduated from Dubuque Senior High School in 1985, whereupon he studied automotive repair at Northeast Iowa Community College.

Jeff met Judy Steil in 1991 at West Dubuque Tap, where Judy’s sister Kathy Steil worked.

Jeff had been biking all year, and Judy took note of his muscular frame. He enjoyed having fun. Judy also admired that Jeff respected his mother, whom he chatted with daily.

Jeff and Judy went on their first date that weekend at the Dubuque Catfish Festival.

They married on New Year’s Eve in 1994. It snowed almost 3 inches that day. The sun came out of the clouds, and the crystalline landscape glistened.

They had three children: Colin, Jesse and Lanie.

Around the pool that Jeff constructed with his brother, they turned summer Sundays into “Fundays,” grilling out and listening to music.

The family took trips to the Wisconsin Dells and went camping.

Jeff believed in having fun, yet after he started running his own businesses, including Faulhaber Auto Body, he had a hard time adjusting to time away from work.

He second-guessed himself. Unable to sleep, Jeff took late-night drives or walks.

When the opportunity to purchase Big Apple Bagels arose in 2000, Judy was excited and scared at the prospect.

“I’m not,” Jeff said. “You’ll do fine.”

Jeff would open the store at 4:30 a.m., then report to his full-time job at Mike Finnin Ford before returning to Big Apple to make dough in the evening.

“I don’t think he wanted to run a bagel business,” Judy said. “He would have done anything for me.”

Jeff’s generosity generally went unspoken. After a Big Apple employee wrecked her car, he lent her one of his own, while he fixed hers for free.

Jeff was a workaholic and meticulous almost to a fault, Judy said.

He took the hard jobs and kept working until three weeks before he died, periodically resting his head on his toolbox. He did not want other people completing his handiwork.

In the late 1990s, Jeff purchased a 1954 Chevrolet Corvette with the intention of restoring it. He repaired the vehicle when he had time and kept ordering parts. Each time the family moved, the car followed. Jeff’s cousin volunteered to complete the endeavor.

Despite working in the auto industry, Jeff drove a 1999 Honda Accord. He fixed wrecked vehicles, so buying new was out of the question.

Jeff retained what he called “useless knowledge,” particularly for world history, cars and music.

He tuned into the “Bob & Tom Show” as he drove Lanie to school each morning.

“Dad, can we just listen to music today?” she asked.

“What if something’s going on? Then, I’ll miss it,” he responded.

Jeff underwent surgery the night of his 25th wedding anniversary. He had been feeling pain in his stomach and visited the emergency room.

His bile duct was clogged, and he had developed pancreatitis. A 12-hour surgery was followed by five months of chemotherapy.

“It hurt him really bad. He was very sad and very scared,” Judy said. “It’s hard seeing your husband and dad like that, so vulnerable when you’re used to seeing somebody so strong that could conquer anything.”

Jeff tried to stay positive, but the last few months of his life, he knew his health was not improving.

“He told the nurse that he was very much ready to go, but he knew his family was not ready to let go yet,” Judy said.

The day Jeff died, he lay in his recliner in the living room.

“Who’s here?” he whispered. “Who’s here?”

Judy was there holding his hand. So were the kids, Kathy, Jeff’s mom and his family and Jeff’s Goldendoodle, Ruby.

“This is perfect,” Jeff said. “This is just perfect.”

“And he died five seconds later,” Judy said. “It was the most beautiful goodbye.”

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