Darel Sterner held on through the dramatic ending because he had waited for decades for the Chicago Cubs to win a World Series.
On Wednesday night during Game 7, his family surrounded him, whispering the score in his ear. Three hours later, he died. They believe he is in heaven celebrating.
Sterner, 85, of West Liberty was a well-known barber in town, running his shop for 61 years. A Cubs banner hung on the wall and many ballgames of near misses and stubborn hopes were analyzed between the snaps of the shears.
“He was an ornery cuss. He played pranks on everybody that came in there,” said his son Durk, of Sterner Barber Shop, in downtown West Liberty. “The stories that came in and out of that place – a lot of ‘em we’ll never hear.”
He took his family to games in Chicago through the years and they adopted his passion. The family of uncles and cousins and kids would regularly gather on Sunday afternoons to watch the Cubs game.
Sterner brought his 1900 barber’s chair and Cubs banner to his West Liberty home when he closed the downtown shop and continued to cut hair in his basement for the last 20 years.
Each year, Sterner hoped for better for the Cubs while lowering ears.
He suffered a stroke the day before Christmas last year, and while it slowed his work, it didn’t squelch his enthusiasm for this year’s team. He really liked those boys, especially Ben Zobrist.
His health faded as the playoffs wore on, and the family gathered in his home as he took hospice care. By Game 7 of the World Series, he was drifting in and out.
Donna Sterner, his wife of 62 years, was there to watch the deciding game, as were children Durk and Darla, Durk’s wife Jill and their two adult children, Holli and Nick. A few feet away in the bedroom, Darel had his own TV near the bed, the Cubs game against the Cleveland Indians roaring in his ears.
The broadcast on his TV was delayed a few seconds, so the family silently cheered each pitch in the next room. They checked on Sterner as he drifted out, whispering the score in his ear. Hospice workers told them that hearing was the last thing to go.
They were sure he knew of near heartbreak when the Indians came back to tie the score, and the final, glorious conclusion to the Cubs first championship in 108 years.
"They won," his son Durk said in his ear. "The Cubs won the World Series!"
It's a moment, Durk said, that will stay with him forever.
“We all believe he is in heaven, one of the first Cubs fans there to see them win the World Series before passing away,” Durk said.
A Cubs’ World Series champion T-shirt will be placed in his coffin, and Monday he will buried with it.