McDonald’s ‘mom’ to a greater community dies of COVID

Siblings plead with the public to help save lives

Laura Jean Schneider
Posted 12/31/69


Tim Hartzell tried to talk his mother into getting vaccinated for COVID.

He’d done it, he argued, it was safe.

But 59-year-old Cindi Anne Harper wasn’t convinced. Neither …

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McDonald’s ‘mom’ to a greater community dies of COVID

Siblings plead with the public to help save lives



Tim Hartzell tried to talk his mother into getting vaccinated for COVID.

He’d done it, he argued, it was safe.

But 59-year-old Cindi Anne Harper wasn’t convinced. Neither were her two other children, Kyaira  and Matthew Hartzell. With fear and rumors circulating, the siblings figured they’d take their chances.

Now, all three believe the vaccine would have saved their mother’s life.

When two of Harper’s co-workers tested positive for COVID, she tested, too, thinking she might be mildly symptomatic. After receiving a positive result on Thursday,
Aug. 26, she sequestered herself at her house in Port Hadlock, where she lived with 35-year-old Tim (who tested negative) and her three cats.

According to the Hartzell siblings, their mother said the first few days felt like a flu.

By Sunday night, Harper was feeling fatigued enough to ask Tim to pick up a shower chair so she could bathe without having to stand. By the time he arrived home from work the evening of Monday, Aug. 30, she couldn’t walk from her bedroom to the front door 30 feet away.

When her son asked if she wanted him to call an ambulance, she said yes.

At around 8 p.m., she was taken via wheelchair to the ambulance. 

Her oxygen levels were so low that they immediately administered oxygen. With COVID precautions in place, Tim wasn’t able to ride with his mother during the transport to Jefferson Healthcare. That night was the last time he’d see his mother.


The following morning, Tuesday, Aug. 31, his sister, 34-year-old Kyaira, called the hospital for an update at 11 a.m. only to be told that Harper’s oxygen levels and heart rate were dropping so rapidly that she was being airlifted to Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.

The situation seemed surreal to the siblings.

Kyaira’s fiance´ and 5-year-old son were recovering from contracting COVID two weeks previous, but it had seemed more like a flu than anything to really worry about.

In Oregon, her brother Matthew, the baby of the Hartzell family, was just returning to the job after recovering from COVID himself.

They’d all pulled through just fine.

And their mother was tough.

Two years previous, Harper had a heart attack on the job at the Port Townsend McDonald’s, where she worked for 17 years. She took an aspirin and finished her shift, not about to leave anyone shorthanded. It wasn’t until she’d had heart surgery in Seattle that her kids discovered that she’d been in jeopardy.


It had been over two years since Matthew Hartzell had last spoken to his mother, not because of any rift, but because he wanted to spend time in Oregon with his father, who had separated from Harper when Matthew was 9. When he got off work Tuesday at 1:45 p.m., his father already had the news. He drove his son to the Medford Airport and sent him home.

Kyaira had spoken to Harper the night before her brother Tim picked up the shower chair, never guessing it would be the last time she’d hear her mother’s voice.

“Take a bath,” she’d told her mom. “I love you.”

It was Tim who received a call after 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31 from Virginia Mason Hospital. His mother’s organs were shutting down. Medics had performed an emergency intubation to try and intubate her, but her heart had stopped.

Ten minutes of CPR brought her back. 

Her kidneys were failing, the doctor said. Would Tim give medics permission to start dialysis after they attempted to intubate Harper for a second time?

He said yes.

After the second attempt, Harper’s heart stopped. Medics were unable to resuscitate her.

In a matter of six days, the mother of three was gone.


“She touched everybody’s heart,” Kyaira said from the picnic shelter at East Beach where she and her brothers had gathered.

“She was the only person I could talk to about anything.”

She isn’t the only one who feels that way. Kyaira has received more than 200 messages on social media from complete strangers whose lives were touched by Harper, a customer favorite at the local McDonald’s. Her mom would sneak toys to children, give bacon to a favorite pup, and was dedicated to her job. While her kids often urged her to do something else — she had an associate’s degree — Harper didn’t want to risk sacrificing her hours.

The siblings said that Harper had grown up with an alcoholic father, and was often uprooted when homes or vehicles were repossessed or threatened by his behavior. When Harper’s mother died right after she graduated high school in California, she headed to Washington where she met the father of her children.

Harper single-parented the three kids while working and studying nursing. After being a caregiver for many years, she found a niche interacting with the community at McDonald’s.

“She really loved people,” said Tim.

“She was a mom to everyone,” said Kyaira. “She always knew exactly what to say.”

Harper liked reading, jewelry, sparkly trinkets, polished white beach stones, and flowers. She kept the hummingbird feeder at her house full. Her three cats would sleep under the covers with her every night. Her red Mustang convertible provided just the right amount of sass and indulgence for someone who’d spent so much of her life helping others.

The siblings are considering memorial tattoos. Ideas materialized as they discussed options, but all agreed on two icons: a book with a yellow rose, her favorite flower.


The Hartzells think that a COVID shot could have saved their mother’s life.

After her passing, both Kyaira and Matthew began the vaccination process.

While she was originally skeptical about the vaccine, Kyaira now feels that anti-vaxxers are “feeding into their fear.”

“Even if you get the side effects,” she said, “get it for everybody else.”

It’s not known how Harper contracted the virus, but Tim stated many drive-up customers at McDonald’s were not masking up.

A manager for most of her career at McDonalds, their mother had worked the window.

“I’m incredibly angry about people who don’t want to wear their masks,” he said.

As the first one in his family to be fully vaccinated, in April of this year, Tim urges people to consider the shot.

“No one else should have to suffer like this. It literally feels like your heart has been ripped out,” he said.


Harper would have turned 60 on Sept. 12.

“I wanted to have a nice big family barbecue,” Kyaira said.

Tim stated that he hadn’t yet decided what he’d be getting for her. Matthew was quiet.

Tim said a layer of numbness had settled on the trio. The siblings agreed.

The death certificate arrived Wednesday, the same day the siblings met at the beach to share memories.

“The last time I saw her she was happy,” Matthew said softly.

“I have every single card she’s ever gotten me,” said his sister, who estimated they’d stack up to a 10-inch thick pile.

Tim said that his mother’s three cats will continue to live with him at the house in Port Hadlock that he’d shared with his mother.

The siblings wished aloud that folks would start taking COVID seriously.

“It took me losing my mom to realize that my fear is less important than the bigger picture,” Kyaira said.

When she recently got the first jab, she conquered her own fear of the unknown.

“I did it for mom,” she said.


2 comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here

We will sure miss Cindi.

Sunday, September 19

Rest in peace Cindi. I will forever miss our chats.

Tuesday, September 21