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BERLIN, NH — Founder and pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship Church in Berlin, and more recently a mayoral candidate who was challenging incumbent Paul Grenier, Robert Haynes died last Wednesday of COVID-19.
Just before he was put on a ventilator at Concord Hospital about two weeks ago, Pastor Rob, 54, told an ICU nurse he knew how hard they had worked to try and save his life.
The nurse told his wife that Haynes held her hand and urged her not to feel defeated and understand that she was where God intended her to be.
“Rob was the most loving, selfless, caring man I have ever met. The world should strive to be more like him,” said Wendy Haynes, who serves as co-pastor of the church.
Haynes grew up on a farm in Colebrook, and his wife said he joined the Army while a senior in high school because he knew his family could not afford to send him to college. He enlisted as an infantryman and became an Airborne Ranger. He served his three-year term and got out because Wendy Haynes said her husband wanted to “get his heart right with God” before continuing his military career. He joined the Army Reserves and became a drill instructor. He then returned to active duty as a Patriot Missile Crew Member stationed out of Bitburg, Germany.
After a deployment to Operation Desert Freedom, he was sent to Keene as an Army recruiter. In Keene, both he and Wendy Haynes took the training program at the Harvest Christian Church in nearby Peterborough to become Foursquare pastors. The pair helped start Hope Chapel in Keene. He was then assigned to serve as a recruiter in Berlin in 1996 and started a church here.
“Harvest Christian Fellowship of Berlin started in our living room with our three young children at the time,” said Wendy Haynes.
The church quickly outgrew their living room and for a while was in an old building on Main Street. Eventually, they purchased the old NYA Building near Memorial Field from the city.
Haynes was one of about 200 National Guard soldiers from the Second Battalion 197th Field Artillery deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom, leaving his wife and children behind. In all, Haynes served 22 years in the military and his wife said he received the Bronze Star.
When he returned from Operation Iraqi Freedom, the family moved to the Manchester area to help with a church there. But seven years ago, Wendy Haynes said her husband felt God was calling on him to return to Berlin.
At Harvest Christian, they established the largest food pantry in the county, Feeding Hope Food Pantry, to provide food to anyone in need. The church also holds free community dinners three times a month — with the pandemic the meals are all take-out — with church volunteers delivering meals to those who can’t get out.
Wendy Haynes said her husband decided to run for mayor to be a voice for those who felt unheard.
“He saw all the potential this town has to offer and under the right leadership, he believed this town could thrive and prosper. As a member of this city for so long, he knew the heart of the people,” she said.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier expressed sorrow at Haynes’ passing, saying he deeply respected and admired Pastor Rob. “He was truly a community treasure and had a huge impact on the lives he touched,” Grenier said.
Wendy Haynes said family was very important to her husband and he enjoyed his seven grandchildren. Despite being on a ventilator, she said her husband still found a way to send her flowers for her recent birthday.
Coming just days after the death of community activist Guy Lopez, the loss of Pastor Rob from COVID-19 has stunned the local community. Lopez’s family said he was not vaccinated. Haynes’ family declined to discuss whether he was vaccinated and Wendy Haynes called the question insensitive and disheartening.
“Rob should be remembered by the way he loved the community, loved people and honored God,” she said.
Meanwhile, Haynes’ death has forced a change to the ballots for the upcoming mayoral election, set for Nov. 2. According to Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan, N.H. law requires that Haynes’ name be removed from the ballots.
Scanlan cited Statute 669:22, which says that if a candidate dies or withdraws, “the town clerk shall not print the name of that candidate on the ballot.” It says if the ballots have been printed, the clerk shall remove that name using “pasters” (adhesive tape).
When appropriate, ballots should be reprinted to remove the name of the deceased candidate, Scanlan said, adding that in Berlin’s case, there is enough time to do so.
Berlin City Clerk Shelli Fortin estimated the cost of reprinting the 3,000 ballots at around $700.
Even though Haynes’ name will not appear on the ballot, Scanlan said he could technically still win the election as a deceased person if enough voters wrote in his name on the ballot. In that case, the city council would appoint a replacement to serve the two-year term.
Berlin Sun Managing Editor William Carroll contributed to this article.
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