Passing of local-born thespian felt across the country
The passing of Heath Huberg is being mourned not only within northwest Iowa, but across the country. The Okoboji High School alumnus turned professional stage performer passed away on Sunday, Oct. 13 at home from a rare form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. He was 37 years old. An online fundraiser has been established to benefit Huberg's family. He is survived by wife Rebecca and daughter Julia as well as his parents. A private family burial service is expected to take place in Royal, and the family intends to hold a celebration of life at a later date.
"Heath's message to the world was one of love, and all we need to do is show love every day," a message from the family read. "Praise the Lord that Heath is no longer bound by his broken body. He is enjoying his new perfect body after experiencing complete healing in God's own way."
Huberg was born in Spencer and graduated from Okoboji High School in 2000. There, he participated in several school productions before attending Simpson College and eventually going on to sing at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, where he received his masters degree.
Former Spirit Lake High School faculty member Brock Holman participated in the high school stage productions with Huberg, and he recognized the passing of his friend in an online post.
"Your talents in music and sports were endless, but more than that, you were truly a good person to the core," Holman wrote.
News of Huberg's passing was met with condolences from local businesses like the Spencer Municipal Golf Course — where he was a former employee — to the Sarasota Opera in Florida — where he played the role of Peppe in the Italian opera "Pagliacci." Huberg apprenticed at the Des Moines Metro Opera from 2005 to 2006, and he later returned as a principal artist to take on the role of Tybalt in the opera's 2013 production of Romeo and Juliette.
"His valiant fight against glioblastoma was marked by the same ferocity and seriousness of purpose that he applied to his performances and his equally remarkable sword play," the Des Moines Metro Opera said in an Oct. 14 social media post.
The stage star later chose to prioritize home life, and shifted away from his career as a singer and actor, according to information from the family. He took a job tending bar before joining investment company Merrill Lynch as a financial advisor.
Huberg was diagnosed with glioblastoma in early December of 2017. Former U.S. Senator John McCain was diagnosed with the same aggressive form of brain cancer earlier that same year. The condition is difficult to treat, and symptoms can range from headaches and nausea to seizures, according to information from the Mayo Clinic. Huberg and his wife Rebecca were also preparing for the birth of their daughter in late December that year. Even so, they made the decision to move to an area near Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, to take part in medical trials which had showed some success in treating the rare cancer.
The move soon prompted some of Huberg's friends and fellow performers, including classmates Jessica Schable and Drew Duncan, to organize a local benefit concert for Huberg at First Lutheran Church in West Okoboji.
Huberg himself had often returned to the region for benefit performances, ranging from a People for Pets fundraiser in 2008 to "It's a Grand Night for Singing" in 2014 and "Arts of St. Joseph" in March of 2017. Classmates and colleagues lent their voices for Huberg's benefit Dec. 26, 2017 — some arriving the same day as the performance. Schable said at the time, the group hoped to offset travel expenses and other bills for their friend.
"He's very special to us, and it will be very hard to do without him, but this is something we can do," she said at the time.
An online fundraiser was created last week to benefit the Huberg family. The new effort had reached just over $6,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.