By Debbie Cenziper, Alexa Mikhail, Cadence Quaranta, Daniel Konstantino and Alice Crites, The Washington Post, December 22 2020
They had survived so much already — war and dust storms, cancer and poverty, lost eyesight, lost spouses, lost memories — and still went on to find moments of grace inside the corridors of America’s nursing homes.
In Windsor, Conn., Johnny James ate chocolate bars with his visiting great-grandchildren. In Lewiston, Idaho, Edna McBride celebrated her 100th birthday. In Providence, R.I., Florence Tilles, who had two knee surgeries, liked to joke she would one day die at the 18th hole of her favorite golf course.
One day came on May 30, when 98-year-old Tilles fell victim to covid-19 amid a soaring death toll that included James and McBride and would soon grow to more than 80,000 residents in nursing homes across the country. They suffered alone, in homes locked down to visitors, peering at the masked faces of weary nurses and aides who risked their own lives to be there.
The industry and the government could have done far more, watchdog groups have said from the beginning, shoring up infection-control protocols and staffing, delivering stronger oversight of troubled homes and ensuring that coronavirus stimulus payments reached patients and caregivers rather than corporate owners.
Instead, 10 months later, thousands of families are learning to live without goodbyes.
The 51 residents whose stories are told here, one from every state and the District of Columbia, left behind at least 129 children, 230 grandchildren, 210 great-grandchildren and 41 great-great-grandchildren. Some blame the nursing homes for questionable care. Others say they are enormously grateful for the work of caregivers.
Most have put off memorials for when it’s safe to gather again, side by side, and remember the dead.
“He was the 12th person to die of covid in Alaska,” Susan Peck said of her father, George, who hoped to spend the rest of his life in a log cabin with his wife. “But he wasn’t just ‘number 12’ to us.”
Oct. 7, 2020
211,139 reported covid-19 deaths in the U.S.
Homer Barr, veteran fire captain, was usually first to the blaze.
March 28, Tennessee
Homer Barr always slept in the bed closest to the phone in the red-brick fire station in Gallatin, Tenn.
The longtime fire captain wanted to be first on the line in case of emergency, and his firefighters learned to tell by the tone of his voice whether they needed to get up quickly.
“If there was a fire, Homer would make a point of having the nozzle in his hand. He just did it,” said Robert Richie Jr., assistant chief of operations. “You got in behind him and followed his lead.”
Barr, a father of four and community leader who liked to fish, hunt and ride his motorcycle, died on March 28 at the Gallatin Center for Rehabilitation and Healing near Nashville. He was 81 and among more than 20 nursing home residents who died of covid-19.
Born in Gallatin, Barr became a certified lifeguard after high school and later joined the fire department. For years, his wife, Velma, would bring dinner to the firehouse, where the couple’s three daughters and son would play with the children of the other firefighters, climbing onto the trucks.
During the summer, the family would head to a nearby lake, where Barr had a boat. He raised two Doberman pinschers, Duchess and Blue Boy, and spent his free time listening to a ham radio and watching western movies.
Before the pandemic, his daughter Deneen regularly visited the nursing home with a three-piece fish dinner and french fries from the same restaurant that once delivered dinner to his firefighters on Wednesday nights. Though Barr had late-stage dementia and often struggled to eat, he relished the visits.
“One time I was feeding him, and he said, ‘I bet you never thought it would be this way,’ ” his daughter recalled. “But I told him it was a privilege. There is no greater honor and blessing than to walk your parents to their next journey.”
In the firehouse, Barr was known as a steadfast leader. Deneen Barr said she is not surprised.
“He would do anything for anybody, and he always wanted stuff done good and right,” she said. “I think I’m a lot like him. Now he’s in heaven fishing and hunting. God probably has a motorcycle, too.”
— Daniel Konstantino
Henrietta Woods worked for social justice, voting rights.
March 30, Missouri
Henrietta Woods was in her 30s when she started volunteering to help make the polls in St. Louis more accessible to low-income voters.
She went on to spend years with the now-defunct Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, eventually attending meetings with her granddaughter in tow. The pair played spades while Woods discussed housing inequality and voter registration drives.
The grandmother of 14, a resident at the Life Care Center of St. Louis, died March 30. She was 89.
Born in Memphis, Woods was 13 when her mother died. After briefly living with her father and stepmother, she settled in with her aunt. The two later moved to St. Louis, where Woods would spend the rest of her life.
A dietitian at St. Louis University Hospital, Woods, who married and later divorced, was proud of being able to put her five children through Catholic school and purchase a two-story house where two generations of her family would live.
“It wasn’t a mansion. It was a small house. But people say wealth is starting with homeownership, so she did that,” said LaTosha Hayes, her granddaughter.
Woods was heavily involved in the St. Louis community, participating in marches for economic, social and racial justice, working for elected officials and offering community members rides to nearby polling centers during elections. Freeman Bosley Jr., the city’s first Black mayor, knew Woods by name, said her granddaughter Ashanti Woods.
Woods was a member of the Union Avenue Christian Church. When she moved into the nursing home in 2014, Hayes said the parishioners remained an essential support system, particularly after Woods suffered a stroke in 2019.
“If I didn’t drop her off [at church], they picked her up,” Hayes said. “They made her feel special, whether she was in a nursing home or at church.”
The onset of the coronavirus and lockdown of the nursing home threw Woods into a deep depression.
“My grandmother had nine lives,” Hayes said. “Each time we thought it was about to be the end, she just kept coming back. I think the depression of being by herself as long as she was contributed to her death.”
— Michael Korsh
April 2: The number of coronavirus cases worldwide exceeds 1 million.
George Hawkins loved jokes, jazz and gospel.
April 2, Washington, D.C.
As a conductor for the New York City transit system in the 1950s, George Hawkins was once written up for playing a Dizzy Gillespie song over the loudspeakers on the train.
“In his mind, that was a worthy cause,” said his daughter, Malene Lawrence. “Everyone on the train was smiling and happy after a hard day of work.”
Hawkins, a lifelong jazz and gospel music fan, died in the hospital April 2. A resident of Unique Rehabilitation & Health Center in Northwest Washington, he was 89.
Hawkins was born in 1930 in Knoxville, Tenn. In elementary school, his family moved to New York City, where he would spend most of his life. After serving as a mechanic in Germany during the Korean War, Hawkins started working for the New York City Transit Authority and volunteering at the Democratic Club in Harlem.
In 1961, Hawkins met Gloria Giles, who was raised near the Catskill Mountains in New York. The pair could not have been more different, Lawrence said.
“He started taking her to jazz clubs and going out to listen to music in Harlem,” she said. “And that was history.”
Although the pair never married, they had two children, whom they raised in Harlem. As a young father, Hawkins took his children to Central Park to ride bikes and learn to play chess. The sounds of gospel music icons Mahalia Jackson and Shirley Caesar frequently filled the family’s home.
Even after losing his eyesight to glaucoma in 1980, Hawkins retained his sense of humor, his daughter recalled. He would often joke with kids in the neighborhood by pretending that he couldn’t see the number of fingers he was holding up on his own hand.
“The kids would just crack up laughing like, ‘Why is he making fun?’ ” Lawrence said. “And I’m just like, ‘That was my dad.’ ”
Hawkins also had a sharp memory, recalling names, star signs and life stories. He never forgot a birthday and was known for calling his relatives at 12:01 a.m. to be the first to wish them well.
Though he was legally blind, Hawkins lived by himself in New York City for about 20 years without ever learning Braille or getting a home attendant or guide dog. Later, he moved to Texas to live closer to his daughter. When Lawrence and her family relocated to Washington, D.C., Hawkins followed.
The grandfather of five often spoke about his hope of reuniting with his mother in death.
“He just kept reassuring me and saying that it’s going to be okay as long as you have faith in God,” Lawrence said. “If you believe, and you’re living a good life and you’re being good to other people, death shouldn’t scare you.”
When Hawkins was sick and isolated in the hospital, Lawrence asked the staff for permission to play some of her father’s favorite gospel songs over the phone. As he drew his last breath, the music played in the background.
— Rachel Baldauf
Kevin Fortune found peace outdoors.
April 3, Oregon
Kevin Fortune and his eight siblings spent their summers in a rural farming town in Northwest Oregon, working in the fields to help pay for their clothing at a Catholic grade school.
Day after day, they’d pick enough strawberries to fill at least 12 wooden carriers. The work forged Fortune’s lifelong love of the outdoors, his relatives said.
Fortune, who lived in a cabin in Alaska before maintaining his family’s three-acre estate in Oregon, died at Portland’s Healthcare at Foster Creek on April 3. He was 59.
“If you asked Kevin for help, he’d be there to help you, no questions asked,” Janis Fortune said of her brother. “He was that type of guy.”
Fortune and his siblings grew up in the Portland suburb of Newberg. In 1982, three years after graduating from high school, he went to Alaska, spending a year with his two best friends in a cabin without running water. The trio took on odd jobs to scrape by. Fortune wanted to live off the land, fishing, hiking and hunting.
He returned home and worked for several years in a sheet metal factory and a general store. When his mother died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2007, Fortune struggled with alcohol addiction and depression, Janis Fortune said.
In 2010, he had two car accidents in a three-month span. Relatives said it became clear that Fortune was suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. The family put him in charge of their estate in Newberg, with a hazelnut orchard and maple, apple, pear and walnut trees. Fortune pulled Gravenstein apples right off the tree for a snack.
Fortune, who never married or had children, moved into the nursing home in 2014.
“He always had a smile,” said his brother Gary Fortune. “He walked around humming songs and loved to read books. Toward the end of his life, that’s what I remember most.”
— Zack Cherkas
Jean Massamore painted America’s landscape.
April 4, Kentucky
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Jean Massamore helped to open the first art museum in Dawson Springs, Ky., finding grants, renovating the building and filling it with photos of the town’s coal mine and work by local artists. She also added her own paintings, watercolor images of oceans, mountain ranges and national parks.
“That was her heart and where she got to be heard,” said her granddaughter Lee Anne Teague. “That was something that was all her own.”
Massamore, a great-grandmother of 14 who went back to school at 68 to study writing, died April 4 in her granddaughter’s home after contracting the coronavirus at River’s Bend Retirement Community in Kuttawa, Ky. She was 94.
Massamore was born in 1925 in Beulah, a small mining town in western Kentucky. An only child, she moved with her parents to Dawson Springs and graduated from the Memphis College of Art in the 1940s.
In 1946, Massamore married Richard Lavere Massamore, a World War II veteran. The couple co-owned Massamore Tax Services for more than 40 years.
While working with her husband and bringing up three children, Massamore helped raise money for the Kentucky Historical Society. She also served on two art guilds and volunteered in a hospital, where she taught children with mental and developmental disabilities how to paint.
Massamore believed art had the power to heal, Teague said.
“She was constantly learning, constantly remembering,” her granddaughter said.
— Alexa Mikhail
Carol Brock’s family life centered around the farm.
April 5, Washington
For more than 10 years, Carol Brock drove a flatbed truck stacked with 7,200 pounds of asparagus to a nearby food processing plant. Soon, the asparagus cultivated on her family farm in Pasco, Wash., would be sent to supermarkets across the region.
After unloading 360 boxes, she would drive back to the farm to manage the books, her three children and those working in the fields.
“Her family was centered around the farm,” said her daughter Kathy Brock.
The grandmother of four, who had been staying at the Regency Canyon Lakes Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Kennewick, Wash., died April 5. She was 87.
Brock was born in Spokane in 1932. She moved with her family to Walla Walla, where she was raised. In 1949, one of her friends said she knew two boys from a nearby town who needed dates for the senior prom. Brock decided to take the taller of the pair, and, after getting a look at her date while he worked, she made a green satin dress for the occasion.
“She took one look at him and thought, ‘I got a pretty good deal going here,’ ” her daughter said.
The couple attended Washington State University, where Brock’s sorority house bordered her boyfriend’s fraternity house. They dropped out after two years, unable to afford the tuition, and married in 1952.
They moved to Seattle, where Brock took a job as a secretary to help pay her husband’s tuition at the University of Washington.
In 1963, they settled onto the farm in Pasco. While Frank Brock managed the fields, Carol Brock kept the books and drove the asparagus truck, often wearing pink lipstick. She sewed quilts for the walls, gingham pillows for the couches and curtains for the windows.
The house, their daughter said, was “like out of a country magazine.”
When her four grandchildren were born, Brock created intricate quilts and canvas paintings to hang above their cribs, with patchwork teddy bear shapes and scenes inspired by the children’s story “Goodnight Moon.”
At 87 and still living independently with her husband, Brock’s nighttime oxygen levels started to fall. After a stay in the hospital, she moved into the nursing home, where her husband visited every day, fully expecting Brock to return home to the family farm.
Though the nursing home went on lockdown in mid-March, Frank Brock was still allowed to visit. He soon fell ill with covid-19. The family believes he contracted the virus during a visit to the home.
Carol Brock fell ill days later. Her husband, who was on a ventilator, never had the chance to say goodbye. He eventually recovered.
“Every time I look at something, it reminds me of her,” Frank Brock said of his wife of 68 years.
— Zack Cherkas and Molly Burke
Mildred Hill went back to school to learn how to care for others.
April 7, Michigan
Mildred Hill had an open-door policy at her two-story, red-brick home in Detroit. When friends and family needed a place to sleep or a home-cooked meal, they came over for biscuits, ribs, greens and peach cobbler.
Hill learned to cook from her mother, who had lived in Arkansas.
“She cooked every day. Soul food, every day,” said Carolyn Johnson, Hill’s daughter.
Hill, a longtime beautician who went to college to become a certified nursing assistant, died April 7. She was 75 and had been living for about four years at Riverview Health and Rehab Center North in Detroit.
Hill was born in 1944 in Forrest City, Ark., about 50 miles from Memphis. In the rural community, she grew up picking cotton, fishing and caring for her four younger siblings, said Korey Hill, her son. After graduating from high school, she moved with her family to Michigan.
Hill married in 1973 and had a child, divorcing from her husband a few years later. She had three children from other relationships and never remarried.
In the late 1970s, Hill attended cosmetology school and became a hair stylist. Years later, she decided to attend college to become a certified nursing assistant.
“She thought [helping people] could be her way of giving back,” her son said.
The grandmother of 11, who loved planning family picnics and cookouts, moved into the nursing home in 2016. Though she had dementia, she still enjoyed cutting hair. She also took up crocheting.
“She devoted her life to her four children and countless others who were ever in need of a home or a strong foundation,” her son said.
— Chloe Hilles
Johnny James helped establish water treatment plants in developing countries.
April 9, Connecticut
In 1968, when Roberta James-Brown was 7 years old, a car sped through a stop sign and struck the family’s Rambler near their home in Bloomfield, Conn.
Though her mother and three siblings were unharmed, James-Brown had a broken tooth and cuts on her face. A stranger took her to the emergency room for stitches. Soon, her father rushed in from work and whisked her home.
“It was one of those ‘hero moments,’ where my big, strong dad was carrying me to the car,” James-Brown recalled.
Johnny James, a father of four who helped establish water treatment in developing countries, died April 9 at Kimberly Hall North in Windsor, Conn. He was 85.
Born to farmers in Valdosta, Ga., James was one of eight children. He rose early to tend the livestock, cornfield and watermelon patch before heading to school. After he graduated from high school in 1950 at 16, he waited two years and joined the Army.
In 1956, he moved to Hartford with his wife, Pauline, and worked as a machinist. He later inspected nuclear boilers and eventually started his own company making casting molds.
Three of his four children were born in Hartford, where his wife owned a hair salon. In the 1970s, James traveled to the Philippines and later to Haiti to help establish water treatment facilities.
“I had working parents, and they had a strong work ethic,” James-Brown said. “And that instilled a strong work ethic in the kids that they raised.”
After the couple divorced, James moved back to Georgia. He later moved into the nursing home in Connecticut, where his daughter lives. Though he had dementia, he could always remember the names of his great-grandchildren, Za’Niyah and Athen, who would visit with Hershey’s bars.
“He loved sharing the chocolate with them,” James-Brown said. “It was their thing.”
— Michael Korsh
Patsy Hampton danced through life with her family.
April 10, Georgia
Patsy Hampton was only supposed to stay for a few weeks at the Sadie G. Mays Health and Rehabilitation Center in Atlanta, regaining strength after a fall in her home in January.
She often called Letitia Washington, her daughter, to talk about wanting to be home again, watching “Family Feud” on television and reading the Bible when she woke every morning at 5:30 a.m. Most importantly, she wanted to get back to her family, her daughter said.
Hampton, still living in the nursing home, died at a hospital on April 10. She was 60.
Hampton spent her entire life in Atlanta, where she was born in 1959. The middle of five children, she began working out of high school as a housekeeper at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at the CNN Center.
At 30, Hampton married Harry Watkins, who worked as a maintenance worker, eventually moving into a three-bedroom house near downtown with their two dogs, Snowball and Rambo. As an active member of her Baptist church, Hampton was involved in fundraisers and the chorus. On the second Saturday of the month, she played church bingo.
Hampton often hosted barbecues on her front lawn. At Christmas and Thanksgiving, she took great care preparing potato salad, turkey, dressing and green vegetables. She danced with her family to gospel music or, when the mood struck, to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect,” her daughter said.
“ ‘You need to sit down. You can’t be moving like that this old,’ ” Washington recalled telling her mother, who had three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Hampton danced anyway.
— Alexa Mikhail
James ‘Ram’ Ballen showed how to live ‘a beautiful life.’
April 12, Vermont
Growing up outside of New York City, James “Ram” Ballen didn’t feel right. He loved the outdoors and balked at the energy and pace of the city.
Attending college in London, he spotted a flier on the Tube for a nearby spiritual gathering and decided to attend. Soon, he was using the name “Ram,” or “servant of God” in Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism.
For years, he taught others how to embrace serenity and peace, said his wife, Anne Black.
“He was like a role model. He showed me how to live a really beautiful life,” she said. “It is very rare to encounter someone walking on this Earth the way he did.”
Ballen, a psychotherapist who made frequent trips to India for spiritual retreats, died on Easter Sunday at the Birchwood Terrace nursing home in Burlington, Vt. He would have turned 68 the next day.
Ballen immersed himself in psychology for much of his life, often conducting sessions while sitting cross-legged on the floor with a cup of tea. When Black, a community psychologist, counseled wounded veterans in their home, they often wanted to sit close to her husband, she said.
“He was gifted at creating safe places for people to stop and be with themselves,” Black said.
The couple had no children, but Ballen was close to his wife’s two children from a previous marriage. When he felt himself declining mentally in 2007, he saw a doctor right away. His mother had Alzheimer’s disease, and he was afraid he might develop it, Black said.
At 55, he had mild cognitive impairment. The dementia worsened, and by 2016, he settled into the nursing home.
“He was deeply situated in his soul and in his heart,” Black said. “His essence was totally intact and continuing to evolve. He was a pure being of light and beauty.”
— Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
April 17: A Washington Post investigation finds that hundreds of nursing homes with publicly reported cases of the coronavirus were cited more than once by government inspectors in recent years for violating federal standards meant to prevent and mitigate the spread of infection.
John ‘Jack’ Towne was at home on the water.
April 17, Maine
John “Jack” Towne thrived on the water.
Born in Providence, R.I., in 1928, Towne followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a harbor pilot and helping naval vessels maneuver through the congested waters off the Northeastern coast. He eventually piloted nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers.
“He was very much an outdoorsman,” said his son Ron. “He liked to spend time around the water.”
Towne, a World War II veteran, died April 17 at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough. He was 91.
Towne’s life on the water began when he was a child in Nova Scotia, Canada. He went to high school in Providence and then entered the Merchant Marine. When a cargo vessel caught fire off the coast of Iceland, Towne was forced to evacuate in a lifeboat and spend four days, including his 18th birthday, at sea, Towne’s son recalled.
Towne’s tenure in the Merchant Marine was cut short. At the end of World War II, manpower was still needed in Europe, and Towne was drafted into the Army.
In Germany, during the post-war U.S. occupation, Towne worked with artillery. After his service, he shadowed harbor pilots, eventually earning a first-class pilot’s license in 1955 — the same year he married his wife, Marilyn Beckett. The couple had three children.
Ronald Towne recalled his father taking him and his two siblings out on tugs that hauled aircraft carriers and battleships.
Towne would spend 19 years piloting aircraft at Newport Naval Base, where he was eventually promoted to chief pilot. In 1974, Towne and his family moved to Maine, and Towne spent 11 years piloting nuclear submarines at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
Towne, with six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, moved into the nursing home for veterans in 2019 after suffering from complications of Parkinson’s disease. Before that, he spent years in a condominium that overlooked the Portland Harbor.
“He would listen on the navigation channel on the scanner to the pilots,” his son said. “He was just fascinated with ships. He could observe that right from his condo. He had a bird’s-eye view of the whole harbor.”
— Catherine Buchaniec
Patricia Plante never stopped learning.
April 17, Arizona
Patricia Plante decided to go back to school when her daughter was in college. In Glendale, Ariz., the pair sat together in several classes, studying mathematics.
The degree helped Plante, who dropped out of high school to marry, move into management at retail stores.
“I was incredibly proud of her,” said Cheryl Abraham, Plante’s daughter. “Who couldn’t be proud of her? She didn’t just go back to college; she got her associate degree.”
Plante, a grandmother of three, died April 17 at Lake Pleasant Post Acute Rehabilitation in Peoria, Ariz. She was 84.
Born in 1936 in Lowell, Mass., Plante and her seven siblings lived relatively well in the years after the Great Depression. At 16, she married Raymond Plante, who would go on to serve in the Korean War and receive the Purple Heart when, as an infantry medic, he suffered severe injuries.
After the war, he worked in construction and later in book binding. The couple had two children, born on the same day in September, 12 years apart.
“I was insistent. I wanted my brother to be born on my birthday, because I thought that’d be the best present ever,” Abraham said. “So she said to the doctor, ‘I would really love to have this baby on my daughter’s birthday,’ and the doctor said, ‘I can’t guarantee that, but we’ll try to make it work.’ And sure enough, they managed to do it.”
In the family’s home in Lowell, Plante often played Scrabble and Monopoly with her children. She threw pool parties and cooked a roast on Sundays, with green beans plucked from her garden. On special occasions, Plante cooked stuffed grape leaves using a recipe learned from a neighbor with Lebanese roots.
In 1977, the family moved to Arizona. Plante worked as a sales associate at Burlington Coat Factory and at Smitty’s, a major retail chain. She retired in 2009, working long after her husband died.
She eventually became a member of the Ladies’ Auxiliary, playing bingo with other women.
“She was a feisty woman,” her daughter said. “Always put together.”
— Emma Edmund
Phyllis Wyant, born in England, loved her daily cup of tea.
April 18, Nevada
A steaming cup of tea often reminded Phyllis Wyant of home.
Born in Northampton in central England, she immigrated to the United States in the 1960s and spent years walking four miles to work at a hotel in Las Vegas, where she cleaned rooms. Every day before the journey, she made time for Lipton tea.
“She was ornery and sarcastic and funny and stubborn. She loved her family fiercely,” said Tracy LaMonica, her daughter.
Wyant died in the hospital on April 18 after staying at the Heights of Summerlin in Las Vegas. She was 80 and had seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Born in 1940, Wyant was adopted at age 2. Her adopted father died in his sleep when she was 4. By age 8, Wyant was working a paper route in Northampton to help support her family.
She married Christopher Wyant in 1958, when she was 18, and worked as a nurse. The couple, who had two sons, decided to move to Canada. There, they had a third son. They moved to California a few years later and had their daughter. In 1969, the couple’s 2-year-old son drowned in a swimming pool.
Wyant and her husband, who worked as a hairdresser in the television industry, split in 1976. Wyant settled in Las Vegas in 1984, when LaMonica was 14. Without a nursing license in the United States, Wyant worked as a maid at the Maxim Hotel. She later got a job at the copy center in a hospital and eventually managed medical records.
Just before she was about to retire, Wyant’s grandson was in a motorcycle accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury.
Wyant showed up in the hospital every day for months to help with his rehabilitation, relying on her nursing experience to help advocate for his care. As he began to recover, she sat by his side with a cup of tea.
— Molly Burke
Ella Marie Gremmel DuBois’ life was shaped by Dust Bowl hardship.
April 18, Kansas
Ella Marie Gremmel DuBois grew up on a farm in Kansas during the Dust Bowl, sidelined by ear infections and stuck inside doing chores while her nine siblings worked outside.
In her own home years later, she spent hours cleaning shelves and furniture and wrapping and storing books and clothing in plastic, much like she did in the 1930s in tiny Agra, Kan., about 220 miles from Wichita.
“Her job was to dust, and it really affected her,” said her oldest son, Dwight DuBois. “I guess only people that lived through it could understand that fear.”
DuBois died at Brighton Gardens of Prairie Village in Kansas April 18. She was 92.
As a girl, DuBois rode her pony to the one-room schoolhouse a couple of miles away from her home. In high school, she met her future husband, LeRoy Clyde DuBois. They married when she was 19 and were together for almost 70 years.
When her husband returned from serving in the Navy during World War II, DuBois used her salary as a secretary to supplement the family’s income while her husband studied at Kansas State University. He worked as a professional sales trainer for most of his life.
They spent 50 years in Birmingham, Ala., where Ella DuBois volunteered at the children’s hospital. At home, she passed along her love of grammar to her four children, said Marjean Brooks, her daughter.
“We got the literary genes,” Brooks said. “She couldn’t stand it when people didn’t have proper English.”
All four of DuBois’ children became proficient writers, and two have published books.
Though DuBois spent much of her life in Alabama, her family members said she always considered Kansas home.
“They were farmers,” Brooks said. “They lived on the land, they lived from it. They felt really at peace there. Whenever they went to other states, it never quite felt like home, especially to Mom.”
— Eleanna Eimer
April 20: Nearly 1 in 10 nursing homes in the United States publicly report cases of the coronavirus, The Post reports.
Agnes Greene was a fierce advocate for son’s education.
April 23, New Jersey
In New Jersey in 1955, Agnes Greene refused to let her son repeat kindergarten.
Despite excelling in academics, Jeffrey Sammons was deemed too emotionally immature for first grade. Greene disagreed. She contacted members of the local NAACP. She spoke to members of the school board. She took the case to a high-ranking school official.
And at the beginning of the new school year, Greene’s son started first grade, right on time.
“She believed that education was the passport to success and was committed to doing everything she could to make sure that I received the best education that I could, and that I would go beyond high school,” said Sammons, now a history professor at New York University.
Greene, who worked for years in a department store and danced well into her 80s, died April 23 at the Hampton Ridge Healthcare & Rehabilitation center in Toms River, N.J. She was 89.
Greene was born in Fairfield Township, in southern New Jersey. She gave birth to her son one year after graduating from high school.
A single mother, Greene and her son lived with her mother and stepfather until she married in 1974 and moved back to Fairfield Township. Sammons said his mother wanted him to live a better life than she did.
“ ‘Jeff, you are your mother’s greatest project,’ ” Sammons recalled a friend once saying.
When Sammons was in middle school, he was nearly dropped from college preparatory classes. Greene insisted the school test her son again to justify the decision. The intervention worked, Sammons said. He was placed back on track.
Greene saw her son graduate from college, earn a master’s degree and later a doctorate in history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Through missionary work, Greene traveled to nursing institutions and private homes to pray with the ill.
In 2011, Greene was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Sammons said his mother, who took up tap-dancing as a girl, still liked to dance to soul music. She never lost her manners. She greeted others properly, and she complimented friends and strangers. And until the end, she always offered others something to eat.
“She was known for her elegance, kindness, gentleness, but was also a fierce fighter against injustice,” Sammons said.
— Cadence Quaranta
Edna McBride persevered through painful losses.
April 24, Idaho
When she was a kid, Edna McBride’s nickname was “Toughie.”
Born in Walla Walla, Wash., and raised in the farming community of Southwick, Idaho, she spent hours chasing cows and ducks around her family’s pond. She hunted deer to help put food on the table and looked after her four siblings.
McBride, a great-great-grandmother who spent 25 years serving drinks to sawmill workers, died April 24 at the Life Care Center of Lewiston. She had just celebrated her 100th birthday.
McBride spent most of her life in Idaho. She dropped out of school after eighth grade and went on to marry John Roy Watson, a sawmill worker. The couple had four children before Watson died in 1954, leaving McBride a widow in her 30s.
She remarried and had two more children before divorcing her second husband in 1980. As a single mother, she worked service jobs in restaurants and bars. She married a third time but later divorced.
“Her sole existence was to make sure that her kids were taken care of, as well as she could do on her own most of the time,” said Catherine Voss, her daughter.
McBride spent years working as a bartender at Joe’s Roundup Tavern in Clarkston, Wash., where sawmill workers in the small town on the Idaho-Washington border would stop by for drinks and conversation.
“You knew that when you were in Joe’s and my mom was bartending, you didn’t have to worry about much,” Voss said.
McBride suffered the loss of three of her grown children. One son died in the Vietnam War, another in a motorcycle accident years later. Her daughter suffered a brain aneurysm.
“As the saying goes, you should never lose your kids. And she lost three of them, so it was a pretty difficult situation for her,” Voss said. “But she made it. She survived … and I think it made her stronger in the long run.”
McBride moved into the nursing home as her eyesight weakened. In January, her family — 10 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren — gathered to celebrate her 100th birthday. As she told stories from a century of life, Voss said her mother’s mind was as strong as ever.
“All I can say about [covid-19] is it’s a long, miserable, painful death,” Voss said. “And that’s what my mom experienced for the last two weeks of her life. It just slowly sucked the life out of her. And it was not something I ever want to go through again.”
— Michael Korsh
Audra Fisher was content caring for family and roses.
April 25, West Virginia
As a young woman, Audra Fisher lived in a house that smelled of roses. They bloomed around a trellis fence and along an archway that led to the front door.
When she moved into a new house in the rolling hills of Ravenswood, W. Va., in the 1970s, she quickly planted rose bushes and maintained them for nearly five decades. Fisher cared for her yellow roses like children, said her granddaughter Brenda Morgan.
The great-great-grandmother, who was staying at the Eldercare Health and Rehabilitation in Ripley, W.Va., died April 25, one month after her 92nd birthday. Her family picked roses and white lilies to adorn her casket.
“Grandma didn’t need anything big and fancy,” Morgan said. “It was the simple things that made her happy. Grandma was rich because she was content.”
Fisher was born in 1928. She never knew her father and was raised by her mother and uncle. The family struggled to pay the bills, and Fisher would later tell her daughters stories of eating biscuits and gravy for dinner nearly every night.
She attended a one-room grade school down the road from her home, but her formal education ended in middle school. Fisher managed. She taught herself to sew children’s clothing and eventually created elaborate quilts that she sold from her home.
She had three daughters and raised them alone. She eventually married in 1965, but her husband, Weldon Fisher, died seven years later.
Fisher never remarried, instead focusing on music, gardening and her family, which eventually grew to 10 grandchildren, 31 great-grandchildren and 19 great-great-grandchildren. All of her children and many of her grandchildren still live in West Virginia.
Morgan said she remembers standing at the kitchen sink with her grandmother while learning to peel potatoes.
“She’d just do it slick as can be, and mine — half the potato was gone,” Morgan recalled. “She would say, ‘Honey, that’s fine.’ I always knew everything was going to be okay when I was with Grandma. I don’t think she really did ever know how much she truly affected our lives.”
— Gillian Wanosky
Edward Carter, a local celebrity, preferred the quiet life.
April 28, South Carolina
Ed Carter couldn’t walk through the local Kmart in Columbia, S.C., without being stopped by shoppers. He had spent more than 20 years anchoring the nightly news at WIS-TV, an NBC affiliate.
“He had a reporter’s mind-set — always wanted to report things as they were. Never brought opinions home,” said his daughter, Kimberly Carter.
Carter, a resident of the Wildewood Downs nursing home in Columbia, died April 28. He was 81.
Born and raised in Virginia, Carter moved around the southeastern United States, taking radio and television jobs before settling into the anchor’s chair in Columbia in 1972. Over the years, he interviewed astronaut Ron McNair and poet and author James Dickey. He covered the 1976 Democratic National Convention.
When Carter retired in 1998, he was awarded the prestigious South Carolina Order of the Palmetto, a civilian honor for lifetime service and achievement, from then-South Carolina Gov. David Beasley. Carter kept it stashed in the back of his closet.
“He is a real introvert, which is unusual in this line of work,” his daughter said. “He never took advantage of his notoriety and hated the attention.”
Carter spent much of his free time in a body shop he set up in his garage, airbrushing Dodge Vipers and Shelby Cobras.
When he was 74, Carter was diagnosed with progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder. Though he lost his ability to speak, Carter wrote a note to his daughter, telling her he wanted to live long enough to see the total eclipse in 2017.
“I didn’t think he would, but sure enough, he totally got to see it,” his daughter said. “We hung out outside his nursing home until it was completely over.”
Kimberly Carter wants to spread her father’s ashes in the western United States, where he has fond memories of long motorcycle trips.
“He just loved being out on the open road,” she said.
— Daniel Konstantino
April 29: The number of nursing homes with publicly reported cases of the coronavirus doubles in a week, with more than 1 in 6 facilities nationwide acknowledging infections among residents or staff.
Roslyn Pulitzer, a warrior for equality, didn’t die alone.
April 30, New Mexico
At Identity House, a volunteer-run LGBTQ+ counseling center in New York City, Roslyn Pulitzer was something of a legend.
In the 1970s, she was at the center of the women’s rights movement in New York, working with organizers Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan. As a leading figure in the Manhattan chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus in New York, she lobbied to change laws and launch protections and services for survivors of rape.
“When she would walk into the room, all conversations would stop, because they wanted to talk to her,” said her spouse, Kay Lockridge, who also volunteered at the Identity House.
Pulitzer, who was staying at Advanced Health Care of Albuquerque, died April 30. She had just turned 90.
Born in the Bronx in 1930, Pulitzer grew up in Queens and later moved to Manhattan. In her youth, she earned money as a nightclub photographer. She eventually earned a master’s degree in social work from Fordham University and opened a private psychotherapy practice.
In 1983 at Identity House, Pulitzer met Lockridge, nine years her junior.
In 2005, they married in Vancouver, B.C., where same-sex marriage was legal. In 2013, they married again in a Santa Fe County courtroom after New Mexico legalized same-sex marriage — two years before same-sex marriage became the law of the land.
“I never believed in love at first sight before that,” Lockridge said. “But that’s pretty much what it was for me.”
At Identity House, Pulitzer led peer groups, counseling adults and eventually becoming the clinical director and executive director.
Drawn to the landscape of New Mexico, Pulitzer and Lockridge moved to Santa Fe in 1997, where Pulitzer pursued her longtime passion for photography. Her work was shown in several New Mexico galleries and was used as the cover art for a Santa Fe photography book.
In March, she was transferred to the nursing home for what was supposed to be short-term rehabilitation. She died with her partner of 36 years by her side.
Even after they were married, the couple opted not to use the word “wives”; they thought it was patriarchal.
The marriage itself, however, was critical. Legal recognition for same-sex couples, first from the state of New Mexico and ultimately from the U.S. Supreme Court, allowed Lockridge to be with Pulitzer at the very end.
“We used to say, as so many men and women do, ‘Oh, it’s just a piece of paper,’ ” Lockridge said of a marriage certificate. “Well, not when something like death happens. … When Roz died, I was there with her because I’m her spouse. I wouldn’t have been allowed had I not been her spouse.”
— Binah Schatsky
Janice McNelly juggled kids and school, fueled by coffee and books.
May 8, Iowa
As a high school English teacher, Jan McNelly had a kitchen table covered with stacks of essays and a steaming cup of coffee.
For nearly three decades, she taught at schools in Minnesota and Alaska, eventually becoming vice principal of North Pole Middle School. There, she brewed 20 cups of coffee a day and continued to drink it long into her retirement, when she worked with the League of Women Voters in Iowa to help restore voting rights to former felons.
“She was sleep-deprived for 25 to 30 years,” said her son Trent McNelly.
McNelly died May 8 after being transported to the hospital from the Westbrook Acres nursing home in Gladbrook, Iowa, about 70 miles north of Des Moines. She was 79.
McNelly, who grew up in Cedar Falls, Iowa, married Chester McNelly in the summer of 1965. When she graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a teaching degree three years later, her two sons were toddlers.
“She was a full-time homemaker and a full-time student,” her son said. “It was an around-the-clock thing.”
McNelly liked to read, often describing the nuances of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter” to her students and children. After she finished grading papers at night, she would turn to books by her favorite authors, Robert Ludlum and Stephen King.
“She always had a paperback book in her purse, just in case there was time to kill,” her son said.
McNelly, who separated from her husband in 2003, became president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa, focused on voting rights.
“She was trying to help others, she was reaching out to her community,” her son said. “She wasn’t somebody that just put in the bare minimum of effort and then went home.”
McNelly, who had three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, liked bright colors as much as her coffee. She sewed her curtains out of orange fabric and often wore yellow dresses.
“She just wanted to brighten things up,” said her friend, Sara Paup.
— Zack Cherkas
Richard ‘Dick’ Doughty, a WWII vet, carried a lifelong love for the ocean.
May 14, Delaware
Richard “Dick” Doughty spent most of his life at the beach.
As a young man in Sea Bright, N.J., he worked as a lifeguard every summer. He met his future wife on the beach and eventually taught their three children how to ride the waves and body surf. Until he was 90, he swam laps at the nearby Ship Ahoy Beach Club, where he was a member for more than six decades.
“[I have] many, many memories of standing on his shoulders,” said his daughter Leslie Hensley. “[He was] teaching us how to swim and navigate the ocean.”
Doughty, a World War II veteran, died May 14 after living at the Westminster Village nursing home in Dover, Del. He was 93.
Doughty grew up in Fair Haven, N.J., and joined the Navy after high school to serve in the war. He spent time in the Mediterranean and finished his naval service in the Philippines. Once, he had to abandon his ship after it was struck by a bomb, his daughter said.
“He always talks about having to jump off the edge of the boat,” she said. “That was one of the favorite stories.”
After the war, Doughty attended Rider College on the GI Bill, graduating with a business degree. He married his wife, Gloria, in 1956. The couple would spend 64 years together, with Doughty managing retail stores in New York, New Jersey and Ohio.
Every summer, he would return to the beach on the weekends with his family, burying a keg of beer in the sand and eating hamburgers with friends. When he retired, he often took a chair to the beach and spent hours watching the ocean.
The grandfather of five moved into the nursing home to be closer to Hensley, who lives nearby. He often read National Geographic magazines and World War II novels.
“My father was always pleasant and optimistic right up to the end. He would always smile,” his daughter said. “Everybody that knew him would say he was the most easygoing, smiling, nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.”
— Chloe Hilles
May 17: Weeks into the pandemic, government inspectors cited nursing homes operated by Life Care Centers of America, one of the largest chains in the industry, for violating federal infection-control standards, The Post finds.
Lois Juanita French Clinton Brewer connected past, present with her many names.
May 17, Mississippi
Lois Juanita French Clinton Brewer liked using her full name. Each part — her middle name, maiden name and the last names of the two men she married — kept her connected to family.
Brewer, a great-great-grandmother who spent years working in a chicken-processing plant, died May 17. She was 92 and had been living at the Bedford Care Center in Hattiesburg.
Brewer was born in Union, Miss., the second youngest of 10 siblings, all who went by their middle names growing up. Her father died when she was 4, leaving Brewer and many of her siblings in the care of a single mother and grandmother.
Brewer began to use her first name when she started working, first at a pecan-processing plant and then the chicken-processing plant as the assistant to the inspector on the assembly line. In waterproof shoes, she stood in pools of running water, cutting off chicken parts at the direction of the inspector.
“She ended up with her finger a little bit crooked from where she held the scissors for years,” said Becky Clinton Newman, her daughter.
Brewer married Leonard Ray Clinton, who served in the Army and National Guard, in 1946. They had three children — Newman, Butch Clinton and Van Allen Clinton — before divorcing 22 years later. In the 1970s, she married James Brewer and later divorced. After retiring, she volunteered at a school for children with disabilities and then at an elementary school, working with children with special needs.
“She thrived on that,” Newman said. “She did that as long as she could.”
Lois Juanita French Clinton Brewer was buried with her full name on her tombstone.
“We could see her being greeted by her mother and her daddy and her sisters and brothers,” Newman said. “Can you imagine all the laughter?”
— Alexa Mikhail
Olga Pura Montoya left Mexico to make a fresh start.
May 19, Minnesota
Olga Pura Montoya arrived in the United States just in time for fireworks.
In July 1960, at 27, she traveled with her husband from Mexico and settled in Milwaukee. With her face turned to the sky, she watched the city’s Fourth of July celebration, said her daughter, Christina Wunrow.
Montoya, a meticulous gardener, died May 19 at Lake Minnetonka Shores, a nursing home in Spring Park, Minn. She was 86.
Montoya was born in Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, about 50 miles from Monterrey, Mexico. She stopped going to school in third grade to take a job helping her mother clean houses. In 1958, she married Francisco Montoya and left the country two years later with her husband to settle in the United States. Her oldest brother had immigrated to Milwaukee and had been helping family members obtain green cards.
“They moved here for a better life, just like any other immigrant,” Wunrow said.
In Milwaukee, the pair settled in a mostly White community. Wunrow said her parents were determined to learn English.
“They never took anything for granted,” she said. “They were grateful for what they could obtain, and they were proud of it.”
The family was struck by violence when Montoya’s 48-year-old husband died during a robbery outside of a bar. Montoya continued to work, and in her spare time, she cultivated a garden with geraniums and mums. She liked to watch birds while planting new flowers, her daughter said.
As Montoya grew older, she started falling in the backyard. She eventually broke her hip and moved into the nursing home.
“Her inner self was a very joyous, happy person,” Wunrow said. “And she loved her garden.”
— Catherine Buchaniec
Sandra Sue Dooley, a restless spirit, embraced the odds.
May 20, Nebraska
Sandra “Sandy” Sue Dooley understood risk. She ran a successful bingo hall and frequently visited casinos. In 1984, she married her second husband, Willie Dooley, in Las Vegas.
Still, the odds of contracting the coronavirus terrified Dooley, who, in May, alerted a local news station about the need for more protective gear at the Life Care Center of Elkhorn in Nebraska, where Dooley was a resident. A few days later, on May 20, Dooley died. She was 79.
“She kept telling me if she got it, she would die,” said Tammy Nolan, Dooley’s daughter.
Dooley was born in Fremont, in eastern Nebraska, in 1940. After graduating from high school, she married and had three children. She worked for Campbell Soup and then in a local bingo hall. After divorcing her first husband, she married Dooley and went on to open a laundromat, a bingo hall and a steakhouse.
Dooley often wore her hair styled, with bright makeup and jewelry, her daughter said. A fan of horse racing and card games, Dooley and her husband often vacationed in Las Vegas.
“She didn’t like being home,” Nolan said. “She was always doing something.”
Dooley’s husband died in 2003. After complications from a sore on her foot, Dooley had to have the lower portion of her leg amputated.
While recovering, she moved into the nursing home for what was supposed to be a temporary stay. There, the great-grandmother played cards and bingo.
“It drove her crazy to be in that nursing home,” Nolan said. “She wanted to get out and about.”
— Catherine Buchaniec
Charlotte Pollock, a child of war in Germany, built a life in America.
May 21, Pennsylvania
In southwestern Germany during World War II, Charlotte Pollockalways slept fully clothed.
The bomb sirens were unpredictable, and Pollock, in her early 20s, was often forced to flee to bomb shelters. She would return to the family’s small house in Ludwigshafen am Rhein, about 50 miles from Frankfurt, where her mother was hiding Jewish people in the attic, said Pollock’s son, Steven.
Pollock, who settled in the Philadelphia suburbs after the war and opened a children’s clothing store with her husband, died May 21. An eight-year resident of Langhorne Gardens nursing home near Philadelphia, she was 97.
Pollock immigrated to the United States in 1948 after marrying Leonard Pollock, an American translator with the U.S. Army in Germany.
The couple lived in New Jersey and settled in Levittown, a suburb of Philadelphia. They opened a children’s clothing store in Trenton with a large sign in neon lights that spelled out Kiddieland.
In 1951, Pollock’s husband fell ill. Still new to the English language and American culture, Pollock managed to take over the store for a stretch, said Steven Pollock, the couple’s only child. In 1985, after 35 years in business, the couple closed the store and retired.
In 2000, Charlotte Pollock suffered a major stroke and lost the ability to talk, read or walk. She moved into the nursing home, and though doctors told her son that she would never recover, Pollock started to talk again. She began wheeling other residents around the home. She eventually went home.
“I wasn’t willing to ever accept what the doctor said, or for lack of a better term, give up on her, because I always saw her deal somewhat successfully with every challenge that she faced,” her son said.
Pollock’s husband of 57 years died in 2004. In 2012, after a fall, she moved back into the nursing home.
Gloria Ramos, her friend and caregiver for 17 years, described Pollock’s life as one of resilience.
“I would say she was the strongest woman that I have ever met,” Ramos said.
— Cadence Quaranta
Gloria Adams honed a creative eye and fashion sense.
May 23, Virginia
Gloria Adams refused to allow her daughters to take a bad school picture. She styled their hair with a curling iron, ribbons and bows, a different look for every year.
“It did make me feel special that she took the time — washed my hair, pressed it — it looked nice,” said her daughter Aleta Adams-Allen.
Adams, a mother of six who worked on the family farm and went back to school to earn her high school equivalency diploma, died May 23 after living at ManorCare Health Services Fair Oaks in Fairfax. She had just turned 93.
The fourth of nine children, Adams was born in Southampton County, Va., on the state’s southern border. She married Richard Adams in 1944 and raised her children while working in a clothing factory in Portsmouth.
The family grew their own produce — corn, string beans, lima beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, squash and cabbage — and raised pigs and chickens. Adams blanched vegetables, canned fruits and helped her husband cure and freeze meat.
“You’d feel like you’re at the supermarket,” her daughter said of the family’s freezer during the harvest.
Adams earned her GED in 1979, the same year Adams-Allen graduated from high school.
Adams’ husband worked on the family farm during the day and did sanitation work at night. Adams worked from home as a hairdresser and saved money by making her children’s clothing and the upholstery in her house on a Singer sewing machine that she kept in the den. When skirts with poodle designs were popular among young girls, Adams made one for her daughter Betty to wear to the county fair.
“Whatever was popular at the time, she could put it together,” Betty Littlejohn recalled.
Adams-Allen said her mother would often take her to the store to pick out fabric for a dress, hat, suit or pants.
“Folks would comment, ‘You’re so lucky, your mom can sew,’ ” Adams-Allen said. “When I left home, I made a lot of my clothes, too.”
Adams, whose husband died in 1988, had nine grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren.
“One thing I’ve realized later in life, after I left home, is just how much she really supported whatever type of things that we wanted to do,” Adams-Allen said. “She helped us do it.”
— Zack Cherkas
Roger Clyde Greene, science teacher, was beloved by generations.
May 24, Illinois
With a biology degree from Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago, Roger Greene was well-positioned for medical school.
But the lifelong Chicago resident opted to become a math and science teacher instead, exploring chemistry and biology with several generations of students at an all-girls Catholic high school on the city’s South Side. A history and sports buff, he often talked about Black history, World War II and the trials of the Chicago White Sox.
For a stretch, Greene was the only Black male teacher at the school, said his older brother, Andrew.
“All the students liked him,” Andrew Greene said. “He was interested in people being educated.”
Roger Greene, a resident at the Villa at Windsor Park nursing home in Chicago, died May 24. He was 69.
Born in his parent’s second-floor apartment in 1950, Greene developed a passion for math and science as well as baseball, basketball and track, particularly the 440-yard dash.
“The track coach asked him if he wanted him to help get him a scholarship,” Andrew Greene recalled. “My brother, being the independent individual that he tended to be, turned it down.”
After graduating from high school in 1968, the younger Greene decided to pursue a science degree. His brother was studying chemistry at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., but Greene decided to stay closer to home and attend Roosevelt University in the heart of downtown.
He was denied admission to his first-choice medical school, Meharry Medical College, a historically Black college in Nashville, where Andrew Greene had been accepted two years earlier. Though the younger Greene was accepted into another medical school, he decided to pursue teaching.
“Mr. Greene was my all-time favorite teacher in life!” one of Greene’s former students wrote online after his death. “I still remember the science lessons he taught me at Academy of Our Lady. He encouraged me to continue my studies in science. If I had more teachers like him that actually cared for students’ understanding in college, I would have gone on to study medicine. God bless his soul and I thank God for having known and learned from him.”
Greene never married or had children, but he was close to his brother’s three children.
His teaching career was cut short by the onset of Parkinson’s disease, which Andrew Greene said vexed his younger brother for the last 15 years of his life.
“He was a kind individual, a humanitarian who believed in advancing his students as far as they could go and challenging them to be the best that they could be,” the elder Greene said. “And he did it with love and kindness.”
— Brett Haensel
Roderick Kunz wooed his wife with poetry.
May 25, Wisconsin
Roderick “Butch” Kunz was a commercial artist, but in his spare time, he painted.
He painted men drinking beer and smiling. He painted a semi-truck for his son’s 9th birthday. He painted murals for his church’s Sunday school with his wife, Dorothy Gayhart-Kunz. One of his favorite paintings was of a sailboat entering port in overcast weather, the sailors in their fall gear.
“He’s a very meticulous person, and anything he did was very detailed,” his wife said.
Kunz died on Memorial Day at the Bethel Home in Oshkosh, Wis., about 50 miles from Green Bay. He was 88.
After graduating high school in Appleton, Wis., Kunz joined the Navy and served aboard the USS Wasp aircraft carrier during the Korean War. After his service, he earned an applied arts degree from the University of Wisconsin.
He began to draw logos for nightclubs and restaurants, said his son Charles. Kunz used everything from airbrushes and stencils to paint and charcoal.
Kunz married his first wife in the late 1950s. They divorced in the early 1980s, and Kunz married Gayhart, a longtime acquaintance. They had both been regular audience members at the Oshkosh Symphony Orchestra.
“I was at the grocery store with one of my sons and he saw my car, so he stopped and he went in the grocery store and then he made it appear as if it was just an accident,” his wife recalled. “He came down one aisle while I was coming down the same aisle, and we ‘accidentally’ met.”
They each had two sons from their previous marriages, and as they joined families, Kunz considered all four children his own.
At home, Kunz often worked in an art studio in his basement, designing napkins and place mats and painting in his spare time. When he retired, he listened to classical music, read history books, smoked cigars and watched the Green Bay Packers on television.
Suffering from Parkinson’s and other health problems, Kunz moved to Bethel Home in 2019.
Every day for three years, he left a poem for his wife on a mirror. As a boy, his mother had required him to recite poems to overcome a stutter, and he developed a lifelong love of poetry.
“He knew them all by heart,” Gayhart-Kunz said.
— Catherine Buchaniec and Binah Schatsky
Lowell Parker Dabbs, a professor, helped those in need.
May 25, California
Even away from campus, Lowell Parker Dabbs was known as “the professor.”
He spent years teaching literature, English and creative writing at Bakersfield College north of Los Angeles and later volunteered at the Braille Institute in Santa Barbara, walking to the campus when he was too old to drive.
“He had just a commitment to helping other people, all through his life,” said his daughter, Ellen Parker.
Dabbs, a resident at the Palm Terrace Care Center in Riverside for three months, died on Memorial Day. He was 95.
Born in 1924 in Burlington, N.C., Dabbs was commissioned in the Navy as an ensign during World War II and finished his service in Japan. In the mid-1950s, he graduated from the University of Southern California with a master’s degree in English.
He met his wife, Phyllis, a speech professor, when they were both teaching at the community college. In 1961, Dabbs designed a mid-century modern family home with an atrium.
“He really [enjoyed] just having the outdoors accessible,” said Parker, the couple’s only child.
The family often spent the holidays camping or sailing in Mazatlán, Mexico. Once, Dabbs piled his wife and daughter into a Volkswagen Beetle for a drive across the country.
Dabbs had a lifelong commitment to helping friends, family and students and maintained a modest “Pass It Along Fund,” offering money and other help to those in need, Parker said. But his passion was teaching, and when his daughter became an elementary school teacher and later a principal, he offered some sound advice.
“He told me, ‘Just teach them the difference between there, their and they’re. And to, two and too,’ ” Parker recalled. “He taught English. That was just based on his experience as a teacher.”
— Chloe Hilles
Glen Abrams, born poor, valued hard work and education.
May 26, Indiana
Glen Abrams was born on a mountain in Kentucky with the help of a doctor who arrived on horseback. As a young boy in the early 1940s, he lived with his family in a wooden house with a tin roof and no electricity or plumbing. Every day, he walked to a nearby creek to fetch water.
“It was a hardscrabble life,” his wife, Elizabeth Abrams, recalled.
That hardship drove Abrams to earn a college degree later in life and go on to build an industrial lighting company in New Castle, Ind., northeast of Indianapolis.
Abrams, a lifelong horse lover, died May 26 at the Stonebrooke Rehabilitation Center in New Castle. He was 78.
Abrams was born in Kentucky and raised in Richmond, Ind. He attended Eastern Kentucky University for a year in 1960, but dropped out when his parents couldn’t afford the tuition.
He took on a factory job and met his future wife, whom he married in 1965. Seven years after he dropped out of college, Abrams decided to pick up his studies. So did his wife. They both earned education degrees at Ball State University in Indiana. Abrams taught high school and then opened the lighting company.
“We had a division of labor,” his wife recalled. “I certainly did not want to talk to customers. He enjoyed talking with people.”
Abrams told both his daughters that he expected them to attend college, said Katherine Fleming, his oldest daughter. Fleming graduated from Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business. Her sister, Angelita Abrams-Rains, earned two master’s degrees from Ball State and a third from Indiana State University.
“They knew what it was like to be a have-not, and they did not want their daughters to be have-nots,” Fleming said of her parents. “They’re two of the hardest workers I’ve ever known.”
In 1976, Abrams and his wife moved to a farm in New Castle, where Abrams managed dozens of horses. He gave away his last two, Cleopatra and Resurrection Sunday, when Alzheimer’s disease prevented him from riding any longer.
“I just remember him sitting, crying,” his wife said. “In a way, it ended a very large portion of his life. He had a couple more years [on the farm] after that, but his Alzheimer’s was getting worse and worse, and it got to the point that he wasn’t talking about his horses anymore.”
— Eleanna Eimer
Shirley Cosson, with grit and positive thinking, didn’t let disease hold her back.
May 27, Maryland
Even after multiple sclerosis stole her ability to walk with ease, Shirley Cosson refused to stop moving.
She volunteered at a home for senior citizens. She started a meditation business and taught weekly classes. She sang in a local choir, wearing a vest with pockets for ice to prevent overheating, a symptom of MS.
“Everybody that knew her was so amazed at her determination to live the best life she could, and to do what she could for her family and friends,” said her husband, David Cosson.
Cosson, a grandmother of two, died May 27 at the Wilson Health Care Center at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg. She was 78.
At 5 feet tall, Cosson was an “everyday activist,” said her son Chuck. When her two boys began to develop allergies, Cosson pressed Congress and the National Institutes of Health on allergy issues and set up a hotline for allergy sufferers.
In the early 2000s, Cosson tutored students who had been suspended or expelled from high school. She also worked with the Mental Health Association’s Friendly Visitor Program, spending time with older people in need of companionship.
Cosson was diagnosed with MS when she was 48. For years, she suffered medical setbacks, but she pushed on through positive thinking and “a firm belief that it made a difference,” her son said.
She eventually recorded two albums. She called her first, a collection of poems and songs, “Waking up to Spirit: How I Learned to Change My Mind, Change My Life.”
“In the rose or hawthorn, a bud expands,” she wrote. “This little knot explodes a lot, so slowly, growths unseen. Until a bloom of petals fills our eyes, small screen. And tells our brains with knowing, our minds can do the same.”
— Cadence Quaranta
Lorene Miller, through job at the bank, knew everyone in town.
May 27, Wyoming
Christmas was Lorene Miller’s favorite time of year.
At home in Worland, Wyo., about 140 miles from Yellowstone National Park, she dressed in colorful Christmas vests and served candied popcorn and burnt-sugar ice cream to her son, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Miller lost her own mother at a young age and vowed to always put her family first, relatives said.
A retired banker, Miller died May 27 at the Worland Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center. She was 96 and had shared a room with her husband of 76 years, who died a week earlier amid a coronavirus outbreak at the home.
Miller grew up in Missouri without much family. Her mother died when Miller was 12, and her father abandoned the family, forcing Miller and her sister to live with relatives on family farms. She married her high school sweetheart in 1943. Johny Miller, who was serving in the Navy during the war, received a one-day pass to attend his wedding ceremony.
The couple had a son, Mickey, who died of cancer at 12. They had a second son, and soon, Miller built her life around family, friends and the church.
She worked at Stockgrowers State Bank in Worland for 24 years, first as a teller, then head teller, then head of bookkeeping. Once, in 1975, she hustled employees to safety in a mechanical room when a gunman began to fire, said her son Dan Miller. No one was injured.
Working at the bank allowed Miller to get to know nearly everyone in the community of 5,000 by name.
Every winter, Miller and her husband rented a camper and traveled to a campground in Brownsville, Tex., to play cards and line dance until the Worland winter melted away.
The couple moved together into the nursing home on April 15. With declining mobility, they decided they needed more help, their son said. Weeks later, several residents at the center tested positive for the coronavirus.
Miller’s husband died first.
“Yes, she was positive for coronavirus, but I believe that her [death] was more from a broken heart,” said Chelsey Miller, the couple’s granddaughter.
Miller is buried next to her husband in a cemetery in Worland. She is dressed in a Christmas vest.
— Michael Korsh
Kenneth Alton Millette had an artful eye, ear for music.
May 27, Massachusetts
As a photo editor at the women’s magazine McCall’s in the early 1970s, Kenny Alton Millette thrived. Fashionable and artistic, he displayed his photos on the walls of his apartment.
Though he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and went on to spend much of the rest of his life in and out of hospitals and long-term care facilities, he never lost his passion for the arts, his siblings said. For years, he painted and played the guitar.
“He enjoyed making people smile,” said his sister Debbie Millette-Sanchez. “Art was there all along.”
A 10-year resident of Sudbury Pines Extended Care in Massachusetts, Millette died May 27. He was 71.
Growing up in South Boston, relatives said Millette had great highs and deep lows. He loved magic and acrobatics. The oldest of six, Millette used his siblings to practice his stunts in the living room, hurling the youngest in the air.
After high school, Millette went to New York to work at the magazine. He left after his 19-year-old brother died of an accidental drug overdose. He went on to work at an electronics company before moving into hospitals and other long-term care facilities. He continued to draw and paint, often with watercolors.
His family visited regularly.
“It was a tragic life,” said his sister Donna Simpson. “But not one without love.”
— Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
Doris Labrie waltzed with her husband for years.
May 27, New Hampshire
Every week for more than a decade, Doris Labrie dressed in an evening gown to dance with her husband. Among dozens of others, the couple of 71 years glided around the Carousel Ballroom in Manchester, N.H.
“They enjoyed the beautiful outfits they would wear,” said their daughter Sharon Labrie. “They felt they had a blessed life.”
Labrie, a great-grandmother of 13, died May 27 in the Courville at Manchester nursing home, where she had lived for eight months. She was 96 and a lifelong resident of the city.
Labrie grew up in a poor family, but her parents managed to serve hearty French Canadian cuisine, which inspired a lifelong love for cooking.
In the fall of 1946, Labrie went on a blind date in the basement of a local church, playing cards late into the evening. She married Aime Labrie 18 months later. The couple loved music and often sang “Near You,” written and recorded by Francis Craig in 1947.
Labrie cared for the couple’s three daughters while working at a furniture store and later at a beauty supply company. During Christmas, she made tourtière, or pork pie, before the family went to midnight Mass.
When her husband developed a heart condition, Labrie quickly changed her cooking style.
“They were pretty much inseparable,” Sharon Labrie said. “When he had to change diets, she got a new cookbook to learn how to make heart-healthy meals.”
The couple both moved into the nursing home in the fall of 2019. Labrie’s husband died soon afterward.
Labrie, who struggled with dementia, grew more confused when the facility locked down because of the coronavirus, her daughter said.
“She was very proud and loving,” Sharon Labrie said. “She was the strong one. She had the will and joy to live.”
— Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
Constance Barnello was a family matriarch who shared her sweet tooth.
May 27, New York
Connie Barnello kept a stocked candy jar wherever she lived. Gumdrops. Skittles. M&M’s. She passed the candy along to her children and 14 grandchildren. And in 2018, when she moved into the Centers at St. Camillus, a nursing home in Syracuse, N.Y., the candy came with her.
She often slipped chocolate bars to the nurses, stuffing their pockets before they left the room, said Barnello’s granddaughter Jana Barnello.
“She had the biggest sweet tooth, and she loved sharing it,” her granddaughter said.
Barnello died May 27. At 93, she was a lifelong resident of Upstate New York.
Barnello was born near Syracuse and lived with a single mother and older brother. After graduating from high school, Barnello married, had six children and went into business with her husband, Joseph, at his father’s floral shop. For 40 years, she curated bouquets.
“Everything had to be just so,” her granddaughter said.
Over time, Barnello became the matriarch of the Polish-Italian family. On Sundays, she served meatballs. On holidays, the family would cram into her basement around two long wooden tables. Her great-grandchildren called her “Gigi.”
“She had a special relationship with each of us,” her granddaughter said. “She always made you feel like you were the most important thing she was doing.”
After Barnello’s husband of 49 years died in 1997, the couple’s son Joe stopped by for coffee. He recalled his mother crying on the porch.
“I was just talking to your father about each of our grandkids,” Barnello said, according to her son. “I was going through each one, keeping him updated.”
Eventually, Barnello started traveling, visiting D.C. with family and taking bus trips with church groups. She moved into the nursing home after a stroke in 2018. Once the home was under quarantine, her family could no longer visit.
“It felt like we were in this movie, and we knew how the ending was going to come out,” her son said. “All we do is see numbers. You forget that those are all people and families. It hurts.”
— Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff
Veola Price Patterson cooked for her neighborhood, church.
May 27, North Carolina
To Veola Price Patterson, Thanksgiving wasn’t just a family holiday. It was a neighborhood event. Every year, she would prepare Thanksgiving meals for friends on the west side of Charlotte, where she lived for decades.
She put lettuce under her potato salad to make the plate pretty. She made fried apple pie for members of her church. She cleaned and cooked chitterlings for her neighbors.
“She could cook just about anything and a lot of people really loved her food,” said Adrienne Curbeam, her granddaughter.
Patterson died May 27 at Peak Resources nursing home in Charlotte, where she had lived for nine years. She was 95.
Born and raised in Pineville, a suburb of Charlotte, Patterson married and had five children. She eventually divorced and moved with her family into Charlotte.
She worked for years in the dietary department at the Carolinas Medical Center and sang bass in her church choir on Sundays. At 4-foot-9, Patterson often danced around the kitchen and garden, her granddaughter recalled.
“She was always talking junk and joking, humming and singing all the time,” Curbeam said. “She used to call us ‘lil’ one,’ and we thought it was so funny. Something about the tone and volume.”
For her 90th birthday party, Patterson left the nursing home for a family cookout. The grandmother of 12 ate chicken and fish and sat around with dozens of friends and relatives.
It was one of the few times, her granddaughter said, that Patterson wasn’t the one doing the cooking.
— Daniel Konstantino
Billie Lee Turner, a noted plant expert and professor, loved sunflowers.
May 27, Texas
Billie Lee Turner, a renowned plant taxonomist, spent the better part of 30 years expanding the plant resources center at the University of Texas at Austin, eventually turning a collection of 200,000 specimens into more than 1 million.
Turner, a longtime professor, chaired the botany department. In 2017, the university renamed the resources center after him.
Turner, an expert on the sunflower family, died May 27 at the Hearthstone Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Round Rock, Tex., about 20 miles from Austin. He was 95 and had spent a month under the care of the center after contracting the coronavirus in an assisted-living facility.
Turner loved plants, his sons said. He would pull off on the side of the road during family vacations to collect and press flowers. For Turner, there was nothing like going out into the fields, particularly in places such as the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, which span parts of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
“We would stop in the 110 degrees and pull out the ice chest and have a Coke,” said Turner’s son Billie L. Turner II. “And that was back before air conditioning.”
Turner was born in 1925 in Yoakum, Tex., about 90 miles from Austin. He grew up during the Great Depression, at times eating out of garbage cans, said his son Matt Turner.
He said his father as a young man wrote poems and memorized passages from Shakespeare. Turner’s keen memory would serve him well in his eventual career as a taxonomist, where he could look at a pressed plant and determine whether it had ever been described by science.
Turner joined the Army when he was 18 and eventually received a Purple Heart for his service making bombing runs over Austria and Germany during World War II. He earned degrees in biology and a doctorate in botany from Washington State University.
Turner, who was divorced, had two biological sons and two adopted sons.
As a professor, he taught biology and other classes and served as director of the university’s herbarium.
“He thought the pursuit of knowledge and truth was beautiful and special,” Matt Turner said.
— Emma Edmund
Ethel Lynn Radford, a computer whiz, marched for women’s rights.
May 27, Florida
When personal computers were introduced in the late 1970s, Ethel Lynn Radford was ecstatic.
A legal secretary in Pensacola, Fla., she volunteered to use her company’s first computer and took a rigorous certification test stacked with algebra and reasoning questions. She easily passed, said her daughter, Shari Hannah.
Radford eventually helped set up one of the company’s first computers and volunteered to teach computer skills to co-workers. When she was in her 70s, she worked in the media department at the University of West Florida.
“She was always interested in the new and upcoming. … What she thought would be important,” her daughter said.
Radford died at Bayside Health and Rehabilitation Center in Pensacola on May 27. She was 92.
Born in Philadelphia in 1927, Radford grew up during the Great Depression. She worked in a cough drop factory and later in a meatpacking plant during World War II, producing food for soldiers. She saved up her money for clothing and tap-dancing lessons.
She eventually attended a two-year business school and married George W. Lynn, a Navy veteran who was stationed in Hawaii during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The couple settled in Florida after the war.
Radford raised four children while working as a secretary. She was always interested in technology, but feared women would be shunned from the industry, her daughter said. In 1974, Radford traveled to Tallahassee with other women to show support for the Equal Rights Amendment.
She would say: “If you feel strongly about something, speak up,” said her son Andy Lynn.
Radford remarried in 2000 after her first husband died. Throughout her life, she danced to swing and big-band music. Even after she retired, she traveled to nursing homes and senior communities around Florida as a member of a tap-dancing troupe.
Radford, struggling with dementia, moved into the nursing home in 2015. When she was dying, her son played Bing Crosby’s “Don’t Fence Me In” from a distance, so she could take her final breaths to music.
— Alexa Mikhail
Betty Bowersock, dressed in crimson, cheered on the team.
May 27, Oklahoma
Betty Bowersock went to her first football game at the University of Oklahoma in the mid-1960s. After that, she rarely missed a game.
She and her husband, Ray, had the university’s logo tiled into the bottom of their swimming pool. They drove a 1976 Ford van decked out in university colors, with red carpet and a white-tufted leather ceiling with red buttons. The van’s air horn belted out “Boomer Sooner,” the fight song of the Oklahoma Sooners football team.
“It has been something that has been passed down generations,” said her grandson, Blake Bowersock, a 2001 University of Oklahoma graduate. “She just went to one game — I couldn’t even tell you who it was — and then just absolutely fell in love with it.”
Bowersock died May 27 at the Bartlesville Health & Rehab Community, about 45 miles from Tulsa. She was 86.
Bowersock was born in 1933 outside of Tulsa. She married, had two children and became part of the fourth generation of Bowersocks to operate a local grocery store. Bowersock and her husband served the community for more than 40 years.
Bowersock had a soft spot for stray animals, taking in dogs and cats, her grandson said. She loved to host family and visitors. But her passion was University of Oklahoma football. She often took her three grandchildren to games, nudging them to get up and cheer for the team’s mascot.
“She would be the first one to stand up and clap and get people into [the game],” her grandson said.
— Emma Edmund
May 28: The coronavirus death toll in the United States surpasses 100,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the milestone “a heart-breaking reminder of the horrible toll of this unprecedented pandemic.”
Florence Tilles supported children and loved golf, ice cream sundaes.
May 30, Rhode Island
Florence Tilles often turned heads when she walked into a room. She wore a purple fur coat to the theater. She celebrated her 86th birthday in a pink polka-dot swimsuit. She loved big belts and bold necklaces.
“She just always stood out,” said her daughter Donna Tilles Stahl.
Tilles, a child welfare social worker, died May 30 at the Hallworth House Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, less than two miles from her childhood home in Providence, R.I. She was 98.
Tilles grew up in Providence. She later attended the University of Maryland, where she met her husband, Norman. They married in 1945, two years after her graduation, and had three children.
Tilles considered herself a hip and creative mother, her children said. When there wasn’t extra money to purchase wallpaper for the den of the family’s house in Pawtucket, Tilles let her children and their friends draw pictures on the walls.
Every June, Tilles drove her children to the Narragansett Pier, about 40 minutes from Providence, where they crawled under the fence before the pier opened and rode the waves on air mattresses.
“She would get excited for the littlest things,” Tilles Stahl said. “She just enjoyed life.”
Tilles, who had two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, often laughed until she cried. She sometimes ordered ice cream sundaes for lunch. Even as she gradually lost her eyesight, she rarely missed a show at the Trinity Repertory Company in Providence.
Her husband, who owned an insurance company and was heavily involved in Jewish causes, died in 2005. Tilles continued to travel with family. Despite two knee surgeries, she played golf into her 90s. She often said she wanted to die on the 18th hole.
“She just didn’t want to be disabled,” Tilles Stahl said. “She wanted to be able-bodied and strong. That was her image of herself: as a strong, independent, self-sufficient woman.”
— Cadence Quaranta
Leona Higgins, a miner’s daughter, found beauty in flowers.
May 30, Colorado
By all accounts, Leona Higgins was a survivor.
As a child, she recovered from typhoid fever. She grew up amid the Great Depression and the swirling dust and drought of the eastern Colorado plains. She became the first in her family to graduate from high school and outlived her eight siblings.
Higgins died May 30 at the Peaks Care Center in Longmont, Colo., outside of Boulder. She was 94.
“She had a hard life, but I think that’s what made her tough,” said Vickie Higgins, her daughter-in-law. “I think she would have made it to 100.”
Born in 1926 in a small town in Colorado near Burlington, Higgins grew up during tough times, said Terry Taylor, her daughter. The family stuffed the windowsills with wet rags and rugs to protect against the dust. Once, when Higgins was 9, she failed to recognize her father, a miner who had returned home after months of work.
When she was 10, her family moved to Leadville, Colo., a mining town in the heart of the Rocky Mountains that’s more than 10,000 feet above sea level. Higgins liked to bake, but her recipes often failed her.
“One time, she wrote to Betty Crocker to [find out] how to adjust a recipe for that altitude,” her daughter said. “And Betty Crocker wrote her back and said, ‘Well, we don’t know, ‘cause nobody lives that high up.’ ”
After finishing business school in Pueblo, she married Art Higgins, had two children and owned a flower shop.
Every Sunday, Higgins and her husband of more than 65 years drove an hour away to church in Trinidad, Colo. Later, Higgins helped establish a church closer to home.
Even into her 90s, Higgins continued to exercise with elastic bands. After moving among different assisted-living facilities, Higgins settled permanently into the nursing home in March.
“She was a pretty tough lady,” her daughter-in-law said. “She’d been sick with many things over the years and always bounced back, and she just surprised me — how strong she was.”
— Brett Haensel
June 1: More than 25,000 residents are dead as the virus continues to sweep through U.S. nursing homes, particularly those with a history of low marks for staffing and patient care, the federal government reports.
Irene Collins, deeply moral, grounded friends and strangers.
June 3, Ohio
Irene Collins sang in her church choir and helped put on productions at the local theater. So when she moved into a nursing home almost five years ago, her family members weren’t surprised to find her at the microphone during karaoke night, belting out songs by Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra.
“They knew she liked to sing,” said her daughter Gail Legenbauer. “They would always get her involved in any type of singing that was going on.”
Collins died June 3 at O’Neill Healthcare in Bay Village, Ohio. She was 90.
In the days before her death at the home outside of Cleveland, Collins regularly called her family.
“She was just very, very nurturing,” Legenbauer said. “She just provided stability to everybody in the family or extended family. If anyone had hard times, we had so many people living in our house, … they would call my mom, and she would take care of them.”
Collins was born in Detroit in 1929 but grew up in Cleveland. Her first husband died five years after the birth of their daughter, leaving Collins widowed in her early 20s. She remarried and spent 53 years with the late John Collins, with whom she had two more children.
She became active in local politics, supporting the campaigns of Democratic candidates and helping staff phone banks during election seasons. Collins watched two of her close friends get elected to city council. She often told her children about the dangers of racism and prejudice, citing national tragedies such as the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
“She had a deep sense of morality,” said her son, Terry Collins.
In the summers, she volunteered at the local theater, once meeting Barack Obama when he stopped by to deliver a campaign speech before he was elected president. Before she moved into a nursing home, Collins often cooked Italian dinners on Sundays with her family, which includes 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“She never wanted us to worry, even when she was dying,” her daughter said. “There’s nobody like her.”
— Brett Haensel
June 4: Nursing homes nationwide are short on staff and protective gear, including surgical masks, gowns and hand sanitizer, the federal government reports.
Veronica Adams loved the soothing sound of words.
June 9, Louisiana
Veronica Adams loved spoken-word poetry, hearing the cadence of the words when she recited them out loud.
Though she spent most of her life struggling with bipolar disorder, Adams thrived when she was immersed in the arts, including poetry, dancing and reggae music, her family members said.
Adams, a mother of three, died at the Care Center on Florida Boulevard in Baton Rouge. She was 55.
Born in Oakland, Calif., Adams graduated from Merritt College. She started dating Robert Merchant, a taxi driver, and had two boys. Years later, she had a daughter.
Her first bout with mental illness occurred when she was 35. Her son Joshua Merchant recalled manic episodes where Adams would go on spending sprees for toys and food at the local Walmart. She often gave away the toys to needy children and cooked meals for neighbors, he said.
When her mental health affected those around her, Adams knew to check in with her family.
“Even in moments when she would blow up, she would always come back down and say, ‘You know what? That didn’t feel right,’ ” her son said.
In 2000, she moved to Louisiana with her children to be closer to her father’s family. She bounced between manual labor jobs until a severe stroke in 2015 left her physically disabled.
In the nursing home, she frequently saw her children.
“She was the one person in my life who I felt like actually exemplified the concept of unconditional love,” her son said.
— Daniel Konstantino
George Carnegie Smith built a log cabin to share with his wife.
June 11, Alaska
In 1987, George Carnegie Smith decided it was time for another adventure.
He packed up his house in Spokane, Wash., and, at 49, moved with his wife to Soldotna, Alaska, about 150 miles from Anchorage. At 70, Smith built a log cabin and spent almost a decade in the home on Funny River Road, tucked between trees and the Kenai River, until he moved into the Providence Transitional Care Center in Anchorage in February.
Smith died June 11. He was 81.
“He always wanted to build a bunch of little houses, so we could all live around him,” said Susan Peck, his daughter. “That was his dream.”
Smith was born in 1938 in San Francisco but grew up about 75 miles north in Calistoga, where he got his first job as a young boy selling Coca-Cola on the street corner. He eventually became a mechanic and raised four children with his wife, Diane.
He also volunteered as the assistant chief of the Calistoga Fire Department.
Smith “had to do something to help people,” Peck said. “And being a mechanic was not enough.”
When Smith retired, he began to create stained-glass artwork. He also started to cook, even though Peck said he often served burned food when she was a child.
“He had us completely convinced that charcoal was very healthy for us,” she said.
Smith eventually built the green-shuttered log cabin to share with his wife, who still lives there. They were married for 60 years and have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“[My mom] said that my dad made her a better person. And he was so good to other people,” Peck said. “He always kind of knew when someone needed something, and he would reach out to make sure … they were taken care of.”
“He was the 12th person to die of covid in Alaska, but he wasn’t just ‘number 12,’ to us,” she said.
— Chloe Hilles
Barbara Jewel Lee insisted on clean drinking water for her family, town.
June 19, Arkansas
Barbara “Bobbie” Jewel Lee wanted to become a nurse but never made it to college.
Instead, the mother of three crusaded for clean drinking water in State Line, Ark., when the well water that served the small town in the southwestern corner of the state became contaminated. She drove from house to house, urging neighbors to push for a new water system. Eighteen months later, the system went in.
“Mother was a very strong woman,” said Lee’s daughter, Marsha Collins. “She never gave up. She knew what she had to do to survive.”
Lee died June 19 at the Springs of Magnolia nursing home in Magnolia, Ark. She was 91.
Lee spent nearly her entire life in Arkansas. She married Quinton Lee, a cattleman and War World II veteran, in 1946 and went on to have three children. The couple later divorced.
She was heavily involved in the Stateline Missionary Baptist Church. When a congregant died, Lee often spent the night sitting with the body, a tradition within the congregation.
Lee worked at a furniture store and a convenience store for years, then traveled the country to spend time with her grandchildren, attending basketball games, cooking batches of corn dogs and hosting sleepovers.
“She’d get up in the middle of the night — didn’t make any difference what time, the kids wanted macaroni and cheese — Mother would get up and cook for them,” Collins said.
Lee moved into the nursing home three years ago after suffering a series of injuries. She took walks in good weather, made sure her fingernails were pristine and traveled the hallway every night.
“Good night,” she said to the residents and staff.
— Emma Edmund
Yonne Langseth, with a smooth hook shot, taught kids basketball.
June 25, South Dakota
Yonne Langseth played high school basketball at a time when young women were often only allowed to participate in half-court games. She went on to coach youth basketball, impressing her players with a hook shot that she had honed years earlier.
“She really loved working with kids and sharing her game,” said her son Ron Langseth.
Langseth died at the hospital June 25 after living at Avantara Arrowhead, a nursing home in Rapid City, S.D. She was 80.
Born in 1939 in North Dakota, Langseth and her five sisters were raised on the family farm. After graduating from high school, Langseth met her future husband, Garvin, while working in a cafe owned by her family. He had been in town doing construction work, and the two hit it off.
The couple married in 1959 and moved with their older son to Rapid City. They had a second son there, and Langseth stayed home to raise her children.
She eventually got a job at her sons’ elementary school, where she worked in the lunchroom and front office. After she befriended the physical education teacher, Langseth helped coach the school’s basketball team.
“She had a great passion for kids,” her son said. “She just always had that helping heart.”
Langseth also gardened and canned cucumbers she grew into spicy dill pickles. She grew so many tomatoes and cucumbers that she would occasionally sell them to the local supermarket.
When Langseth was 61, she had a stroke and retired from her work at the elementary school. Though she initially suffered from paralysis on the right side of her body, she eventually regained mobility.
After her husband died in 2007, Langseth lived on her own. In 2018, she fell and was found on the floor several days later. The grandmother of four moved into the nursing home.
“She came from a tough generation,” her son said. “You knew you were loved by her, but you didn’t want to get in trouble either, because she was pretty stern. She was resilient yet compassionate.”
— Catherine Buchaniec
July 4: In a Fourth of July address, Trump says 99 percent of coronavirus cases are “harmless.”
Jimmy Lee Reese counseled and prayed for strangers.
July 11, Alabama
Pastor Jimmy Lee Reese once kept cash in his hat to give to others. In Lanett, Ala., about 30 miles from Auburn University, Reese was known to help both friends and strangers.
“My whole entire childhood, I can’t remember a time there was not anybody in the house,” said DiShan Washington, his granddaughter. “They were coming over for prayer.”
Reese, a father of two, died July 11 after living at Canterbury Health Care Facility in Phenix City, Ala. He was 86 and considered his stay in the nursing home God’s final assignment, his granddaughter said.
Reese was born in Eufaula, Ala., which borders Georgia. He dropped out of school after sixth grade and worked odd jobs. At 25, he married Rosie Mae Todd. The couple would spend 50 years together.
Reese became a pastor and spent years in Lanett. When he was in his 50s, he began to grow what looked like scales on his skin, his granddaughter said.
One morning, six months later, Reese’s skin began to soften and return to normal, she said. Reese’s story of healing — how a bright light entered his room, leaving a silhouette of Jesus that appeared on the door weeks later — made local news.
Reese, who lost his wife in 2009, settled into the nursing home after breaking one hip in 2015 and the other in 2016. In a wheelchair, he began to hold prayer sessions in the break room. He sang church hymns in the hallways, and when new residents arrived, he prayed for them, Washington said. After the nurses left for the night, he prayed for them, too.
“You could find him each day going up and down the hallways in a wheelchair, once he stopped walking upright,” Washington said. “He would be in everybody’s room, everybody’s space, just giving them words of encouragement. … Everybody was somebody to him.”
Washington said she believes her grandfather died when he finished what he needed to do.
“I feel like he died too early,” she said. “However, he died empty. He accomplished what he was sent to the Earth to do, and that was to touch and inspire other people’s lives.”
— Cadence Quaranta
Ralph Jones, deeply religious, lived a simple life.
July 24, Utah
Near the mountains of Utah, Ralph “Wayne” Jones raised pigeons.
Disabled for most of his life, Jones had a way with birds and kept about 30 of them in a pen in his yard. A deeply religious man, he never needed much, said his sister Karen Pehrson.
“He taught us a lot about enduring and enduring well and just being satisfied with what is around,” she said.
Jones, who moved into the Avalon Valley Rehabilitation Center in Salt Lake City to receive treatment for a chronic head injury, died July 24. He was 76.
Jones was born in 1944 in Philadelphia. His father worked in law enforcement and moved the family to Salt Lake City when Jones was 2.
On Christmas Day in 1952, Jones, then 8, ran out of his bedroom, tripped over a pile of gifts and hit his head on the floor. The massive injury left him paralyzed on his left side for months and ultimately caused recurring head injuries.
Still, he fished and hiked in the Utah mountains and raised pigeons in the backyard with his father. The younger Jones won awards for his pigeons at the annual Utah State Fair, relatives said.
Jones took classes at the University of Utah but left to serve on missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Struggling with head injuries, he never married or had children. He worked at a grocery store.
“He had a very strong testimony, and he wasn’t afraid to die,” Pehrson said. “He knew where he was going to go and what was going to happen to him.”
At the nursing home, Jones was content, occasionally asking for apples, Pehrson said.
“With all the problems he had, he was just thankful for everyone around him and everything that was done for him,” she said.
— Alexa Mikhail
Aug. 4: For-profit nursing home providers that have faced accusations of Medicare fraud and kickbacks, labor violations or widespread failures in patient care received hundreds of millions of dollars in “no strings attached” coronavirus relief aid meant to cover shortfalls and expenses during the pandemic, The Post reports.
William Zerfuss, a Navy man, retired on the beaches of Hawaii.
Aug. 29, Hawaii
In his Navy cap, William Zerfuss sat for hours on the beaches of Hawaii, watching the surfers and feeding the mongooses with a lemonade in his hand. He often struck up conversations with strangers, sharing stories about his service in the Korean War aboard a naval repair ship.
“He was in just for four years, but it just became such a big part of his life,” said Diane Zerfuss O’Toole, his daughter.
Zerfuss, a resident of the Yukio Okutsu State Veterans Home in Hawaii, died Aug. 29. He was 87.
Zerfuss was born in 1932 and grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he fished with his father and played football at just 130 pounds. After graduating from a vocational high school, he served as the printer from 1951 to 1955 on the USS Shenandoah, which traveled from its port in Virginia to areas of the Mediterranean, including Algeria and Lebanon.
On a blind date at an ice-skating rink in 1963, he met the woman he would go on to marry. William and Gail Zerfuss had two children. Zerfuss eventually opened a business, producing metal plates for posters and album covers.
Zerfuss continued to fish for most of his life, and eventually he took up golfing and rollerblading, his daughter said. He planned family picnics for years in New York, overseeing gatherings with dozens of relatives. With season tickets to the New York Jets, Zerfuss made friends with everyone sitting near him in the stadium.
“He was just an outgoing, warm, huggy kind of guy,” said Carla Nager, his niece.
Zerfuss traveled to Hawaii twice a year to visit his daughter and her family. During his visits, he went fishing for tuna and mahi-mahi.
At 85, Zerfuss, whose wife died in 2016, moved permanently into an assisted-living facility in Hawaii and, later, to the veterans home.
“He was a regular guy — extraordinary to us,” Nager said.
— Cadence Quaranta
Sept. 9: A Post analysis of data from more than two dozen states finds the coronavirus death rate is more than 20 percent higher in majority-Black nursing homes compared with majority-White facilities.
Teresa Marie Sidor found joy in skiing, family.
Sept. 11, Montana
Growing up in Great Falls, Mont., near five waterfalls that spanned the upper Missouri River Basin, Teresa Marie Sidor thrived outdoors. She sat for hours by a pond and tended to a duck she named Luigi. She rode her bike around the neighborhood and skied in the mountains.
“She had a motion that you would just stop and watch; it was so beautiful on the slopes,” said her sister Debra Sidor Tanner.
Known as “Risa” to family members, Sidor died Sept. 11 at the Montana Mental Health Nursing Care Center in Lewistown. She was 61.
Sidor was one of six siblings born about 150 miles northwest of Glacier National Park. In junior high, she discovered a passion for skiing and spent nearly every weekend practicing in the mountains.
Sidor took great care in everything she did, her sister said. She kept her hair perfectly coifed. She was usually the last to leave the dinner table, because she ate food carefully, one piece at a time. In high school, she was nominated for junior prom queen.
“If any of my sisters or I could have been considered pretty, I think Teresa Marie was the prettiest of all of us,” Tanner said.
Sidor’s life changed dramatically when she was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 22, a few years after graduating from high school. Never married, she lived in group homes and mental health centers around the state, returning home for weddings, birthdays, graduations and sporting events, her sister said.
“She was there,” Tanner said. “She was … funny, sweet and kind.”
Christmas was Sidor’s favorite holiday, and her family staged parties for Sidor and other residents. Her mother brought trays of cookies. Her brother played Santa and delivered gifts. Other siblings chipped in for decorations and holiday music. The family collected gloves, hats and socks for the residents.
Tanner said her sister inspired several family members to become counselors and had a lasting effect on her nieces and nephews.
“She was able to help teach my children that empathy and that sympathy and that understanding of things that are not the same as you,” Tanner said. “I think her life was important.”
— Rachel Baldauf
Viola Ackerman made a home on the family farm for 50 years.
Oct. 7, North Dakota
Growing up as a pastor’s daughter came with perks for Viola Ackerman.
In rural North Dakota in the 1930s, the family had running water and indoor plumbing. Between the children at church and her 13 siblings, Ackerman always had a friend. Her father ordained her wedding in 1944.
Ackerman, who had eight children, 15 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren, died Oct. 7. She was 94 and had been living at St. Gabriel’s Community nursing home in Bismarck, N.D.
Ackerman was born in 1925 in Hull, Iowa. Her family moved to Linton, in south-central North Dakota, where she dropped out of high school and met her future husband, Theophile Ackerman, at 17.
It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.
“He just pursued her,” said Shirleen Piela, the couple’s daughter. “He kept asking, and so she finally gave in. The first time he came to the house to pick her up, he was very nervous, because it was the minister’s daughter.”
They married in 1944, and Ackerman moved to her husband’s family farm northeast of Linton. For the first time in her life, she gave up running water and indoor plumbing.
“She maybe expected a little bit more, but I think she soon realized this is what it is,” said the couple’s son LaVern Ackerman. “You make the best of it.”
Ackerman tended the garden and the chickens. Until the family got indoor plumbing in 1958, she carried buckets of water to a tub to bathe her children every Saturday night. She helped her daughters put curlers in their hair for church the next day. After church, she fed chicken noodle soup and pie to her family.
Ackerman lived on the farm for 50 years. Her grandchildren often visited, helping to gather eggs, bake cakes and pull the wagon out to the clothing line to hang up wet clothes.
“It felt like home there,” said her oldest granddaughter, LaRae Doll. “I felt like I belonged. She was so patient and so sweet. She was a very peaceful person.”
In 2015, Ackerman suffered a stroke and moved into the nursing home. When the home closed to visitors because of coronavirus regulations, Ackerman struggled.
“Her family meant the world to her. That was her life,” Doll said. “She had to die alone without her family. A woman who would have wanted everybody around her and would have wanted that comfort really wasn’t allowed that comfort at the end.”
— Eleanna Eimer
Oct. 29: As thousands of nursing home residents died, the federal government cleared most facilities of any health and safety violations, including homes that saw widespread outbreaks and deaths, The Post finds.
Dec. 21: A nationwide effort to vaccinate nursing home residents begins. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 80,000 men and women have died.
About this story
This report is part of an ongoing series of stories documenting the devastating toll of covid-19 in America’s nursing homes, the government’s response and the systemic challenges in an industry responsible for the welfare of more than 1.3 million vulnerable residents.
The 51 stories in this installment were written, in collaboration with Cenziper, by student journalists Mikhail, Konstantino, Quaranta, Korsh, Schatsky, Burke, Baldauf, Buchaniec, Haensel, Hilles, Edmund, Cherkas, Eimer and Rosenzweig-Ziff from Northwestern University’s Medill Investigative Lab and Wanosky from the West Virginia University Reed College of Media. Syd Stone and Bernadette Kinlaw from the Medill Investigative Lab and Emily Corio from WVU contributed to this report.
Story editing by Ziva Branstetter. Copy editing by Rachael Bolek. Photo editing by Nick Kirkpatrick. Design and development by Audrey Valbuena. Additional development and design editing by Lucio Villa. Data reporting by Joel Jacobs.
Debbie CenziperFollowDebbie Cenziper is a Pulitzer Prize-winning contributing reporter on the Investigative team. For 25 years, Debbie has explored social issues, including affordable housing, education, voting rights and mental health care. At The Post, she has focused heavily on Washington, D.C., writing about development issues that affect poor neighborhoods.
Alice CritesFollowAlice Crites is a researcher and librarian who specializes in government and politics and has covered elections since 1994. She was a member of the team that won 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for the coverage of Roy Moore and the subsequent sting attempt on the Post.More from The Post