Family forced to close business after illness

Central Publishing Co.'s owner, Roger Collins, has been hospitalized since July. His family made the difficult decision to shutter the business, which was started by Roger's mother 55 years ago and supported many members of the family.

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December 4, 2020 - 3:29 PM

In just five months, COVID-19 has completely upended the lives of the Collins family.

Patriarch Roger Collins became infected with the virus after a family trip to Texas for the Fourth of July holiday. He’s been hospitalized since then, and will have to deal with its effects for the rest of his life.

Roger’s circumstances caused the family to shutter its business, Central Publishing, in October. The family business was started by his mother 55 years ago, and employed and supported most of the family.

“It was gut-wrenching,” Billie Collins, Roger’s wife, said of the decision to close the business. 

And of the coronavirus: “This has had pretty traumatic effects on our family.”

On Tuesday, the family learned the difficult news that Roger will need to keep his tracheostomy tube for the remainder of his life, and likely will always need some sort of supplemental oxygen or a ventilator. Without the tube in his throat, his airway would collapse, Billie said.

“That’s something we can deal with,” Billie said. “I do believe he’ll be able to come home eventually.”

Meanwhile, he remains at a Kansas City-area hospital. Doctors had hoped to transfer him to a rehabilitation facility, Billie said, but “as soon as we think maybe he can be moved, something goes wrong and we start all over again.”

Three weeks ago, facing increasing COVID cases, hospitals across the region closed their facilities to visitors. It’s unlikely they will allow visitors until after the start of the new year.

Still, Billie visits every day. Roger’s room includes a large window, and Billie and family watch him through the window. They write messages to hold up to the window for Roger to see.

“I really just want to be there. He feels comfortable if I’m there,” Billie said. “I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to do that. I need to work.”

Billie stays with her son, Kris, and his family in Lawrence. She hasn’t returned to Iola since the night Roger was hospitalized. 

Roger Collins, at right, helps to repair a machine at Central Publishing Co. Photo by PHOTO COURTESY OF BILLIE COLLINS

THE FAMILY struggled to tell Roger they needed to close Central Publishing.

Roger’s mom, Lillie, started the business when he was just 3 years old. His father had heart issues, so his mother was the family’s breadwinner.

His family ran the company for the next 55 years. Both of Roger and Billie’s daughters, Darci Collins and Courtney Andres, worked there along with a grandson. They also employed two others.

Roger, though, was the linchpin. He ran the press, and served as sales representative and plant manager. 

Courtney and Darci did their best to keep the business going for three months, which faced not only the challenge of Roger’s absence but also the economic pressures of a pandemic. The girls kept Roger apprised of the situation, and he knew the business was struggling.  

“He knows what he did there. Nobody else knew how to run the press. Nobody else was a salesperson,” Billie said. 

“The girls really tried. They did everything they could. They didn’t want it to fail while they were in charge. They struggled with telling him. It was gut-wrenching.”

They also worried about their employees, who were afraid they would not be able to find a job during the pandemic. 

“Some people think if you own a business, you’re on top of the world,” Billie said. “They don’t understand what owning a family-owned business entails.”

Darci intended to apply to medical school but put her plans on hold because of the family’s situation. Billie hopes she will still be able to pursue her dreams.

Billie and Roger Collins enjoy a dinner out during happier times. Photo by PHOTO COURTESY OF BILLIE COLLINS

IN SPITE of the challenges, Billie and her family still try to look for the positive moments.

They’re strong believers that their faith in God will help them through this difficult time. 

They appreciate the support they’ve received from the local community, which has included cards, letters of support and monetary donations.

“I want to thank everyone who has helped us and prayed for us,” Billie said. “We’ve been so blessed. I believe God hears our prayers and he’s listening, so keep them coming.”

Billie also hopes friends will “bombard Roger with Christmas cards.”

Cards can be sent to: Roger Collins Rm. 124 ℅ Select Specialties Hospital, 1731 N. 90th St., Kansas City, KS 66112; or to Billie Collins at 601 Rockledge Rd., Lawrence KS 66049.

“We don’t know where this journey is taking us,” Billie said. “We’ve been very blessed and I truly believe God’s not done with him yet. We aren’t quitters, and we’re not going to give up on him.”

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