Since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged one year ago, many of those who have been affected have shared their personal stories with the Register.
We’ve heard from those who became seriously ill, business owners concerned they might lose their livelihoods, students whose bright futures were abruptly waylaid, teachers who had to adapt to new ways of working and many, many others.
The Register caught up with some of them to reflect on how the pandemic has changed their lives and their perspectives.
Roger and Billie Collins
The Collins family shared with the Register one of the most heartbreaking local stories to emerge over the past year.
Patriarch Roger Collins contracted COVID-19 in July, likely after a family trip to Texas. He’s been hospitalized since, spending months on a ventilator. Wife Billie stayed as close to his side as she could, although for several months that meant keeping post outside his hospital window because of visitor restrictions.
In February, Roger was moved to a rehabilitation hospital in Topeka. Though he’s been working hard at physical therapy, he continues to have setbacks. On Friday morning, he was admitted to Stormont Vail hospital in Topeka and was awaiting a surgical consultation because of complications related to various treatments he’s undergone over the months. Specialists have told the family his lungs were badly damaged, and he’ll likely need a tracheostomy for the rest of his life.
They also had to close their long-time family business, Central Publishing, in October.
Billie told the Register on Thursday: “I have learned through all of this that people, not things, make you whole. Love, not loot, gives you meaning and hope. Blind faith is all you have some days and finding yourself down on your knees doesn’t make you weak, it makes you as strong as you can possibly be.
“Our family, friends, customers and even total strangers have picked us up every time we have fallen. Things are just that… things. But having people that love you and care about you and reach out when you feel alone, that is what life is about.
“We lost a 55-year-old, fourth-generation business. We have no money in the bank, no retirement plan, no jobs to return to. But, we have each other and that is priceless.”
Billie said Roger enjoys receiving cards from his friends back home. Send them to: Roger Collins, Room 215, Kansas Rehab Hospital, 1504 SW 8th St., Topeka KS 66606.
Bob and Ginny Hawk
Bob and Ginny Hawk both came down with COVID-19 on Oct. 28 and initially had only mild symptoms. Then things worsened for Bob, a retired businessman who remains active in the community through groups like Iola Rotary. In November, he was hospitalized with bilateral pneumonia. He believes he was more susceptible to COVID because he has rheumatoid arthritis treated with drugs that suppress the body’s immune system. He was placed on oxygen and administered antibiotics and the antiviral drug remdesivir. He also received convalescent plasma, an experimental treatment using the blood of those who have recovered from the virus.
Bob Hawk says now: “It was definitely a difficult time. Really, I feel pretty much back to normal. We’re in Arizona. By the end of December, we felt good enough to come down here. Even after I came here, there were still a few lingering feelings but by the beginning of January, I was feeling pretty much back to normal. To the best of my knowledge, I have no lingering effects whatsoever.
“We had our first vaccination here in Arizona and we’re hoping to get our second shot before we leave. We’ll be back in town soon.”
“Things can sneak up and get you unaware. The virus was definitely real. It was not a hoax. It was a serious concern, and I’m just glad that in Iola we have quality doctors and a quality hospital. I was able to receive remdesivir when I was in the hospital and that made a difference. I was the very first one at the hospital to get the convalescent plasma. Thank goodness for folks like Dr. Brian Wolfe and Dr. Charles Wanker. My wife and I discussed that if Allen County were not part of the Saint Luke’s Health System, would they have had those treatments? I consider myself fortunate. Others were not nearly as fortunate.”
As part of Rotary, Hawk frequently traveled to Kenya to work on various projects. In a recent conversation with one of his friends there, Hawk asked if he’d been able to get the vaccine. “He said nobody in Kenya has gotten it. Sometimes, we forget how lucky we are to have been born in the United States.”
Carri and Mike Sailor
At the start of the pandemic, Carri Sailor, owner of Rookies Sports Bar & Grill, told the Register, “It’s hard to be a sports bar without any sports.”
She and her husband, Mike, wondered how they could keep their business going during the shutdown. Across the nation, restaurants and bars were hit especially hard. Many closed.
Turns out, Sailor found a solution: Technology.
“COVID helped us open our minds. We totally expanded in ways we never thought we’d be able to expand, such as delivery, curbside pickup and carry out. We moved our menu online. We offered family meals. Things we never thought would work for us, but we’ve been blown away by the success we’ve had. We’ve decided to keep it full-time.
“We didn’t offer delivery before but every day we’re impressed by the amount of online orders and deliveries. I think we had 75 deliveries last month.
“We’ve done a lot of things to try to make people feel more comfortable. We applied for a PPE grant and we were able to get a machine from Sonic Equipment to filter our air. We’re getting a new credit card machine that we can take with us on deliveries and curbside pickup.
“I think what helped us is that we never shut down. We showed people in Iola we were there for them. We stayed consistent. And people have been really good to us.
“When this first happened, I was freaking out, wondering if we were going to be able to stay open. And we decided we weren’t going to let that happen. We were determined to get through this. The technology opened up new options to us and we jumped on it. Now, we feel like we can do anything. We’re doing really well and it’s all because we expanded our minds.”
Savanna and Levi Flory
Savannah and Levi Flory’s TLC Garden Center in LaHarpe actually flourished during the pandemic as more people found themselves stuck at home and in need of a hobby.
Savannah Flory says now: “I’ve noticed that I’m — and I’m sure a lot of people are — more wary of others. Like we’ve all developed trust issues. Have they been washing their hands and wearing masks? Did they quarantine like they were supposed to? Have they traveled a lot and could they possibly be contagious and not know it? It’s a strange feeling to have, even with family.
“My grandparents got their vaccines last month, and I’ve had my first dose. We finally were able to hug the other day for the first time in a year. It makes me tear up even thinking that it had been that long!
“As far as business goes, we were extremely blessed in that we were considered essential. People really turned to gardening and improving their outdoor spaces since they were spending so much more time at home. Since a lot of our store is outside, people were able to shop in those areas without masks (socially distanced of course) and I think it gave them a little sense of normalcy.”
Amanda and Chris Belknap
Amanda and Chris Belknap are both teachers in USD 257, and took the pandemic very seriously. Despite precautions, their entire family came down with COVID-19.
Amanda says now: “The pandemic started for us over Spring Break 2020 while watching the news in our home. My first reaction was to double-check our stocked groceries and replenish. Then everything got real when school was moved to online for the rest of the year.
“Our usually very active family was stuck at home. No sport practices, games, or going to the gym. The five of us played a lot of board games, read a lot of books, went on bike rides, and had a lot of family movie nights.
“Summer was unlike anything we’d ever experienced since my husband and I are both teachers. We usually swim at the Iola pool almost daily, go for ice cream, and travel a lot. Summer 2020 was instead filled with more camping, swimming at the quarry, and a small trip to a private home with a pool in Alabama. It was weird not to explore the shops and restaurants, but we made do with a home-packed cooler and ordering groceries once we got there.
“Fast forward to fall and we had missed weddings, birthdays, reunions, book club, and seeing grandparents. We wrote letters, had a Zoom Thanksgiving, and texted family members a lot. If we had to be out, we wore masks and stayed distanced from others. Even returning to the classroom was scary for Chris and me.
“The school year was odd. We taught kids via Zoom and in the classroom at the same time. I think I said ‘Pull your mask up’ in my sleep because that phrase was always coming out of my mouth at school.
“Our three kids did remote schooling from August to December.
“Everything changed for us in late November when Chris was called to quarantine. Over the next month, all five of us had COVID. It was a scary time but filled with so much love and care from our family and friends who would drop off almost daily care packages.
“After we all got better, we were told we had 90 days of immunity. In a way, I’m thankful we all got it because I don’t stress about it like I did before. We’ve even gone to a few restaurants, made a trip to Great Wolf Lodge, and I’ve returned to in-person book club. Life felt almost normal for the first time in 10 months.
“This past month Chris and I were immunized and did well with it. We’ve vowed to our children that this summer will look more like it used to. The pandemic isn’t over, but it seems to be moving in the right direction.”
WHEN schools shut down after spring break, it especially devastated the Class of 2020. High school seniors saw their school careers abruptly ended. No more sports, school plays, forensics or FFA conventions. No prom. Graduations were modified in various ways, as local schools all found unique ways to celebrate their graduates.
The Register kept in touch with some seniors as they moved on to college. They again shared an update.
Haley Carlin graduated with the IHS Class of 2020 and currently attends Washburn University.
Though she was able to move to Topeka and attended some classes in person, many other classes and activities were kept to a virtual setting. It was a very different experience than what she expected.
Carlin says now: “Something really awesome happened last week. I walked out of the student union to do homework outside and all of the tables were filled with people. There were hammocks in the trees and people walking. I don’t think I had witnessed that many people on campus before. This semester has been a lot closer to what I have been told is the normal college experience. Starting in a couple weeks, jazz band will be rehearsing in person again, which is super exciting because I haven’t met most of the other players.
“I am still involved in Christian Challenge and we had to start the semester meeting in small groups in separate places, but now, we are back to Bible study in the same house. Wednesday there were about 15 girls at one staff member’s house and we all sat in a circle and ate pancakes together. We could not have done that a couple months ago.
“My sorority is finally having meetings in person and I can honestly say I know most of my sisters now.
“I know that things are not ever going to be completely normal but it is definitely closer this semester.”
IHS grad Isabella Duke had big plans for college. She moved into her own apartment and got a job in Lawrence, expecting to start classes at the University of Kansas. Instead, all of her classes were moved online. She was heartbroken and alone in an unfamiliar city.
Duke says now: “The pandemic had ended up affecting me so bad that I was almost completely isolated at my house. I was becoming very depressed and very lonely, so I decided to break my lease and come home from Lawrence.
“It was a big decision and I knew that I would miss Lawrence very much, but I knew that I needed to be with my friends and family. I miss my apartment and taking my dog to the big park there, but doing online classes from home is much easier this semester.
“Also, being back home there is not as much pressure so I can spend more time working on my classes and doing stuff for my mental health. My free time now consists of spending time with my dad and walking the trails with my dog.
“It feels so good to be home but I look forward to returning to Lawrence in the fall when classes open back up and I will finally be able to join the university life.”
Marmaton Valley graduate Juliana Sprague had a much more traditional college experience at Fort Scott Community College, where she is part of the rodeo team. She lives on campus with two horses, and was able to attend most of her classes in person.
Sprague says now: “I have a very different outlook on the pandemic now than I did a year ago. I honestly didn’t think I would be able to go to college in person and rodeo, which is something I wanted to do ever since I was little. That was my biggest fear for the upcoming year as I prepared for college.
“It seems the pandemic is starting to get a little better and has started to turn around now that our rodeos have started up. There are still strict rules at the rodeos but at least we get to have them and I am thankful for that. One of our rodeos was canceled for good because of the pandemic, but I’m looking forward to all the rest of them.
“School life has seemed to be pretty fun even with the pandemic. I’ve still made a lot of friends who I hang out with all the time. I didn’t know how possible that would be considering the social distancing and masks.
“It has overall been a very good year and I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”