Kentucky is about to reach a grim point in the coronavirus pandemic — 1,000 deaths.
COVID-19 has made 2020 unlike any year in a century, putting millions out of work, shutting down familiar activities like family reunions and tailgating at football games, straining health care workers and creating risk in just going to church or the grocery store.
The deaths, though, have caused the most pain.
“I just know it’s real and I pray no one else has to go through this,” said Christy Taylor Johnson, whose mother, Eva Taylor, of Bell County, died July 23 with coronavirus. “It’s overwhelming.”
Reporting from local health departments indicates the state already passed 1,000 deaths, reaching a total of at least 1,051 by Thursday.
The official count from Gov. Andy Beshear trails that total for reporting reasons. On Friday, a few days short of six months since the first positive case on March 6, Beshear announced the state had reached 987 deaths.
As 1,000 looms, here are snapshots of some of the losses.
‘She made their life better’
Sherri Mounce and her husband, Jim, were regulars for breakfast on Saturday at the Bob Evans Restaurant in Somerset.
On her way to get tested for COVID-19 last month, she dropped off a baby gift at the restaurant for a pregnant server.
That was typical of the acts of kindness Mounce routinely did, said her daughter, Megan Ray.
“Truly, everyone she knew she made their life better,” Ray said.
Mounce died Aug. 18 after 10 days in the hospital. She was 65.
Ray said her mother was selfless and out-going, enjoyed talking to people and “did not meet a stranger.”
Mounce had worked in accounting at the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital for 46 years and loved her job.
She took part in the living Christmas tree at her church, First Baptist in Somerset, walked in the Relay for Life to raise money for cancer research and was a huge fan of the University of Kentucky basketball Wildcats.
But she took on her favorite role three years ago when her grandson Hunter was born.
“Being a mimi was her all-time favorite thing, ever,” Ray said.
The last time family members got to talk to her by FaceTime, just before she was put on a ventilator at the hospital, Mounce was thinking of her grandson.
“She said, ‘Hunter, Mimi’s gonna get better and I’ll come and play with you,’ “ Ray said.
Ten days later, family members waited outside her hospital room as doctors tried unsuccessfully to revive her after her heart stopped.
“People just don’t realize the severity of it,” Ray said of the disease. “It’s just so much worse than you could ever imagine.”
‘It should scare all of us’
Eva Taylor, 74, grew up in a coal camp in Bell County. Everyone knew everyone in the camp and people helped each other, and Taylor held on to that sense of community and service the rest of her life.
She seemed to know nearly everyone in the county and often took food and clothes to people, said her daughter, Christy Johnson, a nurse practitioner in Johnson City, Tenn.
“My mom was very giving. She was just a wonderful, vibrant person,” Johnson said.
Susannah Elise Cadle said that Taylor said it was a treat when Taylor came to her jewelry store to shop and visit about once a month.
“She filled the room with joy and Southern charm every time she entered,” Cadle said. “She left you feeling loved and full of heart.”
Taylor treasured her church, Old Fourmile Pentecostal, was big on hugs and offered a strong shoulder to lean on for people who needed it.
“Her ability to love people when they were probably unlovable, when they needed that one person to be there for them, she could and she would,” Johnson said. “She saw past faults.”
Eva Taylor, of Bell County, died June 23 after contracting COVID-19. Photo provided
Taylor also had a sense of humor.
She reminded Johnson annually how going into labor with her kept her from using the ticket she had to see Elvis Presley in Columbus, Ohio, in 1974, where the family lived at the time.
“I always got a ‘Happy Birthday, I love you, but you cost me seeing Elvis,’ “ Johnson said.
Taylor’s husband, Jack, drove a coal tuck after they moved home to Bell County, and Taylor kept house and took her daughter and son to their school and sports events.
Taylor had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, one of the conditions that puts people more at risk of serious problems with COVID-19.
She had avoided going out the first few months of the pandemic, but in mid-June started getting out some, wearing a mask on trips to the grocery, to visit family and to a doctor’s appointment in Knoxville late that month.
Doctors tried a variety of treatments, including plasma made from recovered patients, but after 18 days in the hospital, the woman who was so gregarious, who loved people and had sat with so many others in hospital rooms, died with no family to hold her hand or comfort her.
“That’s excruciating,” Johnson said. “It should scare all of us. Eighteen days and she was gone.”
Avid shooter has unusual last wish
Tom Runyan, 79, of Shelbyville, had an unusual request for his family before dying June 26 of COVID-19.
An avid trap shooter, Runyan had his immediate family attend a graveside service to bury his ashes and then carry out his last wish, which involved loading some shotgun shells with his ashes and going to the trap-shooting range at his farm, said his son, Tom Runyan Jr., a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attorney.
“We each took turns doing exactly what he wanted us to do (his words): ‘shoot my ass across the farm,’ “ Runyan’s son said. “Finally, we capped it off with a trip to KFC, his favorite fast food place, and enjoyed each other’s company.”
Thomas Runyan of Shelbyville died June 26, 2020 at age 79. Photo provided
Tom Runyan was a graduate of the Kentucky Military Institute and was studying at Centre College when he returned home to Shelby County to work in the family wholesale grocery in the Butchertown area of downtown Louisville.
After leaving the family business, Runyan became the executive director of the Kentucky Pork Producers.
“You can give thanks to his persistence and willingness to speak up if you have ever eaten a pork chop at the Kentucky State Fair,” Runyan Jr. said.
Tom Runyan retired as a financial adviser in 2014 from Silver Oaks Securities. He was a founding board member and volunteer for Operation Care to help the needy and was an instructor and host for many years for 4-H trap shooting.
In 1974, Runyan was considered the fourth best trap shooter in the nation at the Grand American World Trap Shooting Championships.
“He always loved his guns and hunting, farming, horses and his dogs,” said his son. “He made an impact in this life with his relationships, wit, and wisdom. We celebrate a life well-lived and well-shared.”
A trailblazer for Black students
Kentucky State University lost a longtime associate Aug. 1 with the death of Gus T. Ridgel, 95, of Frankfort, a trailblazer for Black college students.
A friend, Betty Gibson, said he had tested positive for COVID-19, among other health complications. “I really miss him,” she said this week.
KSU President M. Christopher Brown II said Ridgel “genuinely loved all of Kentucky State.”
“Amid this pandemic, any loss of life is beyond difficult given the restrictions we face in celebrating our loved ones,” Brown said. “Thorobreds everywhere will remember and honor the excellence that Dr. Ridgel demonstrated throughout his life and career at Kentucky State with a commitment to our students and the institution.”
Ridgel had recently served as senior advisor to Brown. He had retired in 1998 as vice president for finance and administration at Kentucky State after a long career in higher education.
As a young man, Ridgel was part of Concerned Student 1950, the first group of Black students admitted to the University of Missouri. He was admitted to the graduate program in economics in 1950 after civil rights groups won a court ruling desegregating the university.
The New York Times reported in a 2015 profile that Ridgel lived alone in a dorm room at the university because no white student would live with him.
Gus T. Ridgel, a former administrator at Kentucky State University, died Aug. 1, 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Photo provided
Ridgel received a Master’s degree in economics with honors. He later earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Wisconsin and conducted postdoctoral work at the University of Chicago, Duke University, and other institutions. In 1960, he accepted a faculty position at Kentucky State University.
In 2018, the University of Missouri named a new residence hall atrium in honor of his civil rights activism.
Pastor Reginald Davis of Macedonia Baptist Church in Lexington officiated at Ridgel’s graveside service in Frankfort. “He was a great man, a giant in higher education,” said Davis.
John “Doug” Woods of Madisonville and his wife, Freda Woods, had planned to celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary in July, but the U.S. Air Force veteran, 90, died in late April of COVID-19, two days after his wife, 85, died of the virus.
“The coronavirus has done something unthinkable to this family,” a distraught Gov. Andy Beshear said at an April 21 briefing on the COVID-19 situation in the state.
Woods, a native of Richmond who attended Eastern Kentucky University, retired from Atmos Energy after more than 40 years of employment at the utility.
He also was an umpire for Little League baseball games in Madisonville and a member of the American Legion Post and Elks Lodge. He attended Hall Street Apostolic church and enjoyed bowling and golfing and his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
U.S. Air Force veteran John “Doug” Woods died in April, two days after his wife. Photo provided
A granddaughter, Tifani Daugherty Morgan, wrote on social media, “I wish I could pay the same tribute to you as I did Nana, but the words just aren’t coming. It’s just too much, too soon. You deserved nothing less. I hope you knew how much I loved you and how incredibly proud I was of your service to our country.”
Freda Woods was a native of Charleston, Ky. She attended Life Apostolic Church and was a member of the TOPS organization. Her family said she loved to travel, collect magnets and color. Her grandchildren called her Nana and remembered how she placed an orange in their Christmas stockings and told them sweet stories.
The day Beshear announced the couple’s deaths, he said Kentucky had recorded a total of 171 deaths from the virus. He predicted more, and still is.