More than just a number: Remembering COVID-19 victims at Good Samaritan in Sioux Falls
The daily flow of data surrounding the nation's COVID-19 crisis involves numbers, many of which are disturbing.
At Good Samaritan Village in Sioux Falls, more than 60 residents have been infected by the coronavirus, leading to 23 deaths at the nursing home on the city's west side.
State officials plan to do mass testing of nursing home facilities, starting with those in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties, to mitigate the spread of the illness among one of South Dakota's most vulnerable populations and get the numbers under control.
Behind each number is a name, of course. And a life. And a family.
Here's a closer look at three Good Samaritan residents who died from COVID-19, with insight from those who loved them.
'There was steel in her'
Friends and family told Glenna Krebs that her mother, Mary Jane Brown, was a kind and gentle soul.
The 82-year old had been a devout Christian her whole life, attending bible college in St. Paul, Minn., meeting Krebs' father and eventually settling with him in Sioux Falls in the 1970s as they raised five children.
But "kind and gentle" wasn't enough to sum up her mother, Krebs said.
"She was strong," she said. "There was steel in her."
Brown's maternal instinct rang true, whether it was caring for her children or others in her church congregation.
So when the tables turned after she got dementia, it was hard to see the roles reversed. The 82-year-old lived at the Good Samaritan Village for a few years, with her husband visiting her every day and a few of her children visiting her weekly.
"Somebody was there every day," Krebs said.
Brown passed away from the coronavirus on May 2, testing positive for the virus days before.
By that time, it had been more than a month since visitors were allowed inside the facility because of COVID-19 precautions. Krebs said nursing staff were good about communicating with her family during that time, and the family, including her father, visited Brown in full personal protective equipment before she died.
Krebs sat near the bed holding her mother's hand, placing a cool washcloth on her forehead due to fever and telling her she loved her. Brown died the next day. Although she wasn't surrounded by family at that time, she wasn't alone — two nurses sat beside her in her last moments.
Now Krebs is clinging to the lessons her mother taught her — to care for others, remain humble and selfless, and to "not just live for this life."
"Some of the things I learned from my mom are integrity, ethics, honesty and — whether or not it's difficult, whether or not it costs you something — to truly be Christian and live for God," she said.
Krebs buried her mother the Friday before Mother's Day. Her sister had bought a Mother's Day card early this year, and she placed it in Brown's casket.
The burial wasn't extravagant, and it was a private family affair. One of Krebs' sons played a hymn with his friends in a trombone quartet in the distance. Brown had gone to every concert he ever played.
"She would have loved it, I think, because it was simple, and it had the things that were important to her — her family," Krebs said.
'I know he prayed'
John Jones' doctor prophesied that he wouldn't die of multiple sclerosis when he was diagnosed with the debilitating disease more than 30 years ago.
Jones did everything he could to make that prediction hold true. Shortly after being diagnosed at 48 years old, he started to run marathons — including the New York marathon twice. And once MS started to take more of a toll, he stayed active on a recumbent bicycle.
That was part of his character, said his daughter, Jan Shafer. He persevered through life's struggles to prove that MS was just a diagnosis, not who he was and certainly not something to limit him.
In the end, it wasn't MS but COVID-19 that killed the 80-year old on May 9 at Good Samaritan Village.
Jones was born in Beatrice, Neb., began a 60-year marriage in 1959 and turned to ministry after 10 years as an engineer. He used his position as a pastor at Los Angeles churches to help others and put their needs before his own, Shafer said.
She remembered that her father was the type of man to lend out his car to someone who needed it, only to have it returned to him three days later wrecked.
He was generous, loved to joke around, and was a devout Christian. His favorite hymn to sing was "It Is Well with My Soul." The hymn symbolized his own journey of finding peace in struggles — whether is was MS or other challenges. Jones didn't complain, and he kept faith in Christ.
Shafer's husband, a physician at Avera Health, sat with Jones at the hospital a few days before he died. He sang the hymn and prayed with him. Shafer and her 80-year-old mother didn't see Jones at the hospital because they didn't want to risk contracting the virus themselves.
Instead, they spoke to him over video chat each day before he passed away. He couldn't talk back, but he still heard them.
"I told him to go be with Jesus if he was calling him," Shafer said.
His chin quivered in response, so she knew he'd heard her.
Shafer sang his favorite hymn with her siblings outside of his window the evening before he died. They sang it again at his graveside burial.
As she reflected on life without her father, Shafer was inspired by his consistent Christian faith.
"I never wondered if he still had faith in the end," she said. "Just because he couldn't talk, didn't mean he didn't pray. I know he prayed."
'My greatest advocate'
Suzanne Coughlin called her mother every Sunday at 11 a.m. The phone would only ring once, because Madeline Houghton was expecting the call.
But the Sunday before she died, it took a few more rings before the 99-year-old was able to answer the phone. Coughlin took it as a sign.
Her mother died the next morning, April 27. She had tested positive for COVID-19 about 10 days earlier.
Coughlin flew in from Illinois for Houton's burial. Only six people attended, but Coughlin thinks her mother would have liked it that way — it was simple, and her mother didn't like a lot of attention drawn to her.
Houghton lived a quiet life, working hard to support her family. She was humble, Coughlin said.
That came naturally to the eighth child in her family, born at home in Colton. She graduated from Brookings High School and moved on to South Dakota State, where she graduated in 1949 and met the man she would marry.
When her husband died at 46 years old, Houghton "picked up the pieces" and found a job working at the Sioux Falls airport gift shop, Coughlin said. It was there that she shined — she loved talking to people and learning their stories, helping them find what they needed.
"She knew where people were going and when they were coming home," Coughlin said. "She worked there for 26 years. That was her life for a long time."
Most of all, Coughlin cherished her mother for the love that she gave to others.
"She was my biggest critic and my greatest advocate and my best friend," Coughlin said.