Tough talk from a tough generation

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Capital News Service

LANSING — Great Lakes Echo assigned a group of young reporters to ask members of their grandparents’ generation how they’re coping with the coronavirus. We wondered how this crisis compares to significant social disruptions they’ve already weathered during their lifetimes.

Most said that nothing – wars, recessions, terrorist attacks – compares to this threat that they’re particularly vulnerable to. Some noted similarities with fear of contagion during polio outbreaks.

Their seasoned advice? Fear is real, but faith and family see you through.

Doris Watkin

oris Watkins of Detroit and great-grandson Denzel Terrell. Courtesy photo.

By Nyjah Bunn

As a retired emergency room nurse with 33 years of experience, Doris Watkins recalls that the closest thing to the coronavirus is the polio outbreak of the 1940s and ’50s.

“They were sending everyone to (Detroit hospital) Herman Kiefer because they were contagious,” said the 87-year-old Detroiter. “People were attached to what I knew as an iron lung, sort of like a ventilator. It was a machine that helped them to breathe.”

She was once sent to the hospital in the late ’50s with suspected diphtheria, giving her direct experience with the fear of contagion.

“The workers were scared of me and I was scared of them,” she said. “I was in a private room so I couldn’t get anyone else sick. They let me go home after about four days because I didn’t have the illness.”

Nowadays she warns people to stay in the house and practice social distancing.

“I would tell people not to worry and take the advice of the national medical team and encourage others to do the same. Make sure to have a balanced diet, clean your homes and don’t cross-contaminate.”

Be fearless: “I don’t have fear — others shouldn’t either. Trust God, do what the professionals say, but don’t have fear.”

And lean on your faith: “You have to have your faith; some will lose it but it’s important to pray and read your Bible, said Watkins, who attended Moody Bible Institute and the International Theological Seminary to become a preacher after retiring from nursing. “I have been financially supporting my church by giving them a little bit more every week because I know they will struggle during this time.”

She is a mother of four, grandmother of eight, great grandmother to more than 20 and even a great-great grandmother. She spends most days with her family and church family and is the leader of a group that takes lunches to a homeless shelter weekly.

“Almost everything for me is the same. I’m just taking extra precaution at home,” she said. “I am washing my hands more, wiping down surfaces and being extra careful while cooking.

“I call my family members more often because of the virus. I call everyone, even the people out of state, more frequently.”

And she’s ready for whatever challenges lie ahead: “I feel prepared. Being a nurse taught me great handwashing skills, and I’ve dealt with people in quarantine before.”

“I didn’t go buy up a lot of things. I just got extra Clorox wipes and water.

“I have been trying to encourage people at this time by sending messages out on Facebook, such as telling people not to worry, this too shall pass.”

Reporter Nyjah Bunn is the granddaughter of Doris Watkins.


Margo Goldman

Margo Goldman’s family sing Happy Birthday outside her West Bloomfield home. Courtesy photo.

By Ben Goldman

Margo Goldman’s 80th birthday was memorable.

For one, this year’s birthday song had an added line: “Don’t move, stay in the house!” the family yelled as the song “wrapped” on March 22.

Due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, a face-to-face party, as initially planned, would prove dangerous. Family members planning to fly into her hometown of West Bloomfield would have to stay put. Locals still sought to avoid any gathering, large or small, with her. She’s in the especially vulnerable age group.

But instead of canceling or postponing the celebration, the family pulled together, carrying it out in a unique way.

Inspired by a trending video on Facebook, her extended family lined the street outside her house, “Happy Birthday” banners and cupcakes in hand. Those unable to travel were there virtually via Facetime.

The doorbell rang. She opened her door, and from the doorstep, listened to them sing.

“It wasn’t the way I intended on celebrating it,” Margo said.

But it didn’t take away from her happiness.

“I still had a fun birthday,” she said. “As long as I got to see my kids, that’s what counts.”

Reporter Ben Goldman is the grandson of Margo Goldman.


Chuck and Judy Day

Chuck and Judy Day of Hudsonville: Courtesy photo.

By Lucas Day

Chuck and Judy Day have been through a lot together in their 56 years of marriage.

But nothing like the coronavirus pandemic.

“There’s no comparison,” Chuck said.

In his 78 years, he lived through 9/11, served in the Navy during the Cuban missile crisis and beat more than one recession. But the coronavirus scares him because of the unknowns.

“There’s no medicine that they can vaccinate with, so consequently the only way they can contain it is for people to stay in, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.

Life experience has taught him to trust experts and not treat everything like a conspiracy theory. He treated the virus seriously early on.

“We’re in that group where if it hits us, it’s (deadly),” he said. “You never know one day to the next if you’ll be around, but this is a little different when this [virus] is out there also.”

The retired autoworker from Hudsonville worries about lower-income people who will be unemployed for the foreseeable future.

What strikes Judy the most about the virus is how quickly it’s spreading. The 75-year-old has tracked the virus from the other side of the world to Ottawa County where they live.

“If you have a television, you get to see a lot of things that you wouldn’t have seen in years [that have] gone by for us,” she said.

The couple regularly tunes in to MSNBC, CNN and NBC.

They’ve been self-isolating at home for weeks, approaching others only when they get gas and groceries. To pass time, they take walks, go on car rides, play games and watch lots of movies.

Chuck, an avid sports fan, said his fading memory comes with one advantage.

“I turned on [a basketball game] the other day and I was so happy I was watching Michigan State, then all of a sudden I realized it was from three years ago,” he said.

“When you get older like we are, they can rerun those [games] because I don’t remember them all.”

Reporter Lucas Day is the grandson of Chuck and Judy Day.


Charles Williams Jr.

Charles Williams Jr. of Detroit. Courtesy photo.

By Jordan Meadows

Tomorrow is not guaranteed.

This is a lesson Charles Williams Jr. has learned over his 66 years, from his birthplace of Jackson, Mississippi, to Detroit where he now lives. It’s a lesson learned only through the pain of experience.

Recently recovering from a battle with pneumonia, Williams realizes his vulnerability and understands how quickly life can end.

“It was the hardest challenge I’ve had to face in a while. Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t make it,” said Williams, a retired construction worker.

As a result, Williams is very concerned about COVID-19, constantly watching MSNBC and reading online publications. His concern is more for his family than for himself.

As the eldest of eight siblings, father of four and uncle to over a dozen nieces and nephews, Williams worries about how his family is surviving through this crisis, despite knowing he’s at a greater risk of harm.

Phone calls of reassuring words and support are all Williams can manage now as he fights to improve his health, but he’s feeling better each day.

“The only thing that matters in this world is your family — don’t ever forget that,” he said.

Reporter Jordan Meadows is the nephew of Charles Williams Jr.


Janice Cork

Janice Cork of Oxford. Courtesy photo.

By Morgan Duerden

At 75, Janice Cork mows her own lawn, pet sits for three dogs and has never missed a single one of her grandkids’ sporting events.

Life nowadays — because of the coronavirus — isn’t nearly as active.

“I’m just playing my computer games and sitting,” she said.

She compares the coronavirus to the polio outbreak in the 1950s.

“We went through the polio and chicken pox crisis. A lot of people died, but it was nothing like this,” she said.

A retired baker, Cork lives in Oxford in Oakland County. She doesn’t even go to the grocery store anymore.

Her daughter picks up things like eggs or milk, she said. “I don’t really need much.”

She can’t believe how everything is closed and worries about the children who are missing school.

“They have to go to school 180 days,” she said. “I really hope they don’t have to go in the summer. I’m glad I don’t have a kid that age.”

She has been watching press conferences on TV and thinks the outbreak will get worse before it gets better.

“I’m very concerned. That’s why I’m at home and I think everyone else should be too.”

Reporter Morgan Duerden is the granddaughter of Janice Cork.


Rose Bellmore

Rose Bellmore of Hermansville and granddaughter Taylor Haelterman. Courtesy photo.

By Taylor Haelterman

Rose Bellmore misses her family.

Talking to her son through the porch door isn’t the same as inviting him to the dining room table, and people don’t talk on the phone like they used to.

“I don’t get up in the morning and be that happy anymore because there’s so much trouble in the world,” she said. “But, that’s part of life. I just try to take each day one at a time.

“I tell the kids, you might have a bad day, (but) wait for tomorrow. Most of the time it’s a little better.”

The 87-year-old Upper Peninsula native from Hermansville takes COVID-19 seriously because she’s lived through disease outbreaks in the past, like the polio virus.

This one seems much worse, she said.

“What bothers me the most are the deaths,” Bellmore said. “There’s way more deaths with this than anything that I remember, except possibly a war.”

She is comforted by the pursuit of a medication for the virus and believes it’s humanity’s best shot at slowing the spread because that’s what she has witnessed working in the past.

Until then, she stays busy at home trying to keep from worrying.

“It’s hard to cope without even letting the family come in,” said the mother of eight. “It’s a different life because you are isolated.”

Praying helps conquer her worries. She watches Mass every Sunday on TV and prays each night for the health of members of her family.

“It takes me close to 20 minutes every night,” she said. “But, I figure that’s a good 20 minutes.”

Reporter Taylor Haelterman is the granddaughter of Rose Bellmore.


Margie Bauman

Margie Bauman of Anchorage, Alaska. Courtesy photo.

By Rui Yan

Reporter Margie Bauman says there is nothing about the coronavirus that scares her: “I’m not afraid of anything.

“The pandemic is a truly horrible situation,” she said. “But as a journalist, I’m fascinated and glad to be able to cover it on a statewide basis for an Alaska newspaper.”

At age 70, she continues to report for the Cordova Times and is also the Alaska bureau chief for the Fishermen’s News.

There is no comparison between the virus and other significant crises she has reported in her career, she said.

“Before I focused on fisheries and environmental issues in Alaska, I covered a range of issues for national media that included civil rights reporting in Wisconsin,” she said. “That was the first time I saw America at its racist worst, and it still goes on.

“This pandemic is different. It affects everyone on an individual level.

“Going out into a city where so many businesses are closed or offering only stuff like meals and other shopping items from outside the stores is weird in Alaska.”

She already works from her home in Anchorage so that was not an adjustment when workplaces closed. But she is irritated that the governor’s orders resulted in closing her hair salon. She is trying to persuade her hairdresser to come to her house because it is illegal for her to open her shop now.

Many of the places she used to go to meet with friends or people she needed to interview have closed, she said. It’s impossible to conduct all interviews by phone, email or conference call.

“It’s more fun to be with the people I’m interviewing,” she said.

She is encouraged and inspired by how nice people are to each other in Alaska, actually going out of their way more than usual to see what others need and doing what they can to help.

“We are now having daily televised news conferences with Alaska’s governor and also the chief medical officer for the state,” Bauman said. “I am covering these and writing daily updates that are posted online for residents of Cordova, Alaska, since I cover such issues for their community newspaper.”

Margie Bauman is a 1964 graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism. 

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