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Stolen by COVID: Four lives, driven by deep passions, ended too soon by a pandemic

UPDATED: Sun., Jan. 31, 2021

Art Reuben, seen in the back row, center, of this family photo, has died from COVID-19.  (Courtesy of the family)
Art Reuben, seen in the back row, center, of this family photo, has died from COVID-19. (Courtesy of the family)

Mothers and fathers. Grandpas and grandmas. Teachers and bus drivers, choir soloists and boiler room engineers, dental assistants and plumbers. 

The people who have succumbed to COVID-19 have come from all corners of the community. Over the course of a year, the pandemic has taken more than 500 lives in Spokane County and almost 250 in North Idaho. Nationwide, well over 400,000 have perished, and the global toll is more than 2 million.

The numbers are numbingly impersonal. But every passing leaves an irreplaceable void in a family, a neighborhood, a workplace, a community. In the words of one Spokane woman who lost her father-in-law: “COVID steals people.”

We remember some of those people, and the lives they led.

A PASSION FOR BASKETBALL

Art Reuben, who died of COVID-19, is seen in an undated photo.  (Courtesy of the family)
Art Reuben, who died of COVID-19, is seen in an undated photo. (Courtesy of the family)

Arthur Lee Reuben Sr. started playing basketball as a boy, and he kept playing his whole life – long after his body started sending him the signals to stop.

“He played in Hoopfest from when it first started, right up until he had his first knee replacement,” said his daughter, Sherry Reuben Abrahamson.

Art’s wife, Darlene, offered a correction: “Even after his first knee replacement.”

A member of the Nez Perce Tribe who grew up in Lapwai, Idaho, and lived most of his adult life in Spokane, Art played in Indian Country basketball tournaments from a young age, joined pickup games around town whenever he could, and took to the court with his children or grandchildren to coach and cajole. He was known as a smart, sneaky player and for his sense of humor in all things.

“He was good with a no-look pass,” Sherry said. “He would get us out on the court and hit us in the head with the ball when we weren’t looking. He called that the no-look pass.”

Art Reuben, who died of COVID-19, is seen in the upper left corner of a youth basketball photo from his younger days.  (Courtesy of the family)
Art Reuben, who died of COVID-19, is seen in the upper left corner of a youth basketball photo from his younger days. (Courtesy of the family)

Art died Dec. 27 at age 78, after spending 10 days on a respirator at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, battling complications of COVID-19.

“We don’t really know where he got sick or how he got it,” said Sherry, who works at Maxey Law Offices. “Maybe just going into the grocery store or Walgreens or something.”

Art and Darlene married in 1963, and they raised eight kids in Spokane. He held a variety of jobs over the years: including working for the Forest Service in Idaho, and then Greyhound in Spokane. He finished his working years as a chef at retirement homes in the Spokane area. He retired in 2006 from Moran Vista Assisted Living.

In addition to basketball, Art loved hunting and fishing, spending time with his many grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and looking forward to the annual family hunting trip to Oregon’s Blue Mountains.

In his final days at the hospital, he FaceTimed with his family and was able to take joy in watching his granddaughter play basketball for Queens University of Charlotte – across the country in North Carolina.

Wandering the ‘eternal wrecking yard’

Richard Walter Murray  (Courtesy of the family)
Richard Walter Murray (Courtesy of the family)

Richard Walter Murray loved working on cars – especially restoring old Fords.

Starting in high school and throughout his life, he belonged to car clubs – the Gents, the Inland Northwest Fords Unlimited, River City Vans. On his first trip to meet his future wife Holly’s parents, he wound up taking apart the engine of his Econoline van on their lawn to fix it. It’s no wonder that Holly, in his obituary, wrote that Rick now “wanders that eternal wrecking yard in the sky.”

He died Dec. 21 at age 71. Holly said they both contracted the illness shortly after Thanksgiving; she believes she brought it home from the private physicians office where she worked – and where, she said, COVID-19 caution was not taken seriously. She recovered, but Rick developed pneumonia and his lungs began to fail.

“He was very dedicated to wearing the mask,” Holly said. “He never went anywhere without wearing one.”

He was born in Caldwell, Idaho, the only boy out of six children, and moved with his family to Spokane in the 1960s. He was a hard worker from a young age; his first job as a young teen was mucking out stables south of town, and his second was bucking hay bales, Holly said.

He graduated from Ferris High and served as a tank mechanic in Vietnam. He met Holly when he returned to Spokane, and he proposed with a large, heart-shaped cookie frosted with these words: “I love you.” They married in 1973.

“I still have the cookie, by the way,” Holly said. “It was too sweet to eat.”

Rick and Holly raised two daughters in Spokane, and he was a proud union member who retired from Travis Pattern and Foundry in 2005. He loved traveling to big cities, and visiting his daughters in Seattle and Great Falls; one of his favorite places was the M&M Bar and Café in Butte.

Toward the end, as his lungs worsened, Holly and their daughters were able to sit with Rick, in person, for three hours before he was taken off the ventilator.

“His final wish,” Holly wrote in his obituary, “is for people to wear their mask, get vaccinated, and defeat COVID-19.”

He never met a stranger

Gary Heidal  (Courtesy of the family)
Gary Heidal (Courtesy of the family)

Gary Heidal told the nurses taking care of him at Deaconess Hospital, “When I get out of here, I’m going to buy you all dinner.”

He did not live to keep that promise – although his family made good on it. His death on Jan. 18, following a brief but grave illness, came far too soon for 82-year-old Gary.

“He was supposed to die at age 102, mowing his lawn,” said his daughter, Karen. “Not from this stupid COVID.”

Born in Tacoma, Gary moved with his family to Massena, New York, in 1953 as a teenager. He served in the Air Force as a jet mechanic, including in Vietnam. He and his wife, Patricia, raised a daughter and son as they traveled the country for his Air Force career. In 1977, he retired from Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico after 20 years of service.

They moved to Spokane, bought a home and opened a boat repair business, from which Gary retired in 2000. He loved camping, fishing and hunting with his family, and he loved to tell stories and meet people.

“He was kind, he was extremely humble and a very proud, proud man,” Karen said. “He never met a stranger. He so enjoyed interacting with people. He’d always say to people, ‘Tell me a story!’ ”

Steve, his son, added: “Or he’d ask, ‘How old are you today?’ ”

Several members of the family became infected with the coronavirus in December. Everyone else recovered, but Gary became more seriously ill. He had smoked as a younger man, and though he quit in 1978, he had some lung damage that the virus exploited. He was hospitalized, and had gone home after a seeming recovery when a second bout of pneumonia sent him back to the hospital.

His family was still shocked and grieving last week.

“COVID steals people,” said his daughter-in-law, Jolyn. “He did not want to go.”

Soloist lived ‘beyond a full life’

Marie Minda Rodkey  (Courtesy of the family)
Marie Minda Rodkey (Courtesy of the family)

Marie Minda Rodkey was always singing.

She spent decades as the alto soloist at First Presbyterian. She performed in many community events over the years, including with the Spokane Symphony. She was also a music teacher, giving voice lessons, substituting in the local schools and teaching at Whitworth College. Whatever the purpose, she filled the family home with her voice.

“That was the soundtrack to our lives as kids,” said her daughter, Sharon Rodkey Smith. “We’d come home from school as Mom was practicing.”

Marie’s final years were clouded by her struggle with Alzheimer’s; she died Dec. 19 at age 98 after contracting COVID-19.

“She was 98,” Smith said. “That’s beyond a full life, and the last 15 years were so diminished.”

Marie was born in Spokane and attended school here until her family moved to Dayton, Washington, where she graduated from high school. She earned her bachelor’s degree in music education at Washington State University. She and her husband, John, raised three children in Spokane.

She was involved in a wide variety of organizations and activities. She was a deacon and elder in the Presbyterian Church and was active in the music sorority Mu Pi Epsilon, the YWCA, Meals on Wheels, Friday Musical, Stephens Ministry and other groups. She often hosted guests at their home – visitors from regional universities or international visitors – and was devoted to social justice as an expression of her faith.

“She just wore so many hats,” Smith said.

She endured Alzheimer’s for more than a decade, living in the Clare Bridge facility at Park Place.

Plans for a memorial have been affected by pandemic guidelines – as they have with everyone who is losing loved ones now. But the family is working on a video memorial that will be posted on YouTube on Feb. 13, with the title “Marie Larson Rodkey Memorial.” It will include some fitting footage: clips of her singing, including a solo performance of “Deep River.”

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