Overview of COVID-19 obituaries posted in the St. Louis Metro region

Note: I drafted this paper about the data that I’ve collected here on StLouisCovidMemorial.com and my general processes. I’ve put this project temporarily on pause (except for user submitted memorials) because of the mental health issues I was having pouring over obituaries and trying to memorialize the human side of local St. Louis lives lost to COVID-19. It was incredibly depressing, but I have no regrets! I would welcome further collaborations and mentorship, and if there is a chance that I could edit and submit this somewhere more official. I could easily have elaborated further on the discussion points at the end, in particular the grief multiplier and racial and socioeconomic disparities. Additionally posted to LinkedIn.

Preliminary outline with data. Drafted May 8, 2021.

Introduction and method:

Between June 19, 2020 and March 1, 2021 I published 219 obituary summaries and user submitted memorials of people in the Greater St. Louis area (as defined by the US Office of Management and Budget) who died of COVID-19 or from complications of the virus. I wanted to humanize the local and human impact of COVID-19 deaths by respectfully presenting memorials with pictures of everyone who died that I could find. 

User submitted memorials compromised only 18 of the 219 posts, the remainder 201 entries were summaries of obituaries that I found publicly posted online. Because of the many ways that people phrase cause of death, when there is one posted, I manually sorted through over 10,000 individual obituaries. I searched as many as thirteen funeral home websites, but my three primary sites that I visited weekly were:

  1. legacy.com : The entire state of Missouri, separately for the words “COVID” and “Corona”. There are many small villages and towns in the St. Louis Metro area, and I double-checked places I was unfamiliar with. 
  2. StLouisCremation.com : I manually sorted through every single page since every single page has the word “COVID” on it. 
  3. site:riverbender.com/obits/ “covid” month year : This google site search resulted in many duplicate and irrelevant results, but it was somewhat more efficient than manually skimming each published obituary for the mention of cause of death as COVID-19.

In February 2021, I began keeping a list of the phrases about COVID-19 as the cause of death, in the order that I found them:

  • as a result of complications from COVID-19
  • due to complications from COVID
  • due to COVID
  • died from the COVID virus
  • from complications of COVID-19
  • lost his life after contracting the COVID-19 virus
  • complications due to COVID
  • passed away from COVID-19
  • transitioned peacefully from COVID
  • after contracting COVID
  • after complications resulting from COVID
  • following complications from COVID
  • lost his battle against COVID
  • developed COVID in November 2020 and passed due to complications
  • succumbing to COVID
  • after fighting COVID
  • because of health issues and covid
  • fought a hard battle with covid19
  • lost his life after contracting the COVID-19 virus
  • while recovering from severe covid
  • after a short bout with covid
  • after a long bout with covid
  • after contracting COVID

In late July 2020, after trying to access Velma Moody’s original obituary, I realized that these sources might be changed or removed so I began making screenshots of the obituary pages I obtained information from (I believe that I retroactively made screenshots of every obituary). This is noted on the fine-print of Legacy’s Frequently Asked Questions, and it is common knowledge that websites often change and have no obligation to keep content up indefinitely.  

I built a very basic WordPress website on a domain I purchased (StLouisCovidMemorial.com) and created hosting on the generous “shared hosting” plan that I already had for other projects. The theme is a custom child theme of Divi by ElegantThemes. 

Relevant plugins that extend functionality on the site are:

  • Advanced Custom Fields by Elliot Condon. This allowed me to add custom fields for name and any correspondence with family or private notes. I used this plugin in conjunction with Divi FilterGrid to create the sortable “grid” on the front page and other pages.
  • Divi FilterGrid by DiviPlugins. This plugin can sort in “gallery format” (and others) by hidden field, category, tag, and other data. It would have been unnatural reading for memorials to be Last Name, First Name; using Divi FilterGrid I was able to sort alphabetically by last name by creating a hidden field with Advanced Custom Fields. This is a paid plugin for less than $100. 
  • Gravity Forms by Gravity Forms. This widely used commercial plugin allows for easy contact form integration. I spent $45 on a license because my original idea was to create a contact form with conditional logic (“if this then that”). 
  • Link Library by Yannick Lefebvre. This allows for a basic “link library”, which I used to cite sources on the resources page (https://www.stlouiscovidmemorial.com/resources/). At the time of building St. Louis Covid Memorial I was focused on posting the memorials, reasoning that citations could be reformatted at a later date. 
  • MailPoet 3 by MailPoet. This newsletter plugin allows for automation and customization of published “new posts” notifications (memorials in this case) to users who sign up to receive emails. As of May 8, 2021 there are 75 unique subscribers who have double opted in to get notified of newly posted memorials. 

Data

I organized data that I collected using the built in WordPress categories feature. Categories included: age range, county (except Metro East deaths were grouped only as “Metro East”), month died, and the special categories of veteran deaths, educator deaths, and healthcare worker deaths.

Additionally, using the built in WordPress tag feature, I later added (and where appropriate retroactively edited) tags that included: “African American”, nursing home, branch of the military, war fought in, names of specific nursing homes, cities and townships, and “helper deaths” for those who I thought touched the world extra specially. 

I added the age ranges later and retroactively, due to feedback on Twitter. The age ranges correlate with Google Analytics Dimensions, with additions: 

  • I added groups 75-84, 85-94, and 94+ to better analyze “elderly” age groups at a later date. 
  • I (sadly) added the 12-17 age group for Peyton Baumgarth’s memorial. He was only 13 years old and Missouri’s youngest resident to die of COVID-19. 

Data tables of Categories:

Ages of St. Louis Covid deaths from obituaries
Month died of COVID in St. Louis metro - by obituaries
Counties of St. Louis Metro deaths - from obituaries
Deaths of teachers and healthcare workers in St. Louis metro by obituaries

Data from tags: 

  • African American deaths: 16
  • World War II Veteran deaths: 8
  • Educator deaths: 7
  • Healthcare worker deaths: 8

Discussion and further direction

This is a preliminary draft to present what I believe is important data that I’ve collected for StLouisCovidMemorial.com and to demonstrate my ability to professionally present research findings. 

I noticed early on that African Americans in St. Louis have higher deaths per capita than white people and higher cumulative death numbers but that their obituaries seldom mentioned cause of death. There are only 16 memorials for African Americans on St. Louis Covid Memorial, and ten of them were “reader submitted”. I found only six obituaries publicly posted of African Americans who died of COVID-19. I discussed this with Dr. Paulette Sankofa, an African American and founder of the NorthSide community nonprofit Peace Weaving Wholeness. She told me that when it comes to contagious illnesses there is a long history of blame and shame within the African American communities, additional discrimination by white people, and that culturally it’s considered irrelevant (especially to the public in an obituary) because the person is viewed as transitioning out of suffering and their soul is on to better things. To get a more accurate “human” impact presentation on StLouisCovidMemorial.com and for history itself, there needs to be outreach to African American communities. 

Additionally I think that more data collection, discussion, and analysis could be done on the following topics: 

Sources:

“About Demographics and Interests – Analytics Help.” About Demographics and Interests, Google, support.google.com/analytics/answer/2799357?hl=en.  Accessed May 8, 2021

Frequently Asked Questions, Legacy, memorialwebsites.legacy.com/FAQ.aspx#TimeRemain. Accessed May 8, 2021

MISSOURI – Core Based Statistical Areas (CBSAs) and Counties, US Census Bureau. , 2 Dec. 2018, www2.census.gov/geo/maps/metroarea/stcbsa_pg/Feb2013/cbsa2013_MO.pdf. 

Prener, Christopher. Health Disparities, 8 May 2021, slu-opengis.github.io/covid_daily_viz/disparities.html#St_Louis. Accessed May 8, 2021

Verdery, Ashton M., et al. “Tracking the Reach of COVID-19 Kin Loss with a Bereavement Multiplier Applied to the United States.” PNAS, National Academy of Sciences, 28 July 2020, www.pnas.org/content/117/30/17695. Accessed May 8, 2021Report this

William Bill England

William “Bill” England died from complications of COVID-19 while suffering from Alzheimer’s on December 29, 2020 at the age of 82. After serving in the military*, Bill was a graphic designer who worked for Maritz Motivation, Koplar Communication, and retired from Argosy Gaming.

Sources:
William Bill England’s obituary at Schrader

  • I am assuming that William served in the military due to the flag on his obituary that signifies service

Dr. Robert E. Kuhlman

Robert E. Kuhlman died of COVID-19 at the age of 88 on January 10, 2021.

After completing a research fellowship at the National Institutes of Health with an associated appointment in the Public Health Service, Robert returned St. Louis to complete his surgical training in orthopedic surgery. He received the first grant establishing the Orthopedic Research Fellowship program at the medical school. He had a private practice as an orthopedic surgeon and was adjunct faculty at Washington University for 38 years and coauthored numerous research papers. Robert loved photography, dining out with his late wife (d. 2010), home improvement and spending time with his five kids and numerous grandkids.

Dr. Robert Kuhlman is missed deeply by his kids, grandkids, extended family, friends, and all those whose bones and joints he helped make better through his work as an orthopedic surgeon.

Sources:


Dr. Robert E. Kuhlman obituary at Bopp Chapel

Jason Moss

Jason Moss died from complications of COVID-19 on January 20, 2021 at the age of 52. His body had cleared the coronavirus, but could not recover from the devastating effects of the disease. It was up and down for a long time, with 49 days on ECMO and almost two months on a ventilator. He fought hard but suffered from two strokes in his brain, and his body shut down for the last time.

Jason grew up in Collinsville IL, traveled the world in the Navy, then came back to St. Louis and graduated from St. Louis University with a bachelor’s degree. He most recently worked administration and analysis for a local hospital. His pride and joy of his life was his three sons, triplets, born in 2005. He was a Boy Scout Leader and poured his heart into being the best father in the world.

Jason Moss is missed deeply by his teenage sons, his wife, parents, family and everyone fortunate enough to know him.

Sources:

Kenneth Stephen Daues

Kenneth Stephen Daues, Sr of St. Louis, passed away from COVID-19 on January 3, 2021 at St. Luke’s Hospital at the age of 87.

Ken was born and raised in St. Louis, graduating from St. Louis University with a bachelor’s degree. He raised four kids with his first wife and was a beloved stepfather to three. Ken’s work included the family business, Caterpillar Tractor and he ultimately retired from Insituform Technologies, Inc.. More important than his work was his volunteering and service to the community. He was very active, especially in retirement, in Meals on Wheels, volunteering with at Holy Infant Church, and supported of St. Vincent de Paul Society. He loved connecting with old classmates and spending time with his grandkids.

Kenneth Daues is missed deeply by his wife of 38 years, adult children and step-children, grandkids, and all those who knew him.

Sources:

Kenneth Stephen Daues obituary at Schrader Funeral Home 

Dr. Nelly Grosswasser

Dr. Nelly Grosswasser St. Louis COVID-19 fatality

Nelly Grosswasser, Ph.D., a professor emerita of Russian literature and the founder of the Russian program at Saint Louis University, died of COVID-19 on Dec. 16, 2020 at the age of 95. 

She was described as being feisty and a “true force of nature”. Like the Russian literature she taught, Nelly’s life story involved romance, war, and spanned continents. She was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, USSR and moved with her brother to avoid the Nazis during World War II. She met her (late) husband Sol (who had just been released from a labor camp) while in Kazakhstan. They escaped to Germany after the war, eventually immigrating to the USA with their young son in 1949.

Although she had a BA in engineering, Dr. Grosswasser’s true calling was education, in which she earned an MA and PhD from Washington University. Her impressive career accomplishments are detailed beautifully in the sources below, but what she was probably most noted for was being St. Louis University’s first full-time Russian language teacher, remaining at the university for 47 years. Nelly mentored thousands of students, was voted most popular teacher at SLU numerous times, won many teaching awards, and continued to support students of Russian language long after retiring.

According to her obituary, “Nelly tried to ease the way for others. She prepared a booklet for Russian immigrants that explained how to shop, bank, get gas, etc. She helped them with job placement and translated documents for them. She also was a founding member (for over 50 years) of the “Culture Vultures”, a book group of working women whose motto was “No talking about diapers, children or husbands, just literature”.”

Nelly is missed deeply by her brother, son and daughter, grandchildren, great-grandchild, friends, and all the thousands of people who she taught, mentored, and otherwise helped.

Sources:

Helen Sydow Clark

Helen Sydow Clark St. Louis COVID-19 death

Helen S. Clark died November 26 from complications of COVID-19 and congestive heart failure at the age of 82.

She graduated from St. Louis City Hospital’s School of Nursing in 1959 and went on to have a long career in nursing, staying involved in the alumni association after retiring. Helen raised her two daughters with her late husband and loved being a grandma. She supported various nonprofits, read voraciously, and played a good game of checkers. Before COVID-19 hit, she was a daily regular at Miss Sheri’s Cafeteria in South County.

Helen Sydow Clark is missed deeply by her two daughters, step sons, grandkids, extended family, and all those who were fortunate to know her.

Sources:

Helen Sydow Clark obituary at St. Louis Cremation 

Carol Lee Wood

Carol Lee Wood died of COVID-19 on November 24, 2020.

She and her husband of 64 years were active with the South Side Church of God in Sappington MO, and were greatly enjoying retirement together.

Carol Lee Wood is missed deeply by her husband, surviving daughter, grandchildren, great grandchildren, extended family and friends.

Sources:

Carol Lee Wood obituary on Legacy 

https://www.facebook.com/groups/125734660811907/permalink/3724523560932981

Barbara Ann Molloy

Barbara Ann Molloy died after a brief battle with COVID-19 on November 10, 2020 at OSF St. Anthony’s Health Center in Alton IL at the age of 80.

Barbara worked for many years as a nursing home administrator and was known as a cheerful caring person with an infectious laugh who never met a stranger. She loved telling a good story and bringing a smile to peoples’ faces. Together with her late husband, Barbara raised their four children.

Barbara Molloy is missed deeply by two daughters, two granddaughters, extended family, former work friends, and everyone whose life she made a little better.

In Barb’s honor, her family urges continued social distancing and mask compliance.

Sources:
Barbara Ann Molloy obituary at Gent Funeral Home
 

Antoinette “Toni” Gertrude Walker

Toni died of COVID-19 on October 15th, 2020 at the age of 79.

Toni married Bill Walker 54 years ago and raised three daughters with him. She loved nothing more than spending time with family and closely following and participating in her 5 grandkids’ activities. She and Bill loved traveling together and they were never far apart. Toni was a long-time member of The St. Louis Women’s Club, Algonquin Golf Club, and St. Vincent De Paul Parish.  

Toni Walker is missed deeply by her beloved husband Bill, her children, grandchildren, and circle of friends.

Sources:

Toni Gertrude Walker obituary at St. Louis Cremation 

Mourning COVID-19 deaths in St. Louis

 St. Louis COVID-19 deaths and families mourning loved ones as of October 7, 2020

Our country and community have only just begun to process all our collective grief and loss from COVID-19 deaths. No memorials today – nothing in the obits and nothing submitted. This doesn’t mean the virus has stopped just because folks don’t write that in their obits or post publicly. People are continuing to die. Families are continuing to mourn.

According to the study “Tracking the reach of COVID-19 kin loss with a bereavement multiplier applied to the United States” (published 7/28/20) :”For every COVID-19 death, approximately nine surviving Americans will lose a grandparent, parent, sibling, spouse, or child.” For families in St. Louis, using yesterday’s numbers of 1704 cumulative deaths (from Chris Prener ), this means that more than 15,336 people in the St. Louis Metro area are mourning the loss of a close family member to COVID-19.

A bereavement multiplier of 4 in the grandparent column means that if 100,000 people die, 400,000 grandchildren would lose at least one grandparent.” In local terms, this means that 6,816 people in St. Louis have lost a grandparent. Breaking down further, approximately 3,664 people in the St. Louis Metro are mourning the loss of a parent to #COVID19, 3,477 are mourning the loss of a sibling, and 784 are mourning the loss of a spouse to COVID-19.

These are YESTERDAY’S numbers! Are we really okay with this? I have not, personally, lost a friend or family member YET. As the CDC projects as many as 250,000 COVID-19 deaths by October 31, there will be over 2 MILLION people mourning the loss of a loved one who died in the past 8 months.

Families now “look forward” to empty seats at Thanksgiving, the first winter holidays without their grandparent, parent, spouse, sister, or brother… I don’t know how to end this. I want to say “when will be too many” but “too many” for me was the first 3. I guess it doesn’t matter to “too many” people as long as these aren’t “their” relatives dying… but if we keep doing nothing/too-little COVID-19 deaths will affect us all, and we can only hope to be the close relatives grieving, and not among the dead ourselves.

Originally posted this to Twitter:

Roger Dee Bennett

Roger Dee Bennet died of COVID-19 on September 26, 2020 after a month-long fight. He was 79 years old. He and his wife had just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary and were already planning out their big 60th together.

Roger was an avid reader, baseball lover, animal lover and expert fish fryer (he also loved to fly fish). Before retiring he was an executive in the publishing industry, when he was known to sport a trim beard and smoke a pipe. He never stopped believing in justice.

Roger’s family wants people to honor him by supporting healthcare workers and wearing masks. He is missed deeply by his wife, three adult daughters, grandchildren, extended family and circle of friends.

Sources:
Roger Dee Bennett obituary on Legacy.com
 

Terry “Mr. Fingers” Bradford

Terry “Mr. Fingers” Bradford passed of COVID-19 on September 8, 2020. He was 57 years old.

Terry was a talented keyboard and organ player. For many years he served as the director for the Mass Choir and Music Department at Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. He had three kids of his own and was a father figure and role model to countless more. Terry kept his faith until the end.

Terry Bradford is missed deeply by his mother, kids, family, extended family, church family, friends, and fans.

Terry Bradford’s August 12 video from the hospital. He was fighting for his life with COVID-19.
Terry’s August 27 communication about having COVID-19 from the hospital
August 29 – he was going to be put on a ventilator and not getting better.
Terry’s son Michael posted that he passed early in the morning of September 8.
Terry Bradford’s homecoming service

Sources:

Terry Bradford’s videos in no particular order:

One of Terry’s last videos, over ZOOM.
Terry Bradford’s virtual performance on July 25, 2020 a few weeks before falling ill with COVID-19
Terry Bradford used the COVID-19 restrictions and slow-down to create this video honoring his family on May 6, 2020. He was being super careful and still caught COVID-19.

Lamont Hadley Sr.

Lamont Hadley Senior died of COVID-19 on August 21, 2020. He was in his 60s. St. Louis lost an inspiration, treasured voice, and musical legend who still had songs left to sing.

Lamont had been singing since he was in grade-school, and his innate natural talent only blossomed more as he hit his musical stride in the 1980s and 90s, especially after joining the all-male vocal group Master’s Touch. Hadley was still singing and performing until the night before he went to the hospital. Music was truly his passion, and others have written much better and more in depth about Lamont Hadley’s life and many accomplishments. Lamont’s girlfriend of 32 years, Bridgette West, was undoubtedly his other great love. He bonded over music with his son, Lamont Hadley Jr., and took lots of pride in being a great dad.

According to the St. Louis American:

Lamont Jr. was with his dad the night he almost collapsed while performing at a Master’s Touch reunion concert. 

“During the last three songs, he got very weak and had trouble breathing,” Lamont Jr. “I had to bring a stool up on stage for him to sit down.” 

The next day, Hadley was taken to the hospital, where he was initially diagnosed with pneumonia. A few days later, Lamont Jr., said doctors informed the family that his father had indeed contracted the dreaded virus. 

Although Hadley’s condition continually worsened, West said that she and his family were unprepared for his demise. Since Hadley’s mother and sister had also contracted the virus and survived, they expected a similar outcome.

Sadly, Hadley slipped into a coma and passed on August 21.  

Lamont Hadley Sr. is missed not only by his girlfriend, son, family, and friends, but by countless fans and coworkers and everyone whose life he touched while he was on this earth. Undoubtedly, others will discover his music now and in the future, and wish that they had the pleasure of seeing him perform while he was alive and wish he’d lived longer to make more music.

Sources: