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Doctor, '40s riveter among Arkansans dead from virus

State’s June toll includes 65 residents of nursing homes, 2 prison inmates by ERIC BESSON, JEANNIE ROBERTS AND LISA HAMMERSLY ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | July 12, 2020 at 8:08 a.m.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Lives Remembered series profiles the victims of the coronavirus in June, including (top row from left) Hazel Floyd, Larry Akins, William Crawford, Dr. Robert “Ray” Hull, (bottom row from left) Calve Cooper, Mable Neeley and Nina Kennedy.

A woman recovering from a C-section. A longtime Baptist preacher.

A man sleeping in his pickup to distance himself from an infected family member.

These three are among the 319 Arkansans who have died so far in the covid-19 pandemic.

This Arkansas Democrat-Gazette occasional series focuses on individuals who lost their lives to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The 28 below are among 137 who died in June, according to the Arkansas Department of Health's count.

The June total includes 65 nursing home residents and two prison inmates, who lived in group settings where infection spreads more readily. Others include poultry workers, Marshall Islanders, a family doctor and a Springdale couple who died of covid-19 three days apart. Those featured below range in age from 31 to 105.

At least 48 of 113 June deaths independently confirmed by the newspaper were Pacific or Marshall Islanders, or people of Hispanic ethnicity, according to coroners' records.

"These people that are dying are real people," said Jerry Kennedy, who lost his 92-year-old mother to the virus June 3. "They're not just a statistic."

Because some survivors don't want their loved ones' deaths linked publicly to covid-19, the newspaper publishes names and photographs for this series with family members' permission.

In some cases when family members can't be reached, information comes from coroner's reports and obituaries.

Joe Wigner, 73, El Dorado, died June 2. Wigner owned a construction businesses in states including Texas and Arkansas, said his sister, Patsy Mize.

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The Michigan native and father of two "was a sweetheart," she said. "He was a cutie. He had everything going for him. That's why he was married so many times. He had the attitude, 'I'm God's gift to women,' and it worked."

A resident at the Courtyard Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center in El Dorado, Wigner was hospitalized June 1 with an abdominal aortic aneurysm and tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.

Mize said Wigner had a history of health issues, and she believes the aneurysm is what actually caused his death.

Nina Kennedy, 92, Jacksonville, June 3. She gave personalized service to her customers during 20 years of owning Fashion Cleaners in Jacksonville, according to her son, Jerry Kennedy. She was a hard worker who liked to joke. She taught her three children manners and respect.

"She was my friend. That's what I'm going to remember most about her," he said.

Nina Kennedy was admitted to Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock on May 30 with acute respiratory distress syndrome, hypoxia and other issues, according to the Pulaski County coroner's report. She tested positive for covid-19 two days later.

The hospital called her son. "'If you want to see your mother, you need to come up here now,'" he said a staff member told him. "I had to wear the suit and the glasses, everything, but I saw her for a little bit. I rubbed her on the forehead, and she seemed to calm down a little bit. I told her it was OK and told her I loved her."

"People need to realize this virus is real," he said. "If it happens to someone down the street, then it's no big deal to people. But if it happens to your mother, your brother or sister, then it's suddenly a big deal."

A 39-year-old Bethel Heights woman, June 3. The Marshallese woman was pregnant when she contracted the virus, according to a Benton County coroner's report. She tested positive for covid-19 May 30.

She received care at a women's hospital, then was transferred to Northwest Medical Center at Bentonville. On June 2, she underwent a C-section and "was doing fine after the procedure, and if she did well she could go home," according to the coroner's report.

But her oxygen level dropped quickly. She was intubated to help with breathing, then experienced cardiac arrest.

A 95-year-old Jonesboro woman, June 4. A Michigan native, she worked during World War II as a riveter at an airplane factory in Willow Run, Mich., according to her obituary. There she met her future husband, a pilot, and married him in 1945. They had three children.

His jobs took them outside the U.S. in the 1960s and '70s to live in Taiwan, Brazil, Bolivia, Afghanistan, India, Ghana and Vietnam. "In each country she took an interest in the people and their customs and welcomed them into her home," the obituary said.

After her husband's death, she moved to Jonesboro in 2017 to be close to a daughter. The Craighead Nursing Center resident was diagnosed with covid-19 on June 2.

Larry Akins, 74, Cummins Unit prison, June 4. Serving a 40-year prison sentence, Akins pleaded guilty in 2007 to 11 counts of rape and nine counts of second-degree sexual abuse between 2003 and 2006 at Gingerbread Day Care in Van Buren. Victims ranged in age from 3 to 8.

According to the Jefferson County coroner's report, Akins died in the intensive-care unit at Jefferson Regional Medical Center in Pine Bluff, of cardiorespiratory arrest and covid-19.

A 70-year-old Berryville man, June 6. The Eureka Springs Independent identified the man as working at Tyson's Berryville-Green Forest facility. A February 2016 news release says he took part in an American Cancer Society Relay for Life event at the plant.

A Benton County coroner's report said the man, identified as Hispanic, tested positive for covid-19 on May 22. It's not clear when he went to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers for treatment of nausea and a headache. He was diagnosed with covid-19 and admitted, according to the report.

"The patient continued to decline" in respiratory function, the report said. He went into cardiac arrest on June 6, and the staff was unable to revive him.

William Crawford, 90, Little Rock, June 7. An Eagle Scout and Air Force veteran, Crawford got his first sales experience as a boy in scorecard sales for the Arkansas Travelers baseball team, according to his obituary.

After graduating from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, he began a lifelong career in life insurance and won his company's highest national sales award.

"He was a special guy who had a lot of impact on everybody he came into contact with," said his son, Bob Crawford. "He was always positive about everything."

The father of two "was a dedicated Razorback fan, rooting on the Hogs in football, basketball and baseball for many years. He was an inaugural member of the Touchdown Club in Little Rock and took great joy in the recap of each week's games and previews of upcoming opponents," his obituary said. He also was a golfer who "took pride in being able to shoot his age," and was an avid horse racing fan.

A resident of Fox Ridge assisted living in Little Rock, he was hospitalized after a fall June 1 and tested positive for covid-19.

Dr. Robert "Ray" Hull, 78, Bentonville, June 7. A family medicine doctor, Hull started as a lab and X-ray technician working seven nights a week on emergency call to put himself through college, according to his obituary.

The Tennessee native received a bachelor of science degree at Tennessee Tech in business management and completed medical school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis.

He and his wife raised their four children in Rogers and later Gentry. He opened his practice in Rogers in 1972 and worked until his death. Hull also was an Army veteran, an ordained deacon and minister, and an enthusiastic hunter and fisherman, his obituary said. He died at Washington Regional Medical Center, according to a coroner's report.

Cheryl Hull, a daughter, announced his death in a Facebook post, saying "our wonderful, loving, irreplaceable, kind, compassionate Father passed away from covid-19."

U.S. Sen. John Boozman and Gov. Asa Hutchinson praised Hull.

"Not only was he an excellent doctor, but he was also a great example of a life dedicated to love of family, community and the Lord," Boozman said in a statement. "We lost someone who we should all strive to be more like."

Hutchinson said Hull was "my family physician years ago," and an example of "a life well-led that has passed."

Elsie Ferreira, 103, Jacksonville, June 9. Born in New Bedford, Mass., in 1918, she worked for 24 years as a final inspector of rubber goods -- such as windshield wipers and gas masks -- at Acushnet Process Co. in Massachusetts.

The mother of two moved to Jacksonville in 2008 to live with daughter Nancy McCuen.

"She loved to read, and she was a die-hard watcher of QVC. She loved that home shopping stuff," McCuen said. "Music was the highlight of her life. Frank Sinatra, Vince Gill. Willie Nelson. She was always listening to them and would sit in her chair clapping through the songs."

A resident of Woodland Hills Nursing Home and Rehabilitation in Jacksonville, Ferreira tested positive for covid-19 on May 28. "They said she was asymptomatic," her daughter said. "The next day we got another call, and she had started developing symptoms. She lasted about a week and a half. She was a fighter."

Calve Cooper, 82, White Hall, June 9. A Prattsville native, Cooper was the fifth of eight children in a hardworking family. He worked at furniture and cleaning companies before starting his own janitorial service, according to his obituary. He went on to operate Zion Bus Co.

His early love was serving in his church in many positions, including as deacon.

"It was always known he would become a preacher," the obituary said.

He served churches in Grapevine and Sheridan for many years. In 1990, the father of four received an honorary doctorate degree from Arkansas Baptist College.

He was a resident of The Waters of White Hall nursing home when he was diagnosed with covid-19.

A 31-year-old Springdale woman, June 9. According to a Benton County coroner's report, she spent four days at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas after testing positive for covid-19.

It's not clear when she was discharged to go home, but she returned on June 6.

Identified as a Pacific Islander, she was transferred -- "because they're full," the coroner's report said -- from Mercy to Northwest Medical Center in Bentonville, where she died.

A Springdale couple in their 80s, June 9 and June 12. The couple met in 1973, after their spouses died at early ages, and were together for 47 years, according to their obituaries.

The man, 87, was an Army veteran and father of three who worked on pipelines across the nation, operating heavy equipment. He started an equipment company while building large projects in Northwest Arkansas. Eventually he converted the business to buying and selling heavy equipment parts.

A 32nd Degree Mason and a member of the Elks Lodge, he enjoyed hosting large barbecues for family and friends, politics, roller skating, dancing and going to the casino, his obituary said. He journeyed often to Lake Taneycomo to fish for rainbow trout. The couple traveled the world buying parts for his business.

The woman, 85, and a mother of three, operated a hog farm and raised cattle in the Pea Ridge area before her first husband died. They took part in the Pea Ridge Riding Club.

She also worked as a grocery store meat wrapper, operated a cafe and worked as a press operator at Daisy Manufacturing in Rogers. She served as chairman of the Salvation Army Doll Project and hosted the annual Doll Tea in Fayetteville.

"She gathered food and clothing for those less fortunate her entire life," according to her obituary.

According to Washington and Benton County coroners reports, the couple died of covid-19 three days apart.

A 46-year-old Springdale woman, June 10. The Marshall Islander worked at a Springdale nursing home, according to a Benton County coroner's report.

Little more is contained in the coroner's report about the wife and mother of two who died at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas.

A 33-year-old Rogers man, June 11. Another Pacific Islander, he was a Tyson Foods employee, according to a Benton County coroner's report. He died at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas.

The coroner's report, which notes obesity as a contributing health condition, said a friend of the man went to pick him up from work. The friend called 911 when the man had trouble breathing. The man collapsed before emergency responders arrived.

An ambulance took the man to Mercy, where he tested positive for covid-19 and died, the report says.

A 48-year-old Springdale man, June 11. The Hispanic man was found dead in his pickup at home in temperatures higher than 90 degrees, according to a Washington County coroner's report.

He had slept in the pickup because his sister-in-law had tested positive for the virus, the report said.

He also tested positive and is counted as a death from the virus, according to the coroner.

A 33-year-old Springdale man, June 13. The man, identified as a Pacific Islander, died at Washington Regional Medical Center of "acute respiratory distress as a consequence" of covid-19, according to a Washington County coroner's report.

Little information is in the coroner's report about how long he was ill or other history.

An 81-year-old Jacksonville woman, June 16. A resident of Woodland Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation, the wife and mother of four was taken to the emergency room at Baptist Health in North Little Rock, experiencing respiratory failure, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.

A 51-year-old North Little Rock man, June 17. The man claimed he was a comedian, always laughing at his own jokes, according to his obituary. He ran a heating and air company, and enjoyed fishing, working on his truck and playing dominoes with his brothers.

The husband and father of five was admitted on June 4 to Baptist Health in North Little Rock and tested positive for covid-19 the same day, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.

An 80-year-old Jacksonville woman, June 18. A 1958 graduate of North Little Rock's Old Main High School, she was a wife, mother of two and worked at Arkansas Electric Co-op and Hiner Oil.

"She enjoyed going to drag racing with her husband and going to the movies," according to her obituary. "She was a very devoted wife and daughter, and loved her life and family, talking with her sisters every day. In her later years, she enjoyed senior activities, bingo and organized lunches."

The Woodland Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation resident was admitted to Baptist Health in North Little Rock on June 13, with respiratory issues. She then tested positive for the virus.

A 79-year-old Helena-West Helena woman, June 19. A mother of three, she was admitted June 10 to Baptist Health with chest pain and respiratory distress, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.

She tested positive at the hospital for covid-19. She had a history of health issues.

A 58-year-old Springdale woman, June 21. The Washington County coroner's report redacted most information about her illness, death and next-of-kin.

The Hispanic woman died at Northwest Medical Center at Springdale, according to the report.

Hazel Floyd, 75, Little Rock, June 23. A Little Rock native, Floyd was a wife and mother of three who worked for Timex for a decade and retired from Walmart.

"She was always on the go, doing whatever us boys wanted to do -- baseball, activities, school projects," said son Jason Floyd. "Even though she worked, when she had time off, she was always taking us places."

She also enjoyed crossword puzzles, reading and communicating with family members, including writing letters to those who lived elsewhere. "Family, not just immediate family but extended family, was very important to her," her son said. "She always wanted to make sure she was talking to her family, my dad's family ... and any chance to visit and see them, she made sure of that too."

Hazel Floyd contracted covid-19 while a resident at Robinson Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in North Little Rock, according to her son. Husband Jerry Dean Floyd visited her there daily. He continued after she tested positive, even though she was quarantined and he could see her only through a window.

She was hospitalized June 18, experiencing shortness of breath, and died five days later.

Bobby May, 77, Russellville, June 23. "He was a really good guy; a family man," said son Robert May. "He liked hunting. We spent 30 years going to the deer camp together."

"If he liked you, he really liked you. If he didn't, he really didn't. He saw through a lot of people."

Bobby and wife Frances May were married for 56 years. Their son said he doesn't believe his father died from covid-19 because he had been hospitalized for two months with a brain infection that required neurosurgery.

His father tested positive on June 22, the day before he died. "After his brain surgery, he went downhill. He didn't even know who everyone was," Robert May said. He had "been on life support for over a week."

The family had been with Bobby May every day at the hospital, but after he tested positive, "we were not allowed to be at the hospital when he died," his son said.

Bobby May worked for 40 years at ConAgra Foods in Russellville.

"He was just a real good mentor to me. He never missed work," Robert May said. "He had years and years of perfect attendance. I'm the same way."

A 105-year-old Jacksonville woman, June 23. The retired beautician and resident of Woodland Hills Nursing and Rehabilitation died of covid-19, according to a Pulaski County coroner's report.

She was widowed twice and is survived by many nieces and nephews, according to her obituary.

Mable Neeley, 84, of Cabot, June 24. Neeley worked for more than 30 years in the cafeteria of the Cabot Public School District.

"She loved it," said daughter Lisa Garner. "She would stop the cafeteria line and give a child a hug or a kiss if they were crying because they missed their momma. The other workers would say, 'Miss Mable, you're holding up the line.' And she'd say, 'I've got to hug this baby's tears away."

Neeley was known for her cakes, bread and rolls, her daughter said. She described Neeley as feisty and adventurous.

The Cabot resident was admitted to Baptist Health on June 10 after testing positive for covid-19. Garner said her mother had tested negative for the virus several times before receiving the positive result.

"She deteriorated quickly after that," Garner said. "She spent two weeks at Baptist, and she developed pneumonia in her left lung."

Garner said a hospital health care worker called her just minutes before 4 p.m. on June 24.

"They said that she needed to hear from each of us kids that it was OK and to go on to heaven," Garner said. "The nurse told her, 'David, Darlene and Lisa said to go on to heaven. They've got it covered here.' Right after that, she passed away, at exactly 4 o'clock."

A 74-year-old Springdale man, June 26. The Marshallese man went to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers on June 24 and was "very ill," according to a Benton County coroner's report

He had experienced coughing and shortness of breath for the previous three days. His respiratory and cardiac functions continued to decline, and he died two days after admission.

The man was one of at least six people identified as Pacific Islanders who died in Northwest Arkansas during two days, June 25 to June 26, according to coroners' records.

A 49-year-old Springdale man, June 30. Little information appears in the Washington County coroner's report except that the man was a Pacific Islander who died at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville and was covid-19-positive.

Information for this article was contributed by Bill Bowden, Ginny Monk, Kat Stromquist and Alex Golden.

Print Headline: Doctor, '40s riveter among virus dead


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