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Only a few weeks ago, Americans were watching from a distance as the novel coronavirus was spreading across Asia, and then suddenly it was knocking at U.S. doors and taking the lives of our neighbors. 

Joanna Wilson wrote on her Facebook page last week that her husband, Dennis, was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 but was sent home twice from emergency care in Lenexa and Kansas City because he didn’t meet other criteria for testing.

His condition continued to worsen, and he finally was admitted to the intensive care unit at AdventHealth, Overland Park, early in the morning of March 16. He was tested for the disease. By that night, the results came back positive for COVID-19.

Joanna Wilson was stricken with concern, unable to be by her husband’s side because of being quarantined at their home in Lenexa. The hospital the following day made arrangements to meet her in the parking lot and provide her the gear to be able to come in and be by her husband’s side. She spent five hours with the love of her life, reading him the messages sent by friends and  taking advantage of every moment she as given to show her love for him.

On Thursday, family and friends were requesting more prayers as Dennis Wilson’s condition was “grave.”

On Saturday, a devastated Joanna Wilson wrote: “The fight is over. I am absolutely heartbroken! It has been an indescribably horrible week of immeasurable suffering on the part of the love of my life and then certainly on the part of our three children and our 6 grandchildren who could only watch helplessly from a distance.”

Dennis Wilson was gone, leaving his wife, family and friends in shock.

“I walked into my home now knowing for sure he would never walk through the door again,” Joanna Wilson wrote. “And now I start another complete quarantine, and think what kind of funeral I can plan from home, knowing it might not take place for quite awhile and might be a lot less than I think he deserves. More travesty!

“And then, I have the task of completely ridding our home and belongings of Covid-19, something I’m not quite sure I know how to do or have the energy for. I cannot go anywhere or have visitors in, so I’m now finding myself in the grips of great sorrow and grief completely alone. Where do I begin?”

Her sorrow struck the hearts of those reading her words, and her unimaginable circumstances brought an outpouring of love. Strangers offered words of kindness along with those whose lives had been positively impacted by the Wilsons, many from here in Labette County, where the couple resided for years, with Dennis Wilson working as the Labette County USD 506 superintendent for 12 years and Joanna Wilson working as administrator of Parsons Good Samaritan Society.

“Dr. Wilson was a true public servant in that after retiring he also served as a 506 school board member for five years,” USD 506 Assistant Superintendent Tony Blackwell said Monday. “As superintendent he was instrumental in the passing of a bond issue that provided and updated science labs throughout the district and provided a state-of-the-art culinary program at LCHS. He also helped to implement many improvements in curriculum and instructional practices. Dr. Wilson not only made a great impact on USD 506 but throughout the SEK area as he served on several committees at Greenbush (Southeast Kansas Education Service Center).”

“The Good Samaritan community is deeply saddened by the passing of Dennis Wilson. Joanna worked for the Good Samaritan Society for over 25 years and her and Dennis were very active within Good Samaritan and the Parsons community. Our continued prayers are with Joanna, her children and grandchildren,” current Good Samaritan Society administrator Crystal Packard said.

Knowing Wilson was left to mourn the loss of her beloved husband alone, isolated in their home, Parsons resident and family friend Tracy Gilmore reached out to people, requesting they share their wonderful memories.

Stories abounded of the Wilsons giving of themselves to their neighbors, co-workers and communities in which they have lived. Tales were told of not only Wilson the teacher and superintendent, but Wilson, the classmate, the church member, the neighbor, the snake catcher, the inventor, the magician. They told of his humor, his kindness and his smile that “lit up the room.” In the very early morning hours on Monday, Joanna Wilson admitted while she needed sleep, she couldn’t pull herself away from reading the words posted, serving to uplift her spirits during her time of grief.

“Wow! It’s 2:45 a.m. and I desperately need sleep. But I can’t stop reading these posts,” she wrote. “They’re my lifeblood right now.”

Even strangers were drawn to the stories of Wilson and left messages.

“I did not know Dennis. But I would like to say, he is still touching lives after he has left this earth, for he is making me, and I’m sure many, still smile reading all these wonderful memories he did. What a great man. I’m sure he made God smile many, many times. God bless him and his wife and family, the friends and all lives he has touched,” Sherry Runer wrote in response to Gilmore’s post.

Since the first case of coronavirus was reported in the U.S. two months ago, more than 41,708 cases have been confirmed and 573 people have died, with numbers doubling about every three days. The first case in Kansas was reported on March 11 in Johnson County. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported that as of Monday, 82 cases have been confirmed in Kansas and two people have died, including Wilson. 

“Dennis was technically elderly but pretty damn healthy for a man in his 70s,” his son, Luke Wilson, wrote in an email to the Kansas City Star. “The virus is stealth, isolating and cruel; seemingly coming out of nowhere, infecting him early in the outbreak without high-risk exposure or travel. We were unprepared to handle this enemy and my beautiful father paid the ultimate price.

“But I’d like to thank all of you who reached out this last week offering thoughts, prayers, and memories. This disease isolates us and interferes with our ability to care for one another and grieve together. Thank you for all the help you gave me and my family.”


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