From one day of the pandemic in Minnesota, these are the stories of 17 lives lost

From one day of the pandemic in Minnesota, these are the stories of 17 lives lost

Many were mothers or fathers. Some worked on farms, others in offices. They loved the outdoors and were guided by faith.

When the coronavirus came to Minnesota, they worried about catching it and wore masks. Those living in long-term care facilities had relatives who wondered if they were safe.

Each day, the Department of Health updates the anonymous tally of Minnesotans who have died so far of COVID-19.

These are some of the stories of the people who died on a typical fall day during the pandemic in Minnesota. They are what we lost on one day. They are what we are losing every day.

On Oct. 21, there were 140 Minnesotans who died of a variety of illnesses and accidents, according to public death records.

Death certificates listed COVID-19 as a cause of death for 16 people, all of whom had underlying medical conditions that contributed to their deaths. For three others, COVID-19 was listed as a contributing factor but not the cause of death.

In one case, a widow traces her husband’s illness to a wedding. For other family members, how the virus spread is a mystery.

About half of the 19 were residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities when they contracted the coronavirus. Since the pandemic reached Minnesota, roughly two-thirds of its fatal victims have lived in such facilities.

COVID-19 has played a role in the deaths of more than 3,000 Minnesotans since March — about 13 per day, according to the Department of Health.

That tally includes people who both have tested positive for the coronavirus and either had the disease listed on their death certificate by a licensed medical professional or had a clinical history or autopsy finding that COVID-19 caused the death.

The 19 people who died on Oct. 21 ranged in age from 48 to 96, with an average age of 80. They lived around the state — from the metro area, such as St. Paul, Maplewood and Farmington; to Hibbing on the Iron Range; Winona on the Mississippi River; to the town of Hills in the far southwestern corner of the state.

Here are remembrances of 17 of the lives lost; families of two people declined to participate in the article.

— Mara H. Gottfried and Josh Verges


Ronald Kramer (Courtesy photo)

Ron Kramer noticed that a co-worker had a runny nose on Oct. 5.

It made him nervous. Everyone wore masks at his work, most of the time. But Kramer’s treatment for leukemia had weakened his immune system, making him more vulnerable.

The next day, he got tested. The results came back on a Friday — positive. By Monday, feeling weak and achy, Kramer was rushed by ambulance to the Mayo Clinic.

Six days later, he returned home, but two days later he started to cough and he did not stop.

After a dash to a local hospital’s emergency room, doctors put him on oxygen and sent him home. He died there 16 days after the virus struck. He was 64. “God is taking care of him now,” said wife Marlee.

A natural-born mechanic, he was a community resource for any engine-related problem. “If you couldn’t figure it out, you’d call Ron,” Marlee said.

He worked for the city of Waseca, driving and repairing trucks, including snowplows.

The couple loved to go birdwatching together. Kramer liked to play cards and watch NASCAR races. He also had a mischievous streak, including practical jokes.

But of all the memories, the one that stands out is the horror of a virus that skipped from one person to the next.

“He was always terrified about it,” said Marlee. She said Kramer always wore a mask — but not everyone around him did.

She caught COVID from her husband and spent five days in the hospital. As sick as she felt, she had to take care of her husband, who felt even worse.

Now more than ever, the family balks at anyone who scoffs at COVID.

“If anyone complains about wearing masks, they are going to get a big argument out of me now,” said brother Bob Kramer.

— Bob Shaw


Irene Helen Anderson (Courtesy photo)

Irene Helen Anderson was an original “Rosie the Riveter,” working a factory job during World War II to help support the troops.

She spent her life caring for her family and others, outliving her husband, six siblings, two children and two grandchildren.

“She was 96 and going strong,” said her daughter Debra Nelson. “It took a pandemic to kill her.”

Anderson spent the last 10 years of her life at Elk Ridge Alzheimer’s Special Care Center in Maplewood. Never one to sit still, she joined a “Dancing Grandmas” group and was described by family as living an energetic and active lifestyle.

In spite of her efforts to stay healthy and the efforts of those giving her care, she contracted COVID-19 and died two weeks later.

“I know they did everything they could to try to keep it out,” Nelson said. “It was just a matter of time.”

Nelson and other family members tried to be with Anderson as much as they could in her final days, but it was difficult.

“That was the sad part of it,” Nelson said. “I went in wearing the full PPE (personal protective equipment), but I was scared because the whole facility pretty much had it.”

In her prime, Anderson volunteered with Meals on Wheels and was involved with the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

She was an avid hiker who loved having picnics, making cookies, and singing and playing country music on her guitar.

A family member speaking at her funeral described her, saying, “She was … devoted to living a life that says, ‘I’m not just going to watch life pass me by. I’m going to … live a life that is … extraordinary.’ ”

— Deanna Weniger


Jamie Dean Phillip (Courtesy photo)

Jamie Dean Phillips grew up in Iowa showing hogs at the Clay County Fair, playing football and saxophone in the school band.

He came to Minnesota to earn his bachelor’s degree from Mankato State University and ended up in Farmington working as a sales rep.

“He liked to play video games and we liked spending time with him,” said Pauline Reller, a close friend who celebrated their November birthdays together every year at Treasure Island casino. “He was a good friend and mentor of my husband.”

Phillips, 48, liked to play fantasy football, experiment with recipes and watch baseball.

He died at home of COVID-19, with muscle disease and diabetes also listed as causes of death. He is survived by his mother, sister and nephew, his obituary said.

— Deanna Weniger


Delores Mae Hendricksen (Courtesy photo)

Delores Mae Hendricksen raised six children, helped her husband with the auto body shop they owned and loved baby-sitting her grandchildren. She had 21, plus 23 great-grandchildren.

“She was basically your June Cleaver from the 1950s type of person,” said daughter Cindy Rierson, of Roseville.

Delores and Fred Hendricksen married in 1951. They settled in Luverne, Minn., about 100 miles east of their hometown of Mitchell, S.D., in 1965.

Every Saturday night, Delores and Fred went out for dinner and dancing. Every Sunday meant attending St. John Lutheran Church.

Fred Hendricksen died in 2010. Delores Hendricksen, 86, was living at Tuff Memorial Home in Hills, not far from Luverne.

In the spring, daughter Kristi Mueller worried about the spread of the coronavirus in long-term care facilities, but as time went on, “you kind of start having faith that maybe it wasn’t going to hit their facility,” she said.

But Tuff was hit hard beginning in October. Most of the 43 residents were diagnosed with COVID over about a month, according to federal data. Ten residents died, said administrator Eli Ripley.

“You become kind of family, and it’s tough to lose them,” said Ripley, who said they received help from the community, the county and state and are on the other side of the outbreak now.

Rierson, a retired registered nurse, wanted to move her mother in with her, but faced a life-or-death dilemma. Her daughter is medically fragile and they’ve done everything to keep her from being exposed to the coronavirus.

Now, she said, “A lot of us are left with guilt.”

— Mara H. Gottfried


If nicknames are a sign of love, Steve Milton was adored.

Milton was known as “Milts, Milty, Steaver Beaver, Beave and Bev, among countless others,” according to his obituary. He was 54.

He grew up in Stillwater where “he embraced his Jan Brady status as the middle child,” his obit stated. His childhood “was marked by summers on the St. Croix river, bike rides all over town, sports of all kinds in the Fritz Backyard Arena, kickball games in the neighborhood yards, wood forts in the ravine, blanket forts in the loft, ice cream at Art’s, and general shenanigans.”

After his family moved to North St. Paul at the start of his sophomore year in high school, he met Heather Johnson, “his way, way better half,” his obituary continued. They married in 1987. He is survived by her and two sons.

Milton attended Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis and was a master electrician. He worked for electrical contractors until he became the electric superintendent for North St. Paul.

Milton loved people, was an amazing listener and “brought home every animal he ever found, sometimes using the excuse that ‘this cat just jumped into my work van,’ ” his obit stated. “It’s a cliché, but for Bev there were no strangers — only friends he hadn’t met yet.”

— Mary Divine


Lois Liss (Courtesy photo)

The pandemic knocked on the front door of Lois Liss, 90.

Her in-home caretaker was absent, so a substitute caretaker arrived. That person walked into the Minnetonka home, bringing the disease that would ultimately prove fatal for Liss, her family says.

“It doesn’t feel real to me,” said daughter Nancy Liss. “She is my favorite person on Earth.”

Until her final hours, the family was planning their annual trip to Florida, and a birthday party for her on Nov. 14.

Liss was a constant part of their lives. “I live two blocks away, and I hung out with her every day,” said Nancy Liss. “Because of her, I never felt lonely in my life.”

Lois Liss loved dancing and seeing plays. She had season tickets to the Guthrie Theater.

“She loved the Twins, the Vikings, the Gophers, as terrible as they have been,” said grandson Jeff Wolfson.

He recalled phoning Grandma Lois after televised games, just to get her postgame analysis. He put his Twins cap on her casket in the funeral home.

Liss’ caretaker had no symptoms, so it was a surprise when Liss had to be rushed to a hospital with COVID. Doctors transferred her to a care center and then back to her Minnetonka home, where family members flocked.

Nancy Liss is haunted by the thought that if the nation’s leaders encouraged mask-wearing, the virus could have been beaten.

“This is one of thousands and thousands of stories,” she said, “that didn’t have to happen.”

— Bob Shaw


Anna Peterson (Courtesy photo)

Anna Peterson married her husband in 1946, a month after they met.

Days later, he joined the U.S. occupying forces in Japan for a year while she made gear boxes for anti-aircraft guns in Fairmont.

After he returned, the couple raised four girls. Peterson later worked as a pharmacy technician in the Willmar area, and during retirement volunteered at a hospice and delivered meals to the homebound.

“She was a caregiver, just taking care of neighbors and other family members as they needed it,” daughter Betty Bosch said.

Peterson had COVID-19 for only a few days before she died in hospice in Willmar at age 95. Pandemic restrictions prevented her daughters from seeing her, and Peterson may not have understood why because she had lost her hearing and much of her eyesight.

Bosch said she and others displayed birthday signs for their mother through a window in June.

“She was real angry. She looked and was like, ‘Where have you been?’ ” Bosch said.

Peterson was near death before she contracted the coronavirus, but Bosch wishes her mother would have made it through to the other side of the pandemic.

“Maybe we would have been able to sit with her and hold her hand and be with her when she died,” she said.

— Josh Verges


Duane Pierson (Courtesy photo)

Duane Pierson, of Avon, knew how COVID was spread, and wore a mask faithfully.

But he and wife Gloria attended a wedding in October where she said no one was wearing them. One week later, he was diagnosed with COVID and died shortly after. He was 86.

“It all happened so fast for me,” said Gloria Pierson, who was married to Duane for 66 years.

She got COVID from her husband and went with him to the hospital — but came back alone.

“I have trouble thinking about it,” she said.

Pierson is being remembered as “Pepper” — a lifelong nickname taken from a dog that he loved as a boy.

He was a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, a volunteer fireman and an avid fisherman. Pierson started a business, Avon Marine, and ran it for 35 years.

He was not known for a positive attitude and his friends teased him for being crabby. “They said he needed an attitude adjustment,” recalled Gloria Pierson.

Lawn signs appeared proclaiming Duane Pierson a graduate of “crab school.” The Piersons found that hilarious, and saved the signs in their garage.

Then came the wedding that left her a widow.

One week after the wedding, Duane Pierson was extremely sick. But Gloria was not. “I was worn out. I had a cough,” she said.

Gloria Pierson was released from the hospital after five days, but not allowed to see her dying husband. She has since learned that another elderly man died of COVID after attending the same wedding.

She doesn’t blame the wedding party, and doesn’t want to embarrass them. “I just didn’t expect this,” she said.

— Bob Shaw


Lois Bertrand loved doing puzzles, sewing and going to garage sales.

Bertrand, who died at the Castle Ridge Care Center in Eden Prairie, also loved reading, spending time with family and traveling, according to her obituary.

Lois Carlton, 85, grew up in St. Paul and graduated from Monroe High School. In 1955, she married Eugene Bertrand. The couple had five children. He died in 1985.

The family lived on a farm in Osage. “She was a housewife who loved the outdoors and the animals she helped raise,” her obituary said. “She loved to garden and can vegetables.”

Lois Bertrand attended St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Park Rapids, where she sang in the women’s choir, rang the choir bells, attended Bible studies and helped clean. She later worked at the Catholic Rectory, volunteered at St. Joseph’s Hospital, served meals at the Osage Community Center and worked as an election judge.

She is survived by her five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

— Mary Divine


Joseph Albert Carlson, Sr. (Courtesy photo)

Even in his last days, struggling to breathe at St. Cloud Hospital, Joseph A. Carlson Sr.’s only thoughts were of Linda, his wife of 20 years.

“The nurse told me that he gave them specific instructions. ‘Do not tell my wife anything that will upset her,’ ” said Linda Carlson, of Motley. “His last words to me were, ‘Don’t forget that I love you.’ ”

The family doesn’t know how Joseph Carlson, 74, contracted COVID-19. He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which made him hyper-vigilant about staying clear of crowds.

“We were told a long time ago that if Joe ever got COVID, he would die from it,” Linda Carlson said. “He would ride with me to the store, but he’d stay in the car. We followed all the rules.”

About 2½ weeks before his death, Carlson awoke to find her husband lying on the bathroom floor where he had tripped and fallen, the bed sheet still tangled around his feet. At the hospital, they learned his oxygen levels were very low and that he had COVID.

Born in Staples, Carlson graduated from Staples High School in 1963 and went on to work for Benson Optical before becoming a conductor with Burlington Northern Railroad until he retired.

He was an outdoorsman. He loved to float down the river with family, go bow hunting, fishing and fur trapping and practice archery. He also ran a bear hunting camp with his twin brother in Little Fork. He found joy in antiquing, carving wood decoys and attending church.

“My Joseph was quite the laid back type of person. He did not like being the center of attention,” Linda Carlson said. “But he was always willing to help anybody and everybody and he did that faithfully.”

— Deanna Weniger


Donna Perttu, center, is seen in a family photo taken with Wayne and Esther Salmi at their 60th wedding anniversary gathering in 1998. (Courtesy photo)

Born in the latter years of the Great Depression, both Donna Perttu of St. Paul and her younger sister Patricia Larsen of Rosemount completed lengthy careers in hospital administration.

Perttu, 83, who raised two sons and was widowed, held a master’s degree and had been a supervisor in a radiology department. Larsen died in 2017 at the age of 75.

“I just remember her as being very attractive, tall, intelligent,” said cousin Sharon Stimac, who sometimes visited from Eveleth when Pettru was growing up in Virginia, Minn. “Donna was a tall, stately, pretty lady.”

Perttu, born Vukelich, was 83 and living at Cerenity Care Center in St. Paul when she died.

— Frederick Melo


Connie Lucente (Courtesy photo)

Connie Lucente’s signature greeting when answering the phone was a gleeful “Oh, hi!”

“She never entered a room without a huge smile, had a conversation without sharing her infectious laugh or answered a phone call without … showing how happy she was to have your call,” said daughter Christine Lucente.

When Lucente, 90, was diagnosed with COVID on Oct. 10, she “had an absolutely mild case,” Christine Lucente said. “… When we talked to staff, the report was always ‘Status quo. She’s OK.’ We did not get the sense that death was that imminent.”

But around 10 a.m. Oct. 21, staff at Guardian Angels Health & Rehabilitation Center in Hibbing called to say that Lucente’s oxygen levels had plummeted during the night and her lungs had filled with fluid. Within two hours, she was gone. “They were trying to set up a FaceTime call, so we could say goodbye, but we didn’t get that chance,” Christine Lucente said.

Connie Lucente, a devout Catholic, didn’t get a big sendoff. “We had a handful of people standing in the snow at her funeral,” Christine Lucente said. “If people really understood how tragic this was, I’d think they’d have more respect for how dangerous this virus is.”

After graduating from high school in Cherry on the Iron Range in 1947, Connie married Gene Lucente in 1950 and the two moved to Kitzville; they had three children. Son Tommy died of a brain tumor when he was 14. Gene Lucente died of leukemia in 1981, and granddaughter Michele died of childhood leukemia at the age of 3.

“Her strong faith is what pulled her through,” Christine Lucente said. “She had a lot of pain and heartbreak, but she was always able to … live a life that was full of joy.”

— Mary Divine


Mary Ann Ackerman (Courtesy photo)

Mary Ann Ackerman was a life-long farmer. She was raised in a farming family in the Valley Springs, S.D., and Hills, Minn., area.

“We’d walk two miles to school and hurry home to do chores,” said her brother, Rod Kosters Sr. “Mary Ann was a very giving, loving person and a very strong lady. She could pitch hay and shovel corn with any man.”

She met Bud Ackerman at church youth group and, when he was serving in World War II, she often spoke of how she “saved the farm for her man,” according to her obituary. They were married in 1947.

The couple were farmers in Beaver Creek and parents to a daughter, Henrietta. Mary Ann Ackerman also loved gardening.

“Her houseplants were beautiful; one plant was a wedding gift — she kept it beautiful for 67 years!” her obituary said. “Plants simply grew better when Mary Ann whispered to them.”

She was an active member of the Luverne Christian Reformed Church and president of the American Legion Auxiliary in Valley Springs.

Ackerman, 94, lived at Tuff Memorial Home in Hills. She was preceded in death by her daughter in 2012 and her husband in 2014. She was close with her two granddaughters and is also survived by great-grandchildren, and many nieces and nephews.

— Mara H. Gottfried


Aloys H. Duevel (Courtesy photo)

Born in Duluth, Aloys Duevel worked at a fish factory and car wash, and his last job was at Jeno’s in Duluth.

He enjoyed playing instruments, such as the harmonica and accordion, said a cousin, Julie Gerads. He also loved playing cards.

He was a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Melrose and the Knights of Columbus.

Duevel, 77, was living at CentraCare – Melrose, which has long-term care and senior housing, when he died. His 75-year-old brother, David, lived at the same facility and died two days later, also of COVID. They are survived by four other siblings.

— Katrina Pross


Maynard Eng (Courtesy photo)

Lifelong Duluth resident and longtime State Farm insurance agent Maynard Eng, 86, believed in living a life of service.

Eng was an active member of Hope United Methodist Church for almost 70 years, volunteered with the Boy Scouts of America and twice served as lodge master of the Duluth Masonic Center.

“He told me, ‘You get back tenfold what you put into something,’ ” said son Tom Eng, of Duluth.

For more than 34 years, Maynard Eng sold State Farm insurance in Duluth.

Born and raised in Duluth, Eng graduated from Duluth Central High School and the University of Minnesota-Duluth in 1958.

Eng died at North Ridge Health and Rehab in New Hope. He was preceded in death by his wife of 65 years, Patricia, in 2018. He is survived by his six children, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

— Mary Divine


Ruth Evelyn Boyum (Courtesy photo)

Ruth Evelyn Boyum, 87, grew up on a dairy farm in a small town in southern Minnesota and loved the farming life. Just a few weeks before her death, she was driving a mowing tractor on her land.

She lived the majority of her life in and around Houston, Minn., and graduated from Houston High School. She had four children with her first husband and later married Donald Boyum, from whom she was divorced.

She worked in the areas of finance and bookkeeping/secretarial, and then made farming the mainstay of her business career. Boyum was also a real estate broker, appraiser and the owner of Ruth’s Realty in Houston.

Boyum was a member of the Cross of Christ Lutheran Church, where she served as president of the Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, taught Sunday school and participated in Bible study groups. She was an active leader in 4-H with her children, and participated in the Chamber of Commerce, Farm Bureau and real estate associations.

“Ruth delighted in the company of others, often in the form of dancing, playing cards, and spending time with her family,” her obituary said.

— Deanna Weniger


John Komula, who was born in Park Rapids, graduated from Park Rapids High School and then received a bachelor’s degree at Bemidji State University. He was retired after a career as a property manager.

Komula, 74, lived in a rural area near Nevis. When he was hit by the pandemic, he initially was taken to a hospital in Bemidji and then transferred to St. Cloud Hospital, where he died.

His wife, Linda, died in 2019. Komula is survived by two daughters. One wrote on Facebook, “My heart is broken and the family is devastated to lose such an amazing brother, father, grandfather and friend.”

— Bob Shaw

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