© 2020 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Remembering Elderly People Lost To COVID-19

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

We're set to pass 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 this week. And over the course of the pandemic, as the numbers ticked up, so did our knowledge of how the disease operates.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We learned early on that older adults are among the most vulnerable to the disease. In fact, 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been adults over the age of 65.

PFEIFFER: We wanted to take this moment to remember some of those lives lost.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ALBY KASS: (Singing in Yiddish).

PFEIFFER: That's the voice of Yiddish folk singer Alby Kass. He died in March at age 89 in Northern California.

KELLY: Kass's love for Yiddish music began when he was a young kid in the Bronx. His father had died when he was just 9. So he grew up...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KASS: With a mother who loved to sing and didn't actually teach me these songs - just sang them. And I sang with her.

PFEIFFER: When he turned 18, he headed for California and settled north of San Francisco near the Russian River. That's where Kass and his wife founded a Jewish community group and choir. Mark Peabody was in the Jubilee Klezmer Ensemble with Kass.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK PEABODY: I had never performed with a person who had so much joy in his heart and was able to share it with the people around him.

KELLY: He shared his love of Yiddish music with his children and his grandchildren, too. They couldn't be with Kass in his final days, but a nurse was able to play recordings of his family for him in his final moments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STELLA: Hi, Papa (ph). This is Stella (ph), and I'll be playing one of your favorite songs on the recorder.

PFEIFFER: Many people have lost their parents to COVID-19 during this pandemic. Sharron Jackson is one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

SHARRON JACKSON: This woman had no fear.

KELLY: Jackson is talking about her mother, Mary J. Wilson, who was the first African American senior zookeeper at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. Mike McClure was trained by Wilson at the zoo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MIKE MCCLURE: Mary just blew me away. Like, she was the most skilled animal handler and trainer I'd ever seen. She really flipped all the gender roles on their head.

PFEIFFER: McClure says Wilson always kept calm in sticky situations, like the time a Kodiak bear named Junior got out of his enclosure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MCCLURE: She grabbed a handful of apples. Then Mary just stood out there and was like, Junior - and just calling him. Damn if the bear didn't turn around, walk back through the door it just discovered and went right back into the habitat. And she's sitting there, throwing him apples. Good boy, Junior. Good boy.

KELLY: Amazing. Mary J. Wilson - she died of COVID-19 in July. She was 83.

PFEIFFER: Winifred Fredericks of New York City was another trailblazing woman.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WINIFRED FREDERICKS: Well, my name is Winifred Fredericks, also known as Sister Nandy. That's my name that I acquired during the civil rights struggle.

PFEIFFER: Fredericks died of COVID-19 in April, just 10 days before her 93rd birthday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

MARY ELLEN PHIFER: Winnie (ph) was a very lovable, kind, dependable person.

KELLY: That is Mary Ellen Phifer. She met Fredericks in the '60s when they both took part in Freedom Rides and sit-ins, marching alongside people like Martin Luther King Jr.

PFEIFFER: Those closest to Fredericks remember her as a woman with a subtle presence but a strong spirit. Here's her daughter Adele Lee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ADELE LEE: She was forceful in a quiet way. She never had any bad thing to say about anybody, but she had an opinion.

PFEIFFER: In an interview in 2013, Fredericks was asked what advice she had for young people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FREDERICKS: To get involved in something - and once you start doing something and - sometimes you can see improvement. And when you see improvement, you get more fired up, you know? There is a good feeling.

KELLY: Winifred Fredericks, Mary J. Wilson and Alby Kass - just three of the nearly 200,000 lives lost in the U.S. since the pandemic began.

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "FOLDS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.