Newton, nation, mourn COVID deaths

Chad Frey
The Kansan
A family lights a candle during a memorial service at Trinity Heights United Methodist Church for those lost to COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The ceremony was part of a national effort and inauguration activities for Joe Biden.

COVID-19 has hit some families especially hard — forcing them to say goodbye to loved ones. In Harvey County, 33 people have died from the disease since the pandemic began.

Those 33 people — and thousands more — were remembered Jan. 19 with short church services around the country that coincided with a memorial as part of the Presidential Inauguration activities. That memorial, with hundreds candles lit around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, included a call to cities and towns across the nation to join at 5:30 eastern time for a "moment of unity and remembrance."

At Trinity Heights on Jan. 19 40 candles were lit in memory of those lost to COVID-19 across the nation — one candle for every 10,000 deaths. In Harvey County, 33 people have died from the pandemic disease.

At Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, 12th and Boyd, that meant the lighting of 40 candles with music and prayer. 

"Every community really has lost people, and this is really hard on people," said pastor Donna Voteau. "I have had people who have gotten better and have been touch and go for a long while. This, for how many, we still go 'oh my word.'"

Voteau will read the names of her parishioners who have succumbed to the disease, knowing that there are many more from the Newton community who have passed away. 

"We have had several that have recuperated, but we have lost some," she said. 

Across town, First Mennonite Church honored the life of Bob Schmidt, who passed away on Jan. [17] from COVID-19. The church encouraged the lighting of candles, which it followed with the ringing of the church bells — double rings to honor all the lives lost to COVID-19 and a single ring —82 of them — for each year of Schmidt's life. 

"In the midst of a pandemic — when so many Americans are grieving the loss of family, friends, and neighbors — it is important that we honor those who have died, reflect on what has been one of the more challenging periods in the nation's history, and renew our commitment to coming together to end the pandemic and rebuild our nation," Voteau said in a statement prior to the ceremony.

She told the Kansan that everyone who attended the Trinity Heights memorial on the south lawn of the church who had lost someone to COVID-19 could leave with a candle, if they chose to.

And the number of candles chose for the service was significant. The 40 candles represents one candle for each 10,000 people lost in the United States to date to the disease. 

Donna Voteau, pastor of Trinity Heights, led a short memorial service outside at the church Jan. 19 to remember members of the church, and others nationwide, who have died of COVID-19. For more images from the ceremony, visit

"We as churches know how to give a general prayer to comfort people and ask for comfort," Voteau said.  "Whenever we are called upon as churches to participate, we ought to. This is not easy, you want to make sure [not to offend or be political]. We did what we could when we were called upon by another administration as well."