Remembering the people, not the statistics

By Sara Coy

The numbers of cases and deaths describe the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is the people who tell the story. 

The ever-increasing national numbers feel out of reach, but there are many in the community whose deaths have touched us deeply. Butler County has lost 584 people to COVID-19 as of May 12, according to the Butler County COVID-19 Dashboard. 

Thanks to the hard work of scientists, medical providers and the cooperation of Americans, there is a glimmer of hope that we may soon see the end of the pandemic, but not everyone will be lucky enough to see it with us. 

Butler County has lost a father of four, a member of the U.S. Postal Service, a school treasurer and a beloved uncle, among others. We are now seeing social gathering restrictions being lifted. On Thursday, President Biden took off his mask and invited others who have been vaccinated to do the same. But we cannot forget about those who would not be able to share a drink or a meal with us; who would not be there this weekend to see a graduation; who were not lucky enough to stay healthy until vaccines were available. 

Throughout the past year, people have dealt with loss and grief in different ways, from expressing their feelings through art and writing to bringing the topic to virtual and physical classrooms for projects and discussions.

Butler County resident Darryl Berry created a memorial for the county’s victims using his glass-blowing skills. Berry has built a series of tetrahedrons from recycled automobile glass in a project called Souls X10. Each tetrahedron represents 10 Butler County residents who have lost their battle with COVID-19. The cluster of pyramids is located at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, near Ross, in an exhibition called “Out of the Darkness.” The show features other artwork inspired by the pandemic as well, according to the Pyramid Hill website. Berry was personally impacted by the loss of one of his former colleagues last year and plans to continue this project as long as the pandemic continues.

In his COVID-19 inspired “Out of Darkness” exhibition at Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park, Butler County artist Darryl Berry created three-sided green glass tetrahedrons, each representing 10 lives lost to COVID. Photo provided by Pyramid Hill

Andy Rice, a professor in Miami’s Department of Media, Journalism & Film, worked with his students to put together a digital story showing broad impacts of COVID-19 on the community. To give better understanding of these impacts, one student, Patrick Guerreau, conducted interviews via Zoom with community members in different walks of life. The film is around 40 minutes in length and allowed students in the class to collaborate on an important story while following CDC social distancing guidelines.

Miami University Special Collections Librarian Rachel Makarowski is working with her colleague, Jacky Johnson on a collection called “Documenting Life During COVID-19” for the university’s archives. This collection is community members’ direct responses to the pandemic. Members are able to submit narrative and object donations in any way they would like through a link on the library website. The collection is not yet available to the public because it is still being processed, and donations are still being accepted.

The Observer team wanted to allow those in the community who have experienced loss to tell their stories to the community. We reached out to community contacts and on social media platforms asking for anyone who wanted to participate to reach out to us. Below are some of their stories. What follows here is the start to a story we hope will soon have an end.

Ernest Stevenson, known by friends and family as “Uncle Steve,” lost his life during the holiday season late last December. He began his career in the United States Army and served one year in Vietnam where he was hit by enemy fire and wounded when a bullet went through his foot and shattered many small bones. He received the Purple Heart and additional medals and awards for his honorable service.

Ernest’s homegoing service pamphlet. Photo provided by Greg Fails

Stevenson moved to Cincinnati and went on to work in the United States Postal Service until retiring in 2009. In retirement he stayed active, watching his grandkids and keeping up friendships with people he had met throughout his life. Most importantly, he was a listening ear and great giver-of-advice to those close to him. 

“Uncle Steve was the guy who we all went to for advice and to just talk to,” said Oxford resident Greg Fails, Stevenson’s nephew. “He was not only an uncle but a great friend.”

Stevenson was a member of the United States Army and served in Vietnam. Photo by Greg Fails

According to Fails, Uncle Steve helped prevent his loved ones from acting out and doing “silly” things that could get them into trouble.


“Uncle Steve” sports a fedora and smiles with family. Photo provided by Greg Fails

Stevenson struggled with a heart condition and when he came down with COVID, there were complications with his circulation, ultimately leading to his death. While he was in the hospital, his wife, Lovia Perkins, was in a separate hospital, also with a bad case of COVID, however, she survived, said Fails.

Fails has had three family members in total who have unfortunately gotten COVID and although two survived, he said they are not fully the same and still face difficulty breathing months later.

Throughout his battle with COVID-19 and his other chronic illnesses, Stevenson remained committed to his faith and always put his trust in God.

Michael Gibson is in the middle of this family shot with his children and grandchildren. Photo provided by Elisa Gibson

Michael Gibson fought various health issues in his later years, which became significantly more difficult when he entered stage 5 kidney failure. Due to these pre-existing conditions, he was unable to fight off COVID-19 when he contracted the virus.

Gibson was born in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Garfield High School in 1971. He worked as hard and as long as he could to provide everything for his family. Through the ups and downs of his health, Gibson never lost touch with his faith. He loved teaching the word of God and taught Sunday school to children for 27 years and taught adults for seven. His daughter, Elisa Gibson, said he was actively involved in the church as long as his health allowed him to be.

Michael Gibson always loved his Kentucky blue. Photo by Elisa Gibson

In a message to the Observer Elisa wrote: “If anyone in need asked for help he would do everything in his power to be there for him.” Along with Michael’s kind heart and faith in God, Elisa said he blessed those around him with his singing voice.

Michael left a lasting impression on everyone he met and will be missed dearly by all. His family believes he is in heaven, continuing to pray over them during this hard time.




Mike Davis, treasurer of the Talawanda School District and well known community member, lost his battle to COVID-19 on April 11, 2020, making him the third reported COVID-19 death in Butler County.

Former Treasurer of the Talawanda School District, Mike Davis. Photo from Talawanda School District

“I kiddingly always called him the mayor of the city, as he knew everybody, he waved to everybody and was involved in a lot,” his wife, Crystal Davis, was quoted as saying in his obituary from the Observer.

Davis attended Talawanda High School and played on the football team. His skills on the field helped him get a four-year scholarship to play football at University of Kentucky (UK). After attending UK for one year, however, Davis decided to transfer to Miami University where he finished working toward his degree in finance.

Davis was a fitness buff who loved working out, playing tennis and riding his bike, said friends, yet the virus still took him. 

He and his wife met while in high school and later became Miami mergers. They found their way back to Oxford in 2006 and Davis eventually took a job as the Talawanda Schools treasurer. While taking on this job, he also served as chairman for the Ohio School Plan. Not only was Davis known in the district as the treasurer, he was also a devoted family man to his wife and his children, according to several sources. 

Mike smiles beside his beloved wife, Crystal, who along with their kids, made up his whole world. Observer file photo

Because the pandemic rules on social distancing prevented friends and loved ones congregating for his funeral, a “respect ride” was organized in the community five days after his death.

A police escorted procession of dozens of cars drove from Talawanda Middle School past his house to pay respects to his family. During this tribute parade people left cards and small tokens of appreciation. 






Paul Jewett fought hard for his wife, children, and all family and friends, but unfortunately was not able to recover from COVID-19. Jewett had been otherwise healthy and was only 37-years-old when he died  this past April. 

Paul and his wife, Christina Jewett. Christina captioned this on her Facebook page, saying: “This will always be one of my favorite pictures of us.” Photo provided by Christina Jewett

Jewett received his bachelor’s degree from Miami University in criminal justice and corrections, graduating magna cum laude in 2015. He worked at Frontier Communications as a sales and service technician and local manager for about 10 years before beginning a new job as a RE/MAX agent. His business motto, as seen on Linkedin was “Pursue it with Jewett.”

Jewett’s main concern in the workplace was customer satisfaction, so being his own manager as a real estate agent allowed him to do everything in his power to please people, said his wife Christina Jewett.

Jewett could not have been more proud and excited to be a resident in the city of Hamilton. He supported local businesses any chance he could get and consistently praised some on his Facebook page. He started a giveaway called “Thankful Thursday,” in which he would get a $25 gift card to a local restaurant to both promote the business and to give community members a reason to try it. Jewett would post a video about each place the gift card was from and his 7-year-old son, Lincoln, always liked to be included and help out his dad, Christina said.

Paul sitting on the couch smiling with two of his boys, Nolan (left) and Lincoln (right). Photo by Christina Jewett

“He always worked to give back,” Christina said. “He would buy someone a drink, a meal, or just sit and mingle with people everywhere he went.”

His positive impact on the community was further exemplified by the turnout and donations made at a fundraiser for him while he was still on a ventilator. Family, friends and community members gathered to raise money for Jewett and his family. Friends of the family also made a GoFundMe page called “Support Paul Jewett and Family” that has now raised $69,515 of its $100,000 goal.

Paul, Christina, and his sons Nolan, Lincoln, Austin and Brayden smile for a family photo at Wendel Farms. Another son, Benny, was born last month. Paul never got to hold him. Photo by Christina Jewett

“He never knew a stranger,” Christina said. “If he didn’t know you when he walked in, he would be by the time he left.”

With so much unrest in the world recently, Jewett refrained from any judgments of opinions different than his own. He worked to understand everyone’s perspective, Christina said.

In addition to his “official” jobs, Jewett coached his oldest son in the West Side Little League and was active in the Hamilton Christian Center. 

One of Jewett’s last posts on Facebook was a proud dad moment for his son Austin who made the JV baseball team at Talawanda High School. 

“Family was the main focus of his life,” Christina said. “He really was my biggest fan and was always rooting for and encouraging the boys.”

While Christina was in nursing school and working very long shifts, Paul would take the young boys with him to real estate showings if he needed to because he did not want them to have to go to day care. If still with us, his encouragement would have only continued for the Jewett’s newborn son, Benny, who Paul did not get to hold and hug when he was born.

Benny has been a saving grace for the family and has given them some much-needed positivity in these times of struggle and sadness.

These individual stories do not even represent 2% of the people Butler County lost in the pandemic, but they do show how big of an impact a person – not a statistic — can have. 

Many projects have been done nationwide to further highlight this, including a few close to home. Artists have taken their grievances and turned them into masterpieces, librarians have worked to create new archives and teachers and professors have created projects centered around the pandemic to bring people together in a time in which we are so far apart.

The CDC has recently announced the possibility of soon offering vaccinations to children ages 13 to 15, and the United States is talking about approving two new vaccines. Though these are large wins, it is important to never lose touch with what we first had to lose to get to this point. When Butler County, along with the rest of the country and world reaches the end of this sad chapter, for many, it will be without their mother, father, grandparent or friend.