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Watch now: Central Illinoisans reflect on a year of life amid COVID

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Decatur-area community members have been sharing their experience during the COVID-19 pandemic with the Herald & Review for the past year. Here's how they're doing now.

A year ago, as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning, the Herald & Review reached out to community members.

Our goal was to chronicle the pandemic through the eyes of people in different professions and stages of life. In the end, our group included a teacher, a reverend, a student, a theater operator, the head of a not-for-profit, a funeral director, a radio personality and a business owner.

From the outset, even in the face of the unknown as businesses remained closed and people were encouraged to stay home, positivity ruled.

"Everything is going to be all right," Terrence "TAT" Taylor said.

We checked in with them from time to time to see how they were coping.

Like all of us, the pandemic impacted them in a variety of ways. Despite their varying backgrounds and experiences with the virus, they are united in one thing — they can't wait until the pandemic is a memory and life gets back to normal, whatever that is in the post-COVID world.

In our latest installment, they reflect on the past year and how it will be remembered. 

Meet the participants: 

  • Rev. Wayne Dunning, pastor, Faith Fellowship Christian Church
  • Ron Johnson, funeral director, Dawson & Wikoff Funeral Homes
  • Julia Roundtree Livingston, executive director, Macon County CASA
  • Sara Nave, teacher, Dennis School
  • Addison Newbon, student/athlete, St. Teresa High School
  • John Stephens, executive director, Little Theatre-On the Square
  • Terrence "TAT" Taylor, community liaison, Community Foundation of Macon County
  • Craig "Woody" Wilson, owner, Sliderz and BC Wings

When did the pandemic become real to you?

Wayne Dunning: The pandemic became very real to me when I had to officiate over the funeral of a COVID-19 victim. And also when they moved back the returning date for kids in school and finally decided to cancel in-person attendance for the balance of the 2019-20 academic year.

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Rev. Wayne Dunning, pastor, Faith Fellowship Christian Church

Ron Johnson: When the governor started shutting down all non-essential businesses, the reality became very apparent.

Julia Roundtree Livingston: The pandemic was real for me from the very beginning. As the stay-at-home order was created, businesses went remote, schools went remote, it all seemed very real to me. I'm not sure that there was one single moment as the changes were continuous.

Sara Nave: The pandemic became real to me when we were told that we were not going to be coming back in person for the remainder of the school year last year. We knew we would have a few weeks after spring break where they were kind of in limbo, but when they made the call in April, the pandemic became REAL.

Addison Newbon: I think I finally realized how real the pandemic was when school and sports shut down. Along with restaurants and stores all around town temporarily being closed.

John Stephens: This pandemic started getting scary for us as we were going into the closing weekend of "Icons of Music–Divas Through The Decades" on Friday March 13, 2020. We closed our offices on March 16 of 2020 after the show closed and we were able to get all of our actors back home safely.

Terrence “TAT” Taylor: The pandemic became real for me when I was let go from my job of 17 years as a radio broadcaster. The termination didn't last but for maybe a month and a half but that's when I knew things were about to get real...real hard for a lot of individuals and families. That was the exact moment when I knew everything was about to change and would never be the same. It would be the world before COVID-19 and after COVID-19.

Craig “Woody” Wilson: I think it took a while for it to really kick in that we were closed. At first I felt it would be a couple weeks and that it wasn’t the end of the world. I can get some repairs done.

Is life starting to show some signs of normalcy?

Dunning: Life is starting to show some form of "normalcy" to the effect that people are hugging their grandkids again, churches are starting to partially open, restaurants are allowing customers, and people don't jerk around and stare as much if you sneeze.

Johnson: In certain ways yes. We still are limited to the number of visitors at a given time at our business. Many are becoming less fearful than before with the vaccine being available and the case numbers dropping.

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Ron Johnson, funeral director, Dawson & Wikoff Funeral Homes

Livingston: Yes, we are starting to return to some normal things. In my personal life, my high school daughter had the chance to complete her first school sports season. That was exciting for us as a family to attend some games in person and see her compete. Professionally, my CASA staff has been shifting back to work in the office. We are still altering days of when staff comes in; and continuing our services in much the same way with the same efficiency.

Nave: What is normal anymore (haha)? I would say that life is becoming more normal. With vaccinations on the rise and COVID numbers decreasing daily, and businesses reopening with fewer restrictions, I can say that the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. My family and I are still being cautious when it comes to leaving the state (we aren't) and attending functions, wearing masks in public and utilizing handwashing and sanitizer. I am just thankful that the schools are reopening. I finally feel like life is getting back to normal. Now to address the trauma my kids have endured.

Newbon: Yes for me it has, and I am very thankful. For example, I have been in-person learning at school and have been able to actually play school sports again. That has been great. Also, with stores and restaurants being open, it definitely makes things feel more normal.

Stephens: It really hasn’t come back to our normal yet. We are still only able to have 50 people in our theatre at a time and we can’t open with that small amount of patrons. Even when we get to the next Bridge stage it will only allow us to have 264 people in the theatre, so we are trying to figure out how that works for us. Our actors union has still not granted us the ability to produce shows either. So that hopefully will come as things start to lighten up and more people are vaccinated in our state.

Taylor: Life is starting to show signs of a new norm. From how work and school are conducted and experienced virtually. Just the massive implementation of technology and how we connect is now on whole other level. Social justice and the conversations on race, diversity, equity, inclusion are now at the forefront.

Wilson: I’d say the little bit of normalcy I see is being able to have live entertainment in Sliderz.

What are you most looking forward to?

Dunning: I'm looking forward to hugging and shaking hands again Looking at full faces and full smiles, baseball games, and full, unrestricted outdoor activities.

Johnson: Not having to wear the mask!!

Livingston: Traveling abroad again with my family. We love to travel and during this past year, we've developed quite a list of places we intend to go.

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Julia Roundtree Livingston, executive director, Macon County CASA

Nave: I am looking forward to spending time with my students. I tell everyone that I have 157 children and only two live with me. Not being able to see my kids has been so hard. I can 100% understand how these families who have been separated by the virus are feeling. It is devastating. Us teachers need our kids as much as they need us.

Newbon: I am mostly looking forward to not wearing masks. Even though it doesn't seem like that will be happening anytime soon.

Stephens: I am looking forward to watching a cast rehearsing and getting to know each other and then to see their final product on stage and watching our audiences enjoy the show. Honestly, just interaction with our patrons. I miss them. At this point I would be happy with a complaint if I could fix it face to face with the patron. It is our honor to be able to entertain our audiences and a year of not doing that takes its toll on performers. We are SOOOOO READY!

Taylor: I'm most looking forward to how the community comes together to address and tackle the issues of systemic racism and social injustice by policies and procedures that will be implemented and put in place to advance and enhance our community and be an example to the world of what we can accomplish when we work together for a common goal. To see more representation, diversity and inclusion in the realm of local government, organizations and institutions who are the major decision makers/plan implementers.

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Terrence "TAT" Taylor, community liaison, Community Foundation of Macon County

Wilson: I look forward to traveling again without the restrictions. And I hope people are able to get along better. This pandemic caused everyone to stand on one side of the line or the other, with no exceptions. Lots of hateful people on both sides.

How has COVID touched your life personally? Did you, a family member or friend get it? Did you experience someone close to you having died from it?

Dunning: COVID only touched my wife Tammy, who experienced symptoms and was quarantined for a week. I quarantined myself at the church for a week and just like that, it was over. My uncle and several friends had serious health complications and several died.

Johnson: I have been very fortunate to have not contracted the virus. When the COVID vaccine was made available to me in January, I made the decision for my health and the health of others to take the vaccine. Most all of us have our reasons to be vaccinated or to not too. I believe it was the right thing for me, and I hope others will become vaccinated when they can for this to end. I have firsthand experience with many friends who have died from the complications of the virus, as well as friends who seem to have some long-lasting health issues from contacting COVID. My heart aches for them and their families.

Livingston: Fortunately, my family has been safe from COVID. We have taken precautions and tried to act safely. I have had community friends contract COVID and suffer, as well as community friends who have family members passing away from COVID. As in any other situation, my heart breaks for these families and their loss. I understand that family hospital stays, funerals, etc. are considerably different and more difficult during this time with COVID in restricting visitors, etc.

Newbon: I personally did experience having COVID. Thankfully I did not have any severe symptoms, I would say it was a mild case. The majority of the people I know and friends that did have it, seemed to suffer from it. I think COVID touched my life by just teaching me things that I might not have ever realized. For example, not taking small things around me for granted because the basic things like school and sports can just be taken away so fast.

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Sara Nave, teacher, Dennis School

Nave: My family and I have been very fortunate. I had a few family members contract the virus, but all of them had minor symptoms and no lasting effects. However, this community is my family as well. I saw how sick some of my coworkers, their families, and the families of my students got. I saw post after post asking for prayers, sharing diagnoses and ultimately memorial posts about their loved ones. My heart is broken for those who lost someone they loved to this virus.

Stephens: I have been very lucky to not have any close family members or friends get COVID or die from the disease. MANY, MANY friends of friends or family members of friends have been very sick and died from this disease. I consider myself very lucky, but my family has been very safe during this entire time and worked to stay healthy.

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John Stephens, executive director, Little Theatre-On the Square

Taylor: We have been immensely blessed and extremely favored to that no one in my immediate family tested positive for COVID. Though I have had some friends, uncles, aunts and cousins who have had COVID, but they have healed and recovered, which is a blessing! We have been extremely blessed not to have anyone lose their lives due to COVID.

Wilson: I didn’t lose any immediate friends, but I did lose a friend. He was part of a social group I’m involved with. I had really got to know him more over the previous year. I can remember giving him a ride one time and he said, “I’m not gonna sit at home. I’m 84 years old, I’ve lived four years more then planned, so I’m gonna do what I want to do”

In 10 years, when you are asked about the pandemic, what will you remember the most about the past year?

Dunning: In 10 years, I'll remember and brag about walking into a bank, sheriff's office, or financial institution with a mask on and not getting arrested.

Johnson: The difficulties that so many had to endure, the loss of loved ones and friends, the economic hardship that some had to endure, and the division it sowed in so much of our population.

Livingston: I will remember the time of shutdown — spending a lot of quality time with my husband and kids. I will remember all of the new things that we did to occupy our time. I will remember getting the opportunity to see my kids' day to day education live from home. I will remember our three kids starting their own businesses because the pandemic gave them not only the time to think, but the time to execute. I will remember increasing our carry-out orders as a family to help support our small, locally-owned businesses which we wanted to help survive. I will remember my CASA staff and volunteers shifting our work to do anything we needed to in order to ensure our assigned foster children were safe and had all that they needed to thrive. So many positive things I will honestly remember.

Nave: That like 9/11, this was an opportunity that tested our country's ability to come together and work toward a common goal — and we fell short due to the disunity that the administration fueled, and the media ran with. This pandemic was financially and emotionally draining, but what I will remember most are those that chose to stand up for what is right and fight alongside those who needed our collective voices more than ever.

Newbon: I think I will remember wearing the masks and being stuck at home with my family and just wanting to be able to interact with people.

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Addison Newbon, student/athlete, St. Teresa High School

Stephens: This was the first time I have not worked 24/7/365 in my entire adult life. I have a hard time sitting still. I made up projects to keep me busy and I am very happy I was able to get these projects done, but I know I am not a good one to sit and do nothing. I will remember time spent with my family that I have never had before and I will work once life is back to normal to be able to spend more time with my family and friends. I miss seeing so many of my friends and Facetime and Zoom just don’t cut it when you really just need to see people and hug them.

Taylor: I will remember how the world as we knew it came to an end. How a virus shut everything down and forced us as not only a country, but internationally, how we need to combat and address major gaps, situations, disparities, and injustices. Injustices that are and have always been the real pandemic. Viruses that have gone on long enough.

Wilson: I think a memorable part will be how at first, when we would get a couple cases every day and how people would freak out clear shelves at the store. Six months later the news would say 200 cases in Macon County yesterday and people wouldn’t think much about it!

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Craig "Woody" Wilson, owner, Sliderz and BC Wings

What four words best describe the past year?

Dunning: Appreciate, Focus, Hug, Believe

Johnson: Glad it is over.

Livingston: Unpredictable, Different, Exposing, Opportunistic.

Nave: Uncertainty, Chaos, Heartbreak, Hope.

Newbon: Sad, Lonely, Crazy, Unexpected.

Stephens: If you know me very well you will know that these words can’t be published! So the PC version will have to be two different versions. The work version of “Dumpster Fire Train Wreck” and my personal version of “Family, Love, Patience, Peace.” It was a motto I had to create for myself to get through things.

Taylor: Devastating, Dramatic, Transformative, Transcending

Wilson: Everyone is a Doctor!

Read previous COVID experience stories from our panel of residents

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The Herald and Review has been profiling the same community members as they adapt during the coronavirus pandemic. As the state enters Phase 4, we ask them about life, summer and what comes next.

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While discussions about issues facing Black communities have been in the national spotlight recently, Julia Roundtree Livingston said conversations about race started for each of her three children at an early age.

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Every few months, Herald & Review reporters check in with the same group of community members about how they're dealing with COVID.

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“I think you're definitely going to lose some businesses this time,” Craig "Woody" Wilson said.

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Missing out on her final season of high school basketball is one of the last wishes Addison Newbon would make.

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While you can’t be there in person, Ron Johnson encourages people to keep those families who have experienced a loss in mind and to reach out in other ways.

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Compared to others, Terrence “Tat” Taylor has had a good year

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Julia Livingston, executive director of Macon County CASA, is looking at the positives this season

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“My high school coach used to say, three words I live by, 'Find a way.' So right now I gotta find a way.”

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In spite of the challenges the pandemic has presented, COVID-19 has not changed the things that Sara Nave, a teacher at Dennis School, is grateful for.

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Little Theatre-On the Square co-workers and theater patrons step up to help during the pandemic.


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