God Hit the Reset Button! Dooly COVID victims remembered, survivors celebrated
By Neil B. McGahee, Managing Editor
When nearly 200 people came to the Dooly County High School gymnasium, Saturday, they walked into a cavern of light — 250 luminaries spread across the floor representing the 1,061 survivors and 32 candles in remembrance of those that lost their lives to COVID-19.
The event, sponsored by the Dooly County Family Connection and the Dooly County school system, was the brainchild of Earl Clark Jr., a family special education mentor for Dooly County as a way for local schools to show love for their families.
“I hope that they take each day as a new day,” he said. “Tomorrow is gone, but every day brings a new beginning.”
Amanda O’Neal-Neisent, executive director of the Dooly County Family Connection, recalled her husband’s experience with coronavirus.
“He was feeling really bad,” she said. “He had a persistent cough and shortness of breath, so we went to the Emergency Room. It was so early in the pandemic that they weren’t really up on the virus. They sent us home and told us he had bronchitis, but it wasn’t bronchitis, it was actually COVID-19. He was sick for three weeks and he still has some lingering problems.”
Throughout the evening, students from Dooly County schools sang and danced and essential workers were recognized and community members shared their personal experiences with the virus.
“COVID-19 has claimed 32 lives in Dooly County,” said Public Health Nurse Cyndi Mercer. “But there were survivors who came to tell their story.”
Shelly Berryhill, technology director for the Dooly school district, recounted his ordeal with the virus, and then he reminded the audience that sadness was not the goal of the event.
“We watch the news daily and we think that the world is doomed,” he said. “But when you see the outreach, the caring and the prayers of the local community, it gives you hope.”
Another survivor, Corey Silas told about his COVID experience.
He was one of the first Georgia residents to be diagnosed with the deadly infection.
“But as of April 2020, I now have another title,” he said. “I’m a COVID-19 survivor.”
As the event wound down, Felicia Madison read the names of those who perished — Nancy Bolton, Jimmy Borland, Eloise Clark, Flora Foster, Lorenzo Foster, Cynthia Hardy, Elaine Harold, Nelda Harold, Willie Harvey, Betty Lloyd, Darnela McIntee, Viola Mathis, Elaine Peavy and Edward Williams — as their families and friends stood in silent salute.
Dooly County Superintendent of Schools Craig Lockhart talked about the long-term effects of the virus and how long it may take to return to a new, different normal.
“God hit the reset button on the whole world,” he said.
Memorial-1 Surrounded by luminaries Rev. Brian Leverette, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Vienna, , opened the event with prayer.
Memorial-5 Vienna resident Sharal Young held a candle as the names of those who died from COVID-19 were read.
Memorial-4 Rody Gonzalez and Rory Edge performed a memorial song.