Springfield couple married for 70 years dies 36 hours apart: ‘I don’t want to live without him’

A Springfield couple who rarely spent time apart during their 70 years of marriage died within 36 hours of each other after contracting COVID-19 while living in a nursing home.

In their final days, the couple was brought home to be with their children and other family members – a wish that goes unfulfilled for the majority of dying coronavirus patients.

Raymond “Gene” and Ruth Johnson grew up in Springfield and met while playing tennis. They married when Gene was 22 and Ruth was 20 in 1950. Eight years later, they bought a house on Homestead Avenue and lived there for 59 years until they transitioned into a long-term care facility, Susan Hawk-Baber, the couple’s daughter said.

The Johnsons were living at Wooded Glen, a senior living facility in Springfield when restrictions on long-term care facilities were implemented in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The family decided to bring the couple home after they contracted COVID-19 and their health started to decline, Hawk-Baber said.

Credit: Submitted Photo

Credit: Submitted Photo

COVID-19 cases have spiked at several long-term care facilities in the county in recent months. The coronavirus spread in long-term care facilities is “the byproduct of the virus circulating in the community,” Clark County Combined Health District (CCCHD) Health Commissioner Charles Patterson previously told the News-Sun. Unsuspecting employees and asymptomatic employees are accidentally bringing the virus to work, he said.

There were 58 active resident coronavirus cases and 45 active staff coronavirus cases in long-term care facilities in the county as of Wednesday, according to CCCHD data.

Long-term care facility residents have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. In early October, when the county had confirmed 55 deaths, 36 had come from long-term care facilities, according to data from the CCCHD.

Statewide, 3,065 of Ohio’s 5,658 total coronavirus deaths have come from long-term care facilities, according to the Ohio Department of Health.

“They were in a nursing home before we brought them home and they had numerous other ailments that were going on," Hawk-Baber said. "Then unfortunately they got Covid and I think that was probably the final straw.”

She said that her parents mostly had respiratory COVID-19 symptoms.

“We couldn’t go in there and see them,” Hawk-Baber said. “We knew they had declined enough and we really felt like we wanted to bring them home so whatever time they had left they could spend with us.”

She explained that her mother was able to use an iPad to talk with the family until her health declined.

The family brought the couple to their son’s house on Thursday, Nov. 5. Gene Johnson, 92, passed away around 10:30 p.m. the next day. Ruth, 90, passed away around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 8.

“I don’t want to live without him," the family recalled Ruth Johnson saying after her husband passed away.

Credit: Submitted Photo

Credit: Submitted Photo

The couple was always seen holding hands and did so until the very end, the family told the News-Sun.

“They didn’t do anything apart, hardly, Hawk-Baber said. "They did have some different interests in life, but for the most part they were always together. That’s what they wanted.”

Gene Johnson retired in 1983 from Wright Patterson AFB as a flight-test engineer. His wife retired in 1991 from Springfield City Schools as an administrative secretary. Together, they enjoyed playing cards, listening to music and rooting for their favorite baseball and football teams, Hawk-Babe added.

“We really only had a couple of days, but at least we could be with them because we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise," Hawk-Baber said.

Wooded Glen said in a statement, staff at the facility grieves with the Johnson family.

“We were extremely saddened to hear of the passing of two recently discharged residents of Wooded Glen. Our hearts go out to their family members and loved ones, and our campus team grieves with them. We remain committed to serving our nation’s most vulnerable population during these unprecedented times, and to placing the health and well-being of our residents first,” a statement from Trilogy Health Services, LLC, the company that operates Wooded Glen said.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the family was only able to visit the couple outside their window or virtually. Recently, they were allowed to have outdoor visits sitting six feet apart and wearing masks, Hawk-Baber said.

Gov. Mike DeWine permitted nursing homes to begin outdoor visitation on July 20 and indoor visitation on Oct. 12, as long as all safety standards were met.

No long-term care facilities in Clark County are allowing indoor visits now due to the increased risk of COVID-19 in the area.

The family recalled the hardest part of their parents being in the nursing home during the pandemic was not being able to show their love for them through hugging and holding hands.

“We feel like that really added to their decline,” Hawk-Baber said.

She added, “If we could have gone in, it would have made such a huge difference to their mental state and not feel sad and depressed because we couldn’t come in there. At first you think it’s just going to be a few weeks, a few months even and then as it went on and on it turned out to be too much for all of us really and for them.”

The couple is survived by four children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The family said it was especially difficult for the couple to not be able to hold their newest great-granddaughter who was born during the pandemic.

“Family was the most important thing to them," Doug Johnson, the couple’s son said.

“They loved their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Hawk-Baber said. "We just saw the best marriage to copy off of.”

Doug’s wife, Lori added that they taught the entire family that “love never fails. Love is what keeps the family together."

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