Health

More than 3,500 people have died from COVID-19 in Kentucky and Indiana, according to the states’ latest data. These deaths are more than numbers. They mark the loss of siblings, significant others, friends, parents and grandparents.

Lawrence “Larry” Gregory Keene was 68 when he died from COVID-19 in Kenton County, Kentucky. His daughter, Katie Keene Churchman, remembers her father as gentle, humble and patient.

I want to be like my dad when I grow up. I only wish I could be like him as a parent, and as a person,” Churchman said. 

Larry Keene (center) with his children xxxx (right) and Katie Keene Churchman. Larry Keene died from COVID-19 in April at age 68Courtesy of The Keene Family

Larry Keene (center) with his children Ben Keene (left) and Katie Keene Churchman. Larry Keene died from COVID-19 in April at age 68

“He was so patient that when he decided that he wanted to marry my mother, he waited seven years, and asked her two times,” she said. “[My mother] always was very independent, and still is. And she remembers him saying, ‘Bonnie, I don’t want your independence, I just want you.’”

Courtesy of the Keene Family

Larry Keene and his wife, Bonnie Keene, on their wedding day in 1977.

A ‘True Craftsman’ Who Loved To Move

Churchman said her father loved to dance, especially to the Beatles.

My mom would never want to dance with him because he was the worst dancer!” she laughed.

But Churchman loved dancing with him. “I was his dance partner,” she said.

When Churchman and her brother were children, their father would take them to school every morning. Sometimes, he would surprise them by stopping at the gas station for a Little Debbie Sticky Bun.

“I remember riding in this truck, and we’d stop at the little gas station down the street. And if it was cold out, and the windows were fogged on the side, he would take his ice scraper and scrape a little smiley face in my window,” Churchman said.

Courtesy of the Keene Family

Larry Keene with his wife, Bonnie Keene, and two children around 1984.

Churchman described her father as “a true craftsman.” Keene built his family’s home and taught himself stained-glass. His biggest accomplishment, she said, was the stained-glass window behind the altar at her parents’ church.

“I asked him ‘how did you know how to do all this?’” Churchman said. “And he said, ‘Well, whatever I didn’t know, I just read it in a book.’”

Keene found out he had Parkinson’s disease when he was 41. But Churchman said it didn’t stop her father from pursuing his craft for many years.

Deeply Committed To Family

“He lived for his family,” Churchman said. “As soon as five o’clock hit, he would be home. And he would tell me about ‘you know, some people work a lot of overtime. But I’ve already told my bosses that when five o’clock hits I’m out.'”

When Churchman was a college student at Bellarmine University, she awoke one morning in December to find a freshly cut Christmas tree on her front porch. She realized her father had cut the tree down for her, and driven it down an hour and a half from Kenton County in the early hours of the morning.

“He didn’t want to wake me up, so he didn’t knock or anything. He just dropped it off and drove home,” she said. “He never needed recognition for anything. He just liked to do nice things for people, and especially his kids — his family.”

In the last years of his life, Keene’s Parkinson’s disease made it difficult for him to use facial expressions. Still, Churchman said he always managed a smile for his grandchildren.

“Mom always would comment that even when you thought you couldn’t get a smile, he saved his biggest smiles for his grand kids,” Churchman said. 

Courtesy of The Keene Family

Larry Keene’s Parkinson’s made it difficult for him to use facial expressions. But he always managed a smile for his grandchildren.

Keene was living in a nursing home for the last year of his life, due to the impacts of Parkinson’s disease. That’s where he contracted COVID-19, which has had a devastating impact on nursing home residents across the U.S.

Because of hospital visitation restrictions during the pandemic, Keene’s family couldn’t be in the room with him as he passed away. Churchman said they watched him through the glass door on the patio outside his room.

“I believe that the hardest part, about [the restrictions] was seeing his hand laying there on his chest and not being able to reach through and take it. And seeing his head, and wanting to brush his hair over to the side, and not being able to do that. That was really hard,” she said.

But she believes her father felt his family’s presence.

“I believe that God gave him the grace to know that we were there for him, and that our hearts were connected,” she said.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.
Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.