Flint, MI— A new COVID-19 monument is in the works to honor healthcare workers and those who have lost their lives to the virus.

Spearheading the project is Genesee County Clerk John Gleason alongside Dr. Lawrence Reynolds, who serves as health advisor to Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, and retired nurse Lois Nickel, a Flushing resident.

“People are not aware of the hard work and sacrifice that has been made by all these people in health care and public health and laboratory medicine to get us what we need…. We want a monument that will memorialize these efforts and energies in our first pandemic in 100 years,” Reynolds said.

While still in the early planning process, Gleason said he hopes to install it in the courtyard of the 7th Circuit Court in downtown Flint.

“The last act that we have on Earth, our last official business as human beings on earth, is the filing of our death certificate,” Gleason said. “And all the death certificates are filed in my office as county clerk. So, when we’ve been inundated as we have the last few years with these COVID deaths, fatalities, I think it’s appropriate that it’d be on the courthouse.”

The monument could be as simple as rock with a plaque, but Gleason said he envisions something more personal.

 “We want to put a face on it. A lot of times things get lost in numbers. These are not numbers. These are human beings,” Gleason said.

Nickel said she was brought into the project by Gleason to offer the perspective of both a nurse and someone who has lost a loved one to COVID. Her husband, Gary Nickel was a well-known photographer in Genesee County and a friend of Gleason’s before he died of COVID in December 2020.

“(Gleason) as a clerk had to sign Gary’s death certificate when he passed,” Nickel said.

While her husband was sick, she said her heart went out to the nurses caring for him.

“They went above and beyond taking good care of my husband, and I just think that they really should be recognized for that. I was home sick at the time with COVID when my husband was in the hospital with COVID. And the nurses would FaceTime me. So, they would put their phone up to his ear so I could talk to him. And I just so appreciate that. And I think they need to be honored for the sacrifice that they’ve made,” Nickel said.

Gleason also said he was amazed with the care he received while he was sick in the hospital with COVID.

“My stay in the hospital, I was a witness the devotion that the nurses and the doctors had to their patients,” Gleason said. “It’s just a continuous struggle. They’re just worn out emotionally and physically.

The project will be funded in part by Gleason’s nonprofit, The Gleason Community Fund. However, Gleason said they are still in need of donations and are working to secure a transparent public account to accept donations.

If all goes well, Gleason said he hopes to unveil the monument on Memorial Day this year.

“COVID has impacted our lives so much. Everybody’s been affected by it, whether you lost a loved one or not. And I think it’s just a wonderful thing to have a memorial to honor that,” Nickel said.

Carmen Nesbitt

Carmen Nesbitt is a journalist with diverse experience in news reporting and feature writing. She wrote for Hour Detroit and SEEN Magazine before joining the Flint Beat news team as an education and public...