HYDE PARK — Gov. JB Pritzker and Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton joined faith leaders and families who lost their loved ones to coronavirus for a statewide memorial Thursday evening.
The diverse life experiences of the 8,115 Illinoisans who died due to the virus as of Thursday were reflected in the stories of four honorees:
- Ernesto Guzman, 12, a Marquez Elementary student who “knew how to be a friend” and was the youngest known coronavirus victim in Illinois. Guzman was “wise beyond his years, an incredibly old soul,” his teacher Theresa Cullen said; he battled health issues while remaining “unique, sweet, clever and kind” to his teachers and fellow students.
- Lynika Strozier, 35, a Field Museum researcher who was entrusted with “delicate specimens” due to her precision in and care for her work studying ancient plant DNA. Strozier’s grandmother Sharon Wright remembered her as a gifted scientist and dedicated mentor to dozens of students who overcame a learning disability to pursue her dream career.
- Joyce Pacubas-Le Blanc, 53, a University of Illinois at Chicago nurse for whom health care was a “calling.” Her husband Lawrence Le Blanc urged her to stay home from work at the beginning of the pandemic, but she declined because she became a nurse to help others in such a situation; “she chose to go the way she loved.”
- Walter Blase, 78, “the epitome of a public servant” who served in the Vietnam War and spent 43 years as a firefighter in Niles and Palatine. Blase’s son-in-law James Lang honored Blase’s love for his grandchildren, as he never missed “a basketball, football or lacrosse game or equestrian competition — that is what he truly loved.”
Pritzker and faith leaders from across the state urged Illinoisans to honor those who died through the sharing of their stories and advocating for social justice.
“It’s my responsibility and yours — when we can, when we’re ready — to honor them; to support their loved ones; to carry forward the unfulfilled promises of their lives,” Pritzker said. “May their memories be for a blessing.”
Coronavirus “reminds us how human we are; how fragile we are,” as it pays no mind to one’s religion or ethnicity, said Bishop Horace Smith of Apostolic Faith Church in Bronzeville. He is also a pediatric physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital.
With that in mind, Illinoisans must come together to fight health care inequities and “learn the lesson of our common humanity,” Smith said.
“This pandemic has awakened me to the injustice of our society,” Smith said. “To really show [coronavirus victims] justice is to correct the ills that we face.”
Other faith leaders in attendance included Imam Ahmed Arafat of Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago and Metropolitan Nathanael of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago.
After the memorial ended, Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein of the Am Shalom congregation in Glencoe presented Pritzker with a shofar blown in remembrance of coronavirus victims. Families received large bouquets that adorned the stage.
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