I wanted some comments from one of the most senior adults among Kentucky Baptists while working on a story about how churches are handling that segment of their membership.
I knew where to find unfiltered answers: Say hello again to June Rice.
This Kentucky Baptist treasure is two weeks from turning 95 and she tells you what’s on her mind. When you’ve lived that long, the filter switch is either broken or off. She has more than 1,700 friends on Facebook, taught Sunday School for 60 years and isn’t shy about expressing her opinion.
When asked how she was doing, here was the reply:
“Well,” she said, “it’s like I’m in jail. I’d never been in jail and I’m glad I never had to get any of my kids out of jail. I didn’t know much about jail. I used to think you could visit somebody in jail.”
If you missed the inference, June feels like she’s locked down while living alone in an assisted living apartment building in Louisville. Her three children call her daily, and she’s thankful for that, and her Sunday School teacher sends her weekly assignments, for which she’s also thankful. Her daughter, who lives close, does her grocery shopping and takes her to doctor appointments, of which she is also thankful.
But since March, she has eaten most of her meals alone and, if you know how much June likes to talk, you understand how depressing that can be for her.
Our senior adults, like June, needed to be remembered as they deal with the coronavirus. Even a phone call can brighten their day. A letter may send them over the moon. Pastors and church members are trying to do what they can to engage the oldest of their membership. But sometimes the loneliest are forgotten.
I called for a quick comment and ended up in a 40-minute conversation with a notebook full of quotes that were begging to be used.
“I’m so glad I wake up in the morning and know who I am, where I am and I’m not in any pain,” she said.
June only stopped teaching Sunday School last year after having classes since 1951. That’s a streak few could touch. She loved her new Sunday School class, taught by a retired pastor, but only had been about four times when the coronavirus shut everything down.
“I went to church every week and anywhere else I wanted to go to all the time,” she said. “My daughter takes me where I need to go and she goes to the grocery store for me. But I get tired of living by myself.”
June’s life was full of being on the go. She was a schoolteacher and a WMU director at several different times for the Enterprise Association. She is highly respected in Kentucky Baptist circles for how she directed those ministries and her love for missions.
She is also an accomplished author and, even with nearly 95 years behind her now, looks ahead to more with anticipation. June still has a fire in her belly.
June appreciates getting out of the apartment when she can even for the little things. “Finally, I did get my toenails cut off after so many weeks. They did let me out long enough to do that.”
She doesn’t like wearing a mask, but it is required in the hallway where she lives. Frankly, she’s not buying everything about the coronavirus. “I think it’s a big scam. I think they’re trying to scare us all to death so we all have to take that vaccine and make ol’ (Dr. Anthony) Fauci rich.”
Residents used to eat together on the first floor, but now food is brought individually, meaning they don’t have a reason leave the apartment, which is why she said, “It feels like jail.”
“It’s not any fun to eat by yourself,” she said. “I like to be in this old folks home because you can be yourself if you want to be and could always find somebody to talk to normally,” she said. “Not now.”
June’s life hasn’t been pain-free. She cared for a husband with Alzheimer's for 15 excruciating years. They were long, difficult days, she said, and it was a fate far greater than death.
“Dying is not the worst thing,” she said. “When he died, it was the first time I walked out of that hospital without having a burden on my heart. I knew I’d be able to see him again and his brain would be OK.”
She looks at each sunrise and sunset as another gift - even if she is looking at them by herself.
“Whenever the Lord is ready for me, I’m ready to go,” June said. “I’m grateful that I’ve got almost 95 years. I’ve been blessed with being lucid and knowing where I’m at and everything. I’m going to heaven, not because I’m good, but because Jesus is good and I trusted him to save me. I don’t have anything to worry about.”
She doesn’t just spend her days idly. June reads her Bible daily and has a long prayer list.
You’d be lucky if you’re on that list.
MARK MAYNARD is managing editor of Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org