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After her death from COVID-19, Virginia Richardson's handmade washcloths are a prized family heirloom


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Bible stories were a nightly tradition for Virginia Richardson's eight children.

As they grew, she scribbled fun tidbits about their lives in her special notebook, praying for each as they experienced life’s joys and struggles.

Growing up, Virginia’s family didn’t have a strong faith, but in high school she decided to start attending a local church — a choice that transformed her life and forged a relationship with God that sustained her for decades.

“She wanted everybody to know about Jesus,” said her daughter Sharon Laird, 64. “She wanted everybody to turn to him and to trust in him.”

"Faith was the foundation of her life," Sharon added. 

Virginia, 97, died last year from COVID-19 at Waterloo’s Friendship Village, where Sharon would often visit for prayers and the occasional games of Scrabble. An expert tile player, Virginia kept up with puzzles, crosswords and board games to maintain a sharp mind.

Born in 1922, Virginia met her husband, Ray, at their church youth group. She attended Northwestern Bible School where she played intramural sports and participated in choral groups. She and Ray, a pastor, tied the knot in 1942.

Music was a lifelong passion for her mother, Sharon said, and she worked hard to develop her singing voice. Never able to take piano lessons growing up, Virginia yearned for her kids to learn an instrument.

Often, the sounds of three or four children playing at once filled the house. Virginia lived vicariously through the musical talents of her kids, several of whom went on to earn degrees in related fields.

“I know it was a sacrifice on a pastor salary for all of us to take piano lessons,” Sharon said.

Black bottom pie and cinnamon rolls were Virginia's culinary specialties. But meat-and-potato meals were usually what her kids found on the dinner table.

A stay-at-home mom most of her life, she carefully knitted clothes for her brood. Now grown up, their mother’s handmade washcloths have become a prized family heirloom.

“Everybody always wanted grandma’s washcloths because they worked better than the bought ones,” Sharon said. “Even at her funeral, I had a stack of them and put them out and they were gone really quickly.”

During the pandemic, Sharon stood outside of Virginia's window, each holding up a phone to hear the other. They’d pray together and sing, voices joining for the hymns "Amazing Grace" and "Jesus Paid It All," long-time favorites.

Even with two dozen grandchildren and 40-plus great-grandchildren, Virginia couldn’t resist meeting babies and infants when she was out and about.

“How cute!” she would exclaim, her kids standing by embarrassed. “How old?”

“You could say she never met a stranger,” Sharon said.

This story is part of the Iowa Mourns series, a collection of remembrances about Iowans who lost their lives to COVID-19. If you've lost a loved one to COVID-19 in Iowa, let us know by filling out this form or emailing Iowa Columnist Courtney Crowder at ccrowder@dmreg.com.

Iowans lost to COVID-19

The following deaths from COVID-19 were added in the past week to our list of more than 600 Iowans who have died from the disease, found at DesMoinesRegister.com/IowaMourns.

Ruth Casteel, 95, Maquoketa. A 4-H leader who loved quilting, baking and traveling. 

Ellen Koch, 74, Maquoketa. Coached speech, taught drama and directed school plays as an English teacher in many Iowa school districts.

Marlyn Kramer Sr., 86, Maquoketa. Worked as a powder coater in Collis Inc. in Clinton for many years.

Jack Sexton, 87, Cedar Rapids. Sang and played guitar in the Dave Dighton Band for more than 30 years.