Faces Behind the Numbers: Jason Rhea
Jason Rhea was assistant director of Facilities Management at Missouri State University when he passed away of COVID-19 at age 51.
COVID-19 has taken many lives in Greene County, including Jason Rhea. The Springfield man was just 51-years-old when he died in October 2020.
His sister, Jane Hughey, said he had a larger-than-life personality.
“He never went anywhere that he didn’t play ball with somebody or know somebody or work with somebody — just fun for a big guy," Jane said. "He had probably the best laugh. It was almost a giggle. I mean, he was just – he was just that person you wanted to be around.”
Even though Jane and her brother – who was six years older -- had opposite personalities, they remained close as they grew up and went their separate ways.
“I was always shy and he was the outgoing one," said Jane. "I mean, he played sports from the time he was little all the way through high school. He had friends and was popular.”
Jane said her brother maintained friendships throughout his life with his classmates at Central High School in the 1980s. And Jason cherished his family. He, his sister and their mom and dad were a close-knit group.
He loved his work, too. Jason, a longtime employee of Missouri State University just like his father, got his degree from MSU in 2016. Not long before he passed away, he had a chance to apply for another position at his workplace.
“Actually, in 2020, the year he passed away, that right when COVID was hitting, he got his dream job here. And he was just I mean, he was just really at the peak of his life,” said Jane.
“I remember he sent you a picture of him all dressed up,” said his niece Jessica Jones.
“Do you remember that he had a suit for his interview? I've really never seen him so excited when he got that job,” said Jane.
The job Jason was so excited about getting was assistant director of facilities management.
Jessica Jones – Jason’s niece – has fond memories of her uncle. She said she was his only niece and he did not have any children.
“So I was the one he always picked on as a child. And I absolutely cherish, cherish him giving me a hard time at every holiday,” said Jessica.
Jessica is a college student now at the same place her uncle worked.
“As a Missouri state student, I see people that he worked with around campus, and I one of my favorite things is to stop and talk to them," said Jessica. "But even people that I didn't know, if I stop by, they always have the best stories to share. And you can just tell that. I mean, he made friendships wherever he went.”
Jane said that no one ever expected anyone in their family would become ill. Since their parents are in their 70s, the whole family was being very careful and had been distancing. But then Jason developed symptoms.
"The first of October, he just thought he had a sinus infection, so he wasn't too concerned, you know. I think he kind of struggled with that for about two weeks and then he got up on Saturday morning and he just couldn't breathe," said Jane. "So he went to the urgent care and they immediately put him in the hospital. And at that point, none of us were worried. He was this larger-than-life guy and if anybody could handle anything — as strong and big as he was.”
But Jason’s COVID-19 infection kept getting worse and, due to visitor restrictions, his family couldn’t see him.
“He was in about three or four days and he called my mom that Wednesday and she couldn't get a hold of him. And he said, ‘Well, it's not looking good. They're going to do everything they can.’ He said, to tell all of us that he loved us. And that was I mean, it was unbelievable," said Jane.
One consolation for Jane is that she got to talk with Jason by phone just before they put him on a ventilator, and she was able to tell him she loved him.
“And that's just another reflection of how God has been so good to us through this whole thing. I got to say it. I don't know that I'd ever said that to him. I mean, he knew it,” Jane said.
Jessica senses her uncle’s presence when she goes to class at MSU every day – which is both difficult and comforting.
“I wasn't a student here yet when he had passed. I just think that's really hard now. And I mean, it's a great memory and legacy to be here after he was here and my grandpa was here. But it's so hard to think that, you know, just all the moments and memories that aren't able to [have],” said Jane.
“Because he should be here," said Jessica.
“Because he should be here," said Jane.