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Local residents say goodbye to 2020, hello to 2021

By James Grob,

As the year closes, many are proclaiming “good riddance!” to 2020, which will forever be remembered as the year that a pandemic caught the whole world unprepared.

Nine months and more than 300,000 deaths later, the virus continues to put unprecedented stress on the nation’s health care system, and although vaccines have been developed relatively quickly, it could be months — or even years — before they are widely available around the world.

The spread of the deadly coronavirus also put the United States in the middle of what many economists are calling the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression.

Major national and worldwide events have been postponed or cancelled. Traditional holidays have been celebrated in non-traditional ways. Millions have been separated from their friends and loved ones. School districts have had to completely reimagine how teachers teach and how students learn.

That’s just the virus variable. Many other factors will define the 2020 equation, including racial strife and rioting in the street, forest fires, droughts, a derecho and scores of other deadly natural disasters, one of the most contentious presidential elections in history, and what seems to be an inordinate number of famous and beloved people dying before they should have.

“Thanks 2020” has become a standard response for any negative thing that happens, from devastating floods to annoying hangnails.

Locally, all those conditions have had an impact on residents. The Press recently approached about a dozen area individuals and asked for their impressions on the year — what were the worst things about 2020, and what were the best things?

“For me, the worst part of the year was the uncertainty,” said James Severin of Charles City. “A person couldn’t form a rock solid plan from March on. Cancellations and shortages affected life at home and work.”

Katie Kellogg of Charles City agreed.

“The worst thing has been all the disappointments this year has brought,” she said. “Trips cancelled, missing family and friends, activities for the kids and general chaos that has disrupted our lives.”

However, Kellogg said that in the midst of all that disruption, her family and many others were able to hunker down and become closer — and they learned to cherish that time together.

“Quality time became a focus for us,” Kellogg said. “Date nights, home movie nights, fondue at home, online concerts, reading together, game nights and conversation.”

Finding a silver lining among all the adversity seemed to be a theme among those who responded. Amber Hicks, of Rudd, was laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but she said that although there was a tremendous amount of anxiety and uncertainty about that, it ended up being for the best.

“I was able to keep myself and my kids safe at home while we quarantined,” Hicks said. “Before, it felt like the day care providers got to spend more time with them than I did, so this really strengthened our bond.”

The layoff also led Hicks to a new job opportunity — a job in which she could work from home until the COVID threat passes.

“The new job also allowed my family and I to move to a smaller town close to Mason City, which was a goal of ours,” Hicks said.

Many other people also found themselves doing much of their work remotely. Also, many public meetings, reunions, and even holiday gatherings were conducted via Zoom or some other type of video software.

“The absolute worst thing about 2020 was Zoom,” Karl Haglund of Charles City joked. “Very few people I know locally are interesting enough that I want to watch them on TV.”

Linda Brant of Charles City also took a good-humored approach to life during COVID.

“The worst thing about 2020 was staying home all the time without any people around,” Brant said. “The best thing about 2020 was staying home all the time without any people around.”

Haglund seemed to be on the same ironic wavelength as Brant.

“The best thing about 2020 was being around my immediate family so much,” Haglund said. “This is also another worst thing.”

McKenna Oleson, who graduated from Charles City High School last spring, said she was greatly disappointed at not being able to walk across the traditional stage at her high school graduation. She and her senior classmates had to miss many traditional events in the spring due to COVID-19, but she said that was minor compared to other things she lost through the year.

“The worst things were losing people that I love from this virus and losing respect for people having no regard for the safety of others,” Oleson said. “But the best things in 2020 were figuring out ways to stay close to those I love. Zoom, social distanced meals, through-the-window calls, etc.”

The lack of in-person social activity was frustrating for Severin, who said that in typical times, he’s a “social butterfly.”

“So many of the things I love to do were adversely affected by the pandemic,” Severin said. “I guess my highlight was a great year of fishing.”

Severin said that in 2021, he plans to be the same “silly and fun-loving person I always have been.” He said he also hopes that the local theater group, the Stony Point Players, would be able to eventually start having live productions again.

“I hope we can return to those activities we missed out on this year,” Severin said. “I crave the exhilaration of performing in front of an audience.”

Bruce Bergland of Floyd said he thought the worst part of 2020 was not being able to be with family on Thanksgiving and Christmas. He and his wife also had to cancel a planned river cruise in Europe.

Bergland, a retired science teacher, said he was impressed that a COVID-19 vaccine was developed so rapidly, “thanks to the tremendous efforts of medical scientists.”

“Another (great thing) was the tireless work of amazing people in the hospitals and care centers,” Bergland said. “The nurses and doctors and the cooks and janitors that put their lives in jeopardy and worked overtime to help people with COVID-19.”

Kathryn Campbell of Charles City said that personally she was able to spend a lot of time outdoors during 2020.

“I enjoyed it every day, and enjoyed sitting on my porch more than ever before,” Campbell said.

She also said that nationally, she was discouraged to see the increased polarization in the country over the last year.

“The pandemic, economic problems, unveiling of our racial problems, and wildfires blew everything out of proportion,” Campbell said. “I believe that good overtakes evil, so I dare hope that our injustices will ease us into a better place.”

Oleson felt the same way, and said that although she had low expectations for 2021, she had high hopes.

“I hope to see the people I love get the COVID vaccine,” Oleson said. “I hope to see people set their ignorance aside and mask up, and I hope to see unity in some form with our President-elect Joe Biden and VP Kamala Harris.”