In the span of three weeks, a Lenoir-Rhyne University junior lost both parents to COVID-19.
Andy Lopez lost his father to the disease in November. His mother died in early December as the pandemic ravaged his family in Chicago.
Andy, a catcher and first baseman on the Hickory university's baseball team, is back in class and working toward his bachelor’s degree in exercise science.
He had returned to the LRU campus last fall when health issues began to impact his family. In September, his father, Lupe, suffered a stroke. “I went home when that happened to make sure my dad was OK,” Andy said. “After a few days, I came back to Hickory.”
He was not here long. His mother, Maria, and Lupe tested positive for COVID-19 on Oct. 26. “My older sister and brother were taking care of them at first, but on November 8 they had to drop both of my parents off at a hospital in Chicago,” he said.
Both were admitted and were able to stay in the same room until Lupe was taken to an ICU unit and placed on a ventilator. “I went home on November 12 and went straight to the hospital to see my parents,” Andy said. “My dad passed away on November 16. Then my mom was eventually taken to the ICU and passed away three weeks later on December 4.”
Lupe and Maria were both known for their dedication to their children, warm personalities, and loving spirits.
Maria was instrumental in Andy coming to Hickory.
After graduating high school, Andy attended a community college in Illinois. That’s where he connected with LRU Baseball Coach Chris Ramirez. “Coach Ramirez was coaching at a nearby university, so he pretty much recruited me for Lenoir-Rhyne,” Andy said. “I had never heard of Hickory before then.”
Andy and Maria researched Lenoir-Rhyne and the Hickory area before he started at the university. “We kind of went into it blind, but both of my parents and I really liked (Hickory),” he said.
Sending their youngest son to a university 12 hours away was not easy. “After we visited, my parents felt better about me going to school here. They were just like every other parent worried about their kids,” Andy said.
He leans on family
Andy and his two siblings stuck together following the death of his parents. “I know they’re not my parents, but it’s the same love,” Andy said. “They treat me just like my parents would have — they knew them best.”
Family friends have also surrounded the trio with love and support. “My dad’s best friend has become like a father figure to us; they’ve become our second family,” Andy said.
Andy has also felt the support of LRU and the Hickory community. “I literally have a team of supporters,” said Andy. “They’ve been understanding, and they make sure I get through the day. They give me a sense of normalcy in my life.”
He added that coaches, campus friends, and players on other sports teams have also checked on him. “This makes me love Hickory even more,” Andy said.
In the middle of this tragedy, Andy is determined to finish his degree at LRU. “If I didn’t finish, I would be putting my parents' hard work to waste,” he said. “They invested so much time and money into my education — I can’t quit now.”
$30,000 raised to pay for education
To help Andy pay for the remainder of his education, Aaron Bessey, senior associate athletic director and director of the Bears Club at LRU, and others decided to start a GoFundMe page. “Andy is an incredible young man with an extremely bright future,” Bessey said. “We feel so blessed to be able to now guarantee him that he can complete his degree here at LR without financial burden.”
Once the GoFundMe page was published online, Andy was taken aback. “It had been posted online for an hour when my girlfriend called me about it — just in the first hour, they had raised $12,000,” he said.
“Me nor my family are the types to ask for a handout or help — I didn’t ask for that at all,” Andy said. “In 24 hours, $30,000 was raised to support my education. I was speechless.”
The goal was to raise $20,000 to cover the cost of Andy's tuition to complete his degree.
“On behalf of everyone at Lenoir-Rhyne, we thank our Bears Club, alumni, and the community for the outpouring of love and support they’ve shown Andy through this incredibly difficult time,” Bessey said.
Andy is still in shock over the generosity of the community. “It’s hard to think about that type of money,” he said. “We weren’t sure how my siblings and I were going to pay for the rest of my tuition. My sister cried, my brother was in shock — this takes a huge burden off of our shoulders.”
“This just shows me how much the people of Hickory care and are willing to help others.”
All of the proceeds raised will benefit Andy’s education. To make a donation, visit www.gofundme.com/f/help-cover-andy-lopez-college-expenses.
Emily Willis is a general assignment and education reporter at the Hickory Daily Record.