Polk County family prepares for mom and dad’s funeral following COVID-19 deaths

Coronavirus

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – COVID-19 has exacted a terrible toll on a Polk County family.

Elio Reyes Sr., 50, was a hard-working shop foreman and 52-year-old Norma Reyes was a devoted educator.

They are now sadly two of the more than 44,000 Floridians who have died due to the virus during the pandemic.

“This just shows our blue-collar background,” Elio Reyes Jr. said, holding a pair of cowboy boots he bought for his parents funeral on Friday.

The boots represent Mr. Reyes’ Texas roots and the work ethic he passed on to his son.

“I’m gonna miss working alongside my dad,” Elio Jr. said. “I’m gonna miss those long conversations at work about family, what it means to provide and protect and he really showed me what it means to be a man.

8 On Your Side first spoke with 21-year-old Elio Jr. and his 18-year-old sister Bryana last Wednesday after their mom had passed away and their dad remained on a ventilator. 

“Now that my dad is with my mom as sad as it is, it’s a little comforting to know that I don’t have to worry because wherever my mom is my dad is there protecting her like he always did,” Elio Jr. said.

When Mr. Reyes wasn’t at his job with Southeastern Construction Company in Mullberry for the past 26 years, he was helping his wife.

“My dad was my mom’s worker bee,” Elio Jr. said.

The longtime Purcell Elementary School teacher taught many Hispanic students how to speak English and she was the 2012 Florida School-Related Employee of the Year.

“Every Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, every little thing they had, Relay for Life my dad was right there next to her,” Bryana Reyes said.

Mr. Reyes passed away last Thursday at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, six days after his wife. They had been hospitalized for weeks after testing positive for coronavirus in July.

By the time they considered getting vaccinated, Bryana said, it was too late.

“Once they first tested positive they’re like, once we get over it we’ll most likely probably go get out shots,” she said.

Last week, the day before losing his father, Elio Jr. was still on the fence, saying he’d probably get his shots.

“I’ve been kind of on edge about it just like my parents,” he said.

But now he says he will get vaccinated for his concerned grandmother and sister, who is waiting to get her second Moderna dose.

“Just out of peace of mind for my family,” he said, “I will receive the vaccine.”

After sharing the Reyes story with the manager at Boot Barn, he informed 8 On Your Side his company planned to gift the pair of boots to the children.

“We all at Boot Barn are saddened to hear of the loss for this couple. We do hope that this small gesture of a pair of Cowboy Boots for their father will warm their hearts during this difficult time,” said Wendy Wozniak, a district manager for Boot Barn, in an email.

A memorial fund for Elio and Norma Reyes has been set up to help the children.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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