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‘Mom, that’s Mrs. Evans’

The new dad, and his napping baby boy: Most of the time, Zach Evans will just stand there, taking in the miracle that is his son, Luke.

Most of the time, the house is quiet – too quiet, after what happened – but this kind of solitude is, well, different.

This is silence, that isn’t. The kind that carries an undercurrent of nurturing frequency – a modulation as soft and blessed as a mother’s lullaby.

It’s, well, comforting.

So, that dad will stand there, in that nursery, and watch his 2-month-old, who is getting more strapping by the day, go through the cycles of sleep.

Every twitch, and every stretch.

Every facial expression, inventoried and archived, in a living storehouse of heart.

That nose-crinkling thing? Pretty cute, you know.

And when he smiles in his sleep, that’s the best of all. Because when Luke does that, it reminds Zach of Adrianna, and her smile.

“He looks just like you, honey,” he’ll whisper.

“Luke didn’t get to know you, but he’ll never forget you. I promise.”

‘You know I love this man’

As of this writing, a total of 5,164 West Virginians have died of COVID and its complications, as the pandemic continues to have its way.

One of them was Adrianna Chico Evans, Zach’s wife and Luke’s mom. She was just 29.

Thirteen of those years were spent in the company of the man she would marry.

Adrianna and Zach were high school sweethearts. They met at Trinity Christian School, and their first official date was watching a sunset from atop Dorsey’s Knob.

“They were together all the time,” her dad, Bob Chico said, smiling at the memory.

In time-honored, goofy Dad fashion, Chico gave his only daughter a playful elbow as he readied to walk her down the aisle for the wedding three years ago.

“You know, it’s not too late to back out of this thing,” he teased. “We can still have the party.”

Her answer, her father remembered, was accompanied by a signature, winning smile.

“Well, maybe. But you know I love this man.”

A newly minted father-in-law and son-law both enjoyed a laugh over that exchange later at the reception.

Zach Evans proudly holds their son.

‘God’s got this’

After they earned their diplomas from WVU, Zach and Adrianna embarked on marriage and careers in Morgantown.

He went into business and finance, and she was able to fulfill her lifelong dream to be an educator, teaching third grade at St. Francis Central.

Last spring, they made the announcement. She was pregnant. Luke was to be their first child together, but the pandemic had other plans.

She was due in November, but she had to be admitted Oct. 5. The diagnosis turned out to be COVID-19, with pneumonia as an added complication.

Luke was delivered two days later, by emergency Caesarian section. She had put her health on hold for him, but now both were being pummeled by the contagion.

She held Zach’s hand – tight – as she was wheeled to the delivery room.

“God’s got this,” she told her worried husband. “He’s got this.”

Her son would spend 33 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, and while that stay was accompanied by a steady path of progress, Adrianna, unfortunately, wasn’t as lucky.

One positive inch forward would be met by an avalanche of COVID complications.

Shortly after noon on Oct. 23, she slipped away.

Adrianna got to see Luke maybe a handful of times, her husband said.

“She would have been a great mom,” he said, brushing tears.

Then again, she already was, her dad answered.

That’s why they were in Arthur Moore’s office at St. Francis the other day.

Initiating contact

Moore – everybody calls him, “Artie” – is principal of the parochial, pre-K-8 school on Guthrie Lane.

Almost anyone can be taught classroom techniques, he said. However, he added, some things about teaching are just innate.

He found that out when he ducked in for Adrianna’s first-ever evaluation.

“I had a fresh legal pad with me because I was sure I’d be writing a lot of things down,” the principal remembered.

He was thinking it would be a primer of, “Well, here’s what you can try if that happens again,” and other pointers for the rookie.

That legal pad was just as pristine after he emerged as when he went in.

“It was like I was watching a veteran teacher,” he said. “I’m convinced she was born to do this.”

Her husband remembers the charge she got any time of her “kids” would see her when they would be out at a movie or restaurant.

“They’d bust it, to come running over so they could hug her and say hello. If you’re a teacher, that’s your legacy.”

Honoring the work

That’s what Zach and Bob had in mind, as they considered the GoFundMe account.

Friends put up the link for online contributions when Adrianna was in the hospital, but Zach was adamant about not taking people’s money, he said.

Until he and his father-in-law started thinking about Adrianna’s investment of heart to her students.

Maybe, they thought, something could set up to recognize other caring, competent teachers.

Say hello to the Adrianna Chico Evans ACE Family Fund, a nonprofit that will begin doling out monetary awards to deserving teachers in the months ahead.

Bob Chico envisions recipients from Catholic schools and public schools – in Monongalia County and across West Virginia, and beyond that.

Donations to the fund may be made to: The United Federal Credit Union, 3 Sunset Beach Road, Morgantown, WV 26508-9909; to the attention of ACE Fund, Vicky Metts, CEO.

“Every contribution stays directly in that fund,” Chico said.

“I want to see recipients everywhere. I want to keep the legacy of this beautiful, amazing young woman going. I want others to benefit from her life and work.”

‘I know’

Even in their grief, a father-in-law and son-in-law couldn’t help but smile at the happy tumult on the other side of the window of Moore’s office at St. Francis that afternoon.

It’s a row of windows, actually, and some of the heads bobbing by barely came up to the sill.

Both men looked over. Adrianna’s kids were among the throng.

Evans appreciates the teeming energy in that hallway. He appreciates the outpouring after his wife’s death.

He cherishes friends and the collective heart of his in-laws, Bob and Linda.

And Luke? Well, he’s the life-force, now and forever.

“Right now, I’m focusing on Luke. It’s all him. And Adrianna. I have dreams about her. She’s still with me. She’s always going to be with me.”

He’s not the only one who feels that way.

After her memorial Mass, maybe a couple of days, a rainstorm blew through.

The clouds moved out to make way for an arcing rainbow when it was all done, causing a St. Francis kid and a St. Francis parent to make note.

“Mom, that’s Mrs. Evans.”

“I know.”

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