A new monument in Frankfort will honor the Kentuckians who died from COVID-19

Nov 15, 2021

Credit Amana

Kentucky will erect a new monument on the State Capitol grounds to honor the more than 10,000 Kentuckians who have died from COVID-19. 

The permanent public art piece, called “United We Stand. Divided We Fall,” was designed by Lexington-based sculptor Amanda Matthews. It will consist of sculpted figures surrounding a reflective sphere. It will also incorporate audio and tactile elements into the work. 

Matthews told WFPL the design came from, “the desire to honor our state motto: ‘United we stand, divided we fall.’”

“And to take a deeper look at what that means, the historical context of how that motto came to be, how it has existed throughout many, many generations and across many different faiths and belief systems,” she said. “And how it represents that there is strength in empathy, and strength in love and strength in unity.”

She was on a job in New York when she learned her design had been selected. 

“The last thing I expected was to pick up my cell phone and the governor be on the other end,” Matthews said. “It’s just so deeply honoring.”

An advisory panel, composed of health care workers, survivors of COVID-19, arts professionals, and family members and friends of those who have died, decided on Matthews’ design.

Kentucky sculptor Amanda Matthews in the State Capitol Rotunda during a ceremony to honor Kentuckians who died from COVID-19 and to announce her design for a new monument.
Credit Stephanie Wolf

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced the state had commissioned Matthews for the monument Sunday during a memorial ceremony in the State Capitol Rotunda.

“As a Kentucky native, Amanda is bringing and brought to her design and to this monument, our story, our lived experience, what we have felt right here in Kentucky,” Beshear said. “It makes, I believe, her vision, both special, but also more personal to each and every one of us.”

Helping Matthews unveil the design during the ceremony was Jacqueline Woodward, who was on the COVID-19 Memorial Advisory Panel. 

“Today is a bittersweet day as we come together to honor the memory of all of those who lost their loved ones to COVID-19,” Woodward said during the Sunday ceremony. “Ten thousand, so overwhelming a number. How devastating a time it has been for so many.” 

For Woodward, the pandemic brought on “the greatest tragedy of my lifetime.” She lost her husband of 45 years, Gary Woodward, to COVID-19 last November.

“Gary was a critical care nurse team leader. He loved his job,” Woodward said, adding that she and their three daughters are also health care workers. “We knew the risk that this pandemic brought to us. But we also knew that we were servants that had a job to be performed.”

Jacqueline Woodward, who was on the COVID-19 Memorial Advisory Panel and lost her husband to COVID, speaks during a memorial ceremony in the State Capitol Building.
Credit Stephanie Wolf

Other health care professionals spoke during Sunday’s event, including Jamar Wattley, a registered nurse at Baptist Health La Grange. He said, being a nurse, the number of some 10,214 Kentucky COVID-19 victims “has meaning” and weight for him.

“These numbers represent the people I have cared for and the memories I have with them…  I remember the times we prayed together, I remember the trust you had in me,” he said.

Wattley also remembered “the final goodbyes” and the “feeling of sorrow.”

Deacon James Weathers of St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Lexington, Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel in Lexington and Chuck Queen, senior pastor at Frankfort’s Immanuel Baptist Church in Frankfort, attended the ceremony to lead those gathered in the Rotunda or people watching the stream at home through prayer, and to bless the forthcoming monument. 

The governor said the pandemic has “left scars everywhere in the Commonwealth.”

“Not one of our 120 counties has been left untouched, but none of us as people have been left untouched…Our values, Kentucky values are about family, community, generosity of spirit and yes, compassion for those around us, even when we feel like we don’t have any compassion left to give,” he said. “And right now more than 10,000 of our neighbors are gone, but their families and their communities are still here. And they are in need of us to be our very best.”

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear speaks to a group of reporters in the State Capitol Rotunda following a memorial ceremony to those who died from COVID-19 on Nov. 14, 2021.
Credit Stephanie Wolf

After the ceremony concluded, Beshear told reporters he hopes the public artwork will be unveiled in Monument Park on the Capitol’s grounds in about six months.  

He also said that he wants to ensure every Kentuckian who died from COVID-19 is accounted for.

“So we’re actually now going back and making sure that we include death certificates that may be changed later to include COVID that might not be in our original searches,” Beshear said. “Because, again, everybody counts and everyone we lose is tragic.”