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3 Santa Rosa family members fought and lost battles with COVID-19

A Year Like No Other — Coronavirus Pandemic in Sonoma County

As Sonoma County marks the one-year anniversary of its unprecedented stay-home order that marked the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, The Press Democrat set out to tell the stories of how our lives have been changed in a year like no other.

In the series “A Year Like No Other” that continues through March, we are chronicling the evolution of the pandemic and its fallout through the eyes of people who live and work here. We thank Summit State Bank for supporting our efforts.

Read all the stories here.

Three members of the Mink family lay in three beds at Kaiser Permanente hospital in Santa Rosa last October, struggling to breathe in the COVID-19 ward.

In one room was former pastor Phillip Mink, 74, a cheerful and goofy soul who led Bible studies at Stony Point Christian Fellowship. Mink was an all-around fixture in the community and a devoted volunteer.

In the next room was his wife, Barbara Mink, 75. A behind-the-scenes matriarch, she raised their children with a love for their Christian faith, ensuring they woke up each weekday at 6 a.m. for family devotions. The Minks started their day with song, prayer and a reading from the Bible. On many mornings, the scent of pizza hung in the air as Mink baked lunch for the kids to take to school, daily fare that made the other kids jealous.

Their daughter, Sonja Mink, 52, whose love for children shone when she led the children’s service for their church and worked managing preschools, was in a third hospital room.

None of them would survive the health complications they faced with COVID-19.

They would be together in death as they were in life.

Phillip Mink died Oct. 28. Hospital staff moved Barbara and Sonja into the same room. Mother and daughter died two days later with their hands placed together, palm to palm.

Three members of the same family, killed in three days by COVID.

“In the beginning of all of this, it’s happening elsewhere. It’s not here, it’s everywhere else,” said Sandra Greenley, daughter to Phillip and Barbara, sister to Sonja. “And the circle got smaller and smaller as you hear about people affected. Then it hits home.”

Barbara was born in 1944 in St. Louis to Hazel and Irvin Crocker. Phillip was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1945 to Betty and Robert Mink.

They met at Life Bible College in Los Angeles, now called Life Pacific University, a seminal institution for the Foursquare Christian church, an evangelical Pentecostal denomination founded in the 1920s.

The Minks’ first child, Sheila Mink, died of a rare illness before she turned 2, Greenley said.

The Minks arrived in Santa Rosa from San Jose in the early 1980s when Phillip was brought on as pastor of what was then called the Neighborhood Foursquare Church on Middle Rincon Road. The couple and their three children moved into the church parsonage.

Greenley, the youngest, recalled playing in the big field by the church and watching her brother, David, and her sister, Sonja, take turns mowing that great expanse.

Phillip Mink supported his family by working in banking, starting as a teller and moving into managerial roles at institutions including Bank of the West and Citizens Federal Savings and Loan, his family said.

Barbara, an avid reader of the Bible and Harlequin romance novels, taught their children to be quiet and respectful at church, school and anywhere else. She worked at Ross Dress for Less in Montgomery Village for about 20 years, starting as a fitting room clerk and moving up to work the cash register, Greenley said.

They kept their family immersed in church activities. When Phillip left his pastoral post, he was often leading activities or volunteering to ensure things worked, from men’s groups to Easter and the weeklong summer Vacation Bible School for children.

Their family watched San Jose Sharks hockey games and the Indy 500 together. They sang hymns each morning.

“We were homebodies,” Greenley said.

Sonja Mink studied early childhood education at Life Bible College in Los Angeles and finished her degree at Santa Rosa Junior College. She worked at Little Ones Children Center in Santa Rosa and the Little Ones Backyard Club in Rohnert Park, then shifted careers and worked in customer service for Farmers and State Farm insurance companies.

She lived with her parents in Santa Rosa. About 10 years ago they joined Stony Point Christian Fellowship.

“My parents and my sister were at every function,” Greenley said.

Pastor James Harper, in a live video memorial service Nov. 28, said they were committed “at every level” to the congregation.

“Whatever the church was doing, they were doing,” Harper said.

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down most activities one year ago, Sonja insisted her parents stay home and she would take care of errands to the grocery store, her sister said. They stayed home for the most part, other than church activities.

Greenley said they do not know how her parents and sister contracted COVID-19. Church services were still being held outdoors at the time. They had volunteered at a food donation program the week before they fell ill, she said.

Barbara, Phillip and Sonja would be the only ones in their family to get sick, Greenley said.

A Year Like No Other — Coronavirus Pandemic in Sonoma County

As Sonoma County marks the one-year anniversary of its unprecedented stay-home order that marked the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, The Press Democrat set out to tell the stories of how our lives have been changed in a year like no other.

In the series “A Year Like No Other” that continues through March, we are chronicling the evolution of the pandemic and its fallout through the eyes of people who live and work here. We thank Summit State Bank for supporting our efforts.

Read all the stories here.

Their family last gathered together Oct. 10 for a birthday celebration. Eleven loved ones convened to share a meal and then went to a movie theater they rented for a special showing of “The Empire Strikes Back,” a happy memory, Greenley said.

Her father would later admit he had begun feeling unwell a few days before then, his daughter said. By Oct. 12 all three had fallen ill, and Sonja called Greenley to ask if she would help persuade her father to get tested for the virus. He tested positive the next day and was hospitalized by the end of the week.

A bad fall sent Barbara, who was unwell and already unstable because of knee trouble, to the hospital Oct. 22.

Sonja texted her sister before dawn Oct. 25 to say she was so sick she called 911. Paramedics had to jimmy the lock to get in because she was too weak to get to the door, according to her sister.

Greenley and her brother spent the ensuing days calling the hospital to get updates on their family and asking them to arrange phone calls and video chats with one family member after another.

Barbara Mink was deeply concerned other members of their family who gathered for the birthday had contracted the virus. Her family tried to comfort her, assuring her they were all well, Greenley said.

They had just a few phone calls with their father before he agreed, without telling them, to be placed on a ventilator, Greenley said. He would not emerge from the coma required for the procedure.

Greenley and her sister-in-law were allowed to visit the hospital Oct. 27, the day before her father would die.

She recalled standing in the hallway looking through a row of hospital room windows as three people so unbearably dear to her suffered.

But their family’s connection to their faith provides a deep sense of comfort after their deaths. Greenley said it’s painful when she hears others dismiss the seriousness of the pandemic. Those attitudes fail to recognize how much is at stake.

“We love them and we miss them terribly, and we wish that didn’t have to happen,” Greenley said. “Love all the people you got.”

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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