‘HOOSIERS WE’VE LOST’: Nurse had chance to quit, but took care of patients instead

Editor’s note: This is one of a continuing online series of profiles of the more than 12,000 Hoosiers who have died from COVID-19. The stories are from 12 Indiana newspapers, including The Republic, who collaborated to create the collection to highlight the tremendous loss that the pandemic has created. The series appears daily at therepublic.com.

Name: Marsha Bantle

Age: 65

Town: Richland

Died: May 1, 2020

Marsha Bantle still had a chance to leave Signature HealthCARE nursing home — to get out before coronavirus ripped through the Newburgh facility, killing at least 12 residents.

But Marsha, a nurse at Signature, wouldn’t take the lifeline family members threw out to her. Her sense of duty wouldn’t let her. Bantle, who died May 1, was the area’s first health care worker to lose her life in the battle against COVID-19, the disease caused by the deadly virus.

The decision epitomized the will that led Bantle, a cancer survivor, to dedicate her life to caring for others. Sixty-five years old, never married and with no children of her own, Bantle embarked on her path after her father’s death from cancer in 1987.

“She pretty much put her life on hold to take care of him,” said Boonville resident Traci Williams, a cousin of Marsha’s. “That was kind of what motivated her to go back to school to get her nursing license.”

To that point, Marsha had been a hairdresser, seeing clients in a small shop built out behind her house in Richland, Ind.

John Isaacs, Williams’ father and also a cousin of Marsha’s, recalled the first time he and his wife, Carol, pleaded with her to quit her job at Signature.

They made their case: Marsha had turned 65 in February. She had licked cancer some 25 years ago and, more recently, battled a bleeding ulcer in her stomach that required blood transfusions. She’d worked all her life, including taking care of her mother until her death in 2012. It was time to retire.

“She was, ‘Nah, I’ve got to work, can’t quit,'” said Isaacs, a Warrick County resident who at 80 has been a big brother to Marsha all her life.

“And then when this nursing home thing came up, and they had people there with the virus, we told her, ‘Hey, it’s time,” Isaacs said, landing forcefully on the last word. “We told her, ‘You go ahead and retire. You don’t need this.’”

Isaacs can’t forget Marsha’s response, can’t help turning it over and over in his mind. But he knows wishing won’t change anything.

“She said, ‘No, they need me right now. Can’t do it,'” he said. “She said, ‘One more year, and I’ll retire.'”

After graduating nursing school in 1992, Bantle embarked on a roughly two-decade career at St. Mary’s Hospital, where she eventually retired. But that was just the beginning.

What followed was a succession of nursing jobs. Marsha’s destinations included a hospital in Owensboro, Ky., several area nursing homes and even a six-month stint as a traveling nurse in Connecticut.

Her nomadic career path was a source of jokes in the family. But everyone knew the real reason. Marsha was fiercely independent, self-assured and quick to tell you if she thought you were full of beans.

“I guess she spent most of her life busy working and busy taking care of others, and she just never found anyone to share her life with,” said the 36-year-old Williams. “So she pretty much dedicated it to her patients, to taking care of her family – her mom, her dad – and that took a lot of her life.”

— By the Evansville Courier Press