51-year-old Jason Rhea, Missouri State’s assistant director of facilities management for grounds, died Thursday, Oct. 22 from COVID-19, according to university President Clif Smart.
In an email sent to MSU employees Friday morning, Smart said Rhea died at Cox Medical Center South last night, after a battle with COVID-19. Rhea had been hospitalized since Oct. 10, following an exposure to the virus off campus.
According to Smart, Rhea’s death is the first COVID-19 related death within the university community.
“The gravity of this pandemic weighs heavily on me,” Smart said in his email. “Each case affecting a faculty, staff or student hits close to home. I extend my deepest condolences to those who knew Jason.”
Rhea began working at Missouri State on Aug. 16, 1999, as a groundskeeper, before becoming a grounds foreman in 2007, grounds supervisor in 2012 and assistant director of facilities management for grounds this year, according to Brad Kielhofner, university engineer and director of facilities management.
While working, Rhea earned his bachelor’s degree in general education at MSU.
“It is my understanding that he announced his pending graduation to his mom as a Mother’s Day gift,” Kielhofner said. “He said it made her so proud she cried.”
When recalling experiences with Rhea, Kielhofner shared a story about when Rhea’s supervisor at the time took a position at another university. Kielhofner said Rhea must have sensed his concern during the employee’s going-away gathering.
“(Rhea) assured me that we would get through the situation together and that I didn’t need to worry,” Kielhofner said. “I have to say he lived up to that promise. Jason stepped up and did an amazing job in the time he led the grounds team here at the university.
“I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him.”
As assistant director of facilities management for grounds, Rhea led the grounds workers in their daily care of the campus, along with monitoring the budget, administering hiring and working with the team to plan landscaping projects, tree care, athletic field maintenance and other projects, Kielhofner said. Rhea also oversaw snow and ice removal and the execution of successful outdoor events, such as Welcome Weekend, BearFest Village and other athletic events.
“I found Jason to be a man of integrity who cared deeply for others,” Kielhofner said. “I am going to miss Jason more than words can describe, and it makes my heart ache to think of this loss.”
Those who wish to share their condolences with Rhea’s family can drop off cards to the facilities management office in the Central Stores and Maintenance building at 945 E. Grand St.
For more information about Rhea and his visitation and funeral services, read Rhea’s full obituary here.