On March 11, Ryan Loche heard that classes at Binghamton University and other SUNY schools across the state would move online.
Around March 18, his father, Chris Loche, started showing cold and flu-like symptoms.
First, he moved to a hospital. Then, the intensive care unit (ICU).
And last week, Chris, 49, of Amityville, unexpectedly died of COVID-19, leaving Ryan, 20, a junior double-majoring in economics and political science, and Ryan’s sister Kaitlyn, 16, behind.
Chris passed away the day before his 50th birthday. He was a single father, and since his passing, Ryan has taken on full responsibility for the family, including their mortgage, bills and taking care of his younger sister.
“Right now, I’m problem-solving,” Ryan said. “Everything is now my responsibility and in my name. Money, debt and all.”
Ryan said he has been working with estate lawyers to itemize all of Chris’s property, family lawyers to get full custody of his sister, wealth managers, actuaries and accountants. On top of that, he is still a full-time student at BU, although he is taking a brief break from classes.
Prior to the passing of his father, Ryan had his eyes set on Columbia Law School to study intellectual property law. Now, he said, his only focus is the well-being of his family.
“Right now, the most important and immediate concern is that my sister stays ahead in school, and then my sister gets to go to college and that we get to keep the house,” Ryan said. “I’m really just concerned with making sure my sister ends up on her feet, so I’m willing to do anything and everything.”
To help pay the mortgage, bills and other necessities for him and his sister, Ryan set up a GoFundMe page with the help of the Freeport Fire Department, where Chris formerly was a volunteer firefighter. On Sunday evening, a week after the fundraiser was posted, Ryan surpassed his $100,000 goal, raising $101,325.
At the fire department, Chris was admired by many, including former Chief Don Mauersberger. Mauersberger met Chris in 1986 when he first began volunteering with a different company, and he eventually joined Mauersberger’s Truck Company One in 1988. By the ’90s, Chris was a captain of Truck Company One, a job which Mauersberger said he did with great success.
“He was in charge of a company of over 50 men of all ages and he did it with his ever-present smile,” Mauersberger said. “He was known as an outstanding firefighter that all would follow. He had the respect of all.”
Mauersberger also recalled Chris as a gifted athlete who played baseball and hockey throughout his life. When he was with Truck Company One, Chris was the co-captain of their drill competitions team and won seven New York state tournaments.
After 25 years of volunteering, Chris left the fire department to spend more time with his two kids.
“Chris could light up a room with his smile and he was at ease with anyone or anything that came his way,” Mauersberger said. “I watched this young man grow over the years to be an outstanding parent and respected firefighter, again always with a smile. I will miss him dearly.”
Ryan said his close bond with his father was always a lighthearted one, with neither taking things too seriously. When Chris and his girlfriend, Meredith Meyka, both showed minor symptoms, they joked together that it was COVID-19. Because of Chris’ prior history of health complications, including multiple heart surgeries, he was more susceptible to the virus. Up until the day of his passing, Ryan said everything was unexpected.
“I get a call very shortly after [he was brought to the hospital, him] saying he feels fine and just really wants to go home, but [doctors] wanted to move him to the ICU,” Ryan said. “Then I went and took a nap, and honestly, by that point, we weren’t expecting it. Nobody was — including the doctors. And then I took a nap and I woke up, and you know … ”
Both Meyka and Kaitlyn are currently isolated from Ryan as they are facing confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Mauersberger said he will most remember Chris for his bright smile, which appeared through his entire career, in both good times and bad.
“The world is a little darker with his passing — rooms will not light up the same,” Mauersberger said.