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Virginia Koonz Of West Springfield, Remembered For Her Compassion — And An Episode Of 'Plaid Hair'

This winter, Virginia Koonz got the coronavirus, and died.

In recent years, the retired teacher said she enjoyed not being on a clock and liked using Facebook. Her longtime friend, Barbara Rouillard, said Koonz "liked to follow what people and their animals were doing."

Rouillard remembers the exact day they met, in 1983, at a special education staff meeting.

"She had dyed her hair brown and she was letting all the colors grow out and go back to her white hair," Rouillard recalled. "She strolled across the room and put out her hand and she said, 'Hi. I'm Gini Koonz and I normally don't have plaid hair.' And I just thought she was so fabulous. I just instantly, instantly liked her."

Virginia Koonz, in her early 20s, appears in the Elms College Yearbook, class of 1963.
Credit used with permission from Alumni Relations / College of Our Lady of the Elms
College of Our Lady of the Elms
Virginia Koonz, in her early 20s, appears in the Elms College Yearbook, class of 1963.

Rouillard said one time, when Koonz was teaching life skills to her students, she brought in her own Crock-Pot, electric fry pan, and coffeemaker for students to use — so they cook without having a stove or an oven.

Rouillard's classroom had a connecting door to Koonz's home-ec space. She recalls standing at her blackboard teaching, "and I had a pair of slacks on, and [Koonz] came in and she said, 'Oh, this came for you.' And she stuck a hot dog in my pocket!"

Koonz's family said her true vocation was teaching. At different times in her life, she worked as a social worker and as a home health aide, who also took in people experiencing homelessness, and cared for people with AIDS.

Her Elms College yearbook from 1963 said she was "wrapped in a vocation of love."

One thing all who knew her loved, Rouillard said, was Koonz's fabulous cooking. On January 11, 1997, Rouillard wrote a haiku about her friend, titled "In Gini's Kitchen." 

Pots boil, steam rises<br>to frizz her white hair, framing<br>a laughing, red face.

Rouillard and Koonz also went out for long lunches every three weeks. During one of what Rouillard said they called their "big salad lunches," she recalls a conversation in which they pondered life and death, and the purpose of existence.

Rouillard remembers her best friend saying, "We will never figure it out. Just be as good as you can be."

Virginia Marie Koonz of West Springfield died on February 5th, 2021, at Mercy Hospital after contracting COVID-19. She was 79 years old.

This story is part of an occasional series of obituaries of people from the region who have died of COVID-19. As of March 25, 2021, the state reports 2,088 residents of western Massachusetts died of the disease.

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