FOUNTAIN LAKE, Ark.— An employee at Fountain Lake Elementary died from COVID-19 before students could tell her goodbye.

Alicia Ugartechea was a custodian at the school for the last 20 years. She died from in the hospital January 1, 2021.

“I honestly thought I would get over it at this point– but just reminiscing again– it’s hard,” said Sandra Vaughn, Ugartechea’s daughter.

As of January 9th, Ugartechea is one of 334 Arkansans who have died from COVID-19 since January 1 but as Vaughn says, she was much more than a number.

“The percentage of everyone who has lost their lives is really small– but like I said, that is my mother,” said Vaughn.

Her mother immigrated to Arkansas from Mexico in 1974. She had four kids, who also live in Fountain Lake.

“I saw her everyday and it is hard with her not being here and talking to her,” recalled Vaughn.

Vaughn says her mother began feeling symptomatic in November and was later hospitalized in December with COVID-19.

“I just knew something was going to go bad. I just knew,” Vaughn remembered.

She says her mother’s health continued to get worse and on New Year’s Day, she said goodbye to her mom.

“I couldn’t even touch her– hadn’t seen her in a month, so I watched her through a glass door and she passed and that was pretty much it,” cried Vaughn.

Vaughn says her mom had a zeal for life and often talked about those she met at Fountain Lake Elementary who impacted her.

“She loved working there, she loved everybody there,” said Vaughn. “She could have retired at this point but didn’t want to, she wanted to keep working.”

As Vaughn reflects on her mother’s life, she hopes others will reflect on what they can do to protect others like her.

“Anywhere you go, they are going to hand out a mask, they are going to give you anti-bacterial so go ahead and take that because this could take someone else’s life,” she said.

The Fountain Lake School District posted on Facebook, “It is with great sadness that we acknowledge the passing of one of our very own. Ms. Alicia Ugartechea was employed with the Fountain Lake School District for 20 years. Alicia always had a smile on her face and took pride in brightening everyone’s day. She will be missed dearly by all of us. We would like to offer deepest condolences to Alicia’s family and friends during this time. We are praying for comfort and peace for each of you.”