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Tragic death brings new responsibility to retired couple

Gathered around their Christmas tree with their new children, Lilia, Ixul and Mikavonya, the girls are settling in with their parents Ron and Barbara Spencer. They are now waiting on Santa Claus to come with their toys and presents.The girl’s father, Keith Spencer, died unexpectedly in January.



When Ron and Barbara Spencer went to bed the night of January 3rd, little did they know their lives would be changed forever the next day. Ronald and Barbara Spencer, of Hancock County, are now raising their two granddaughters, Mikavonya (6) and Ixul (4), and their step-granddaughter, Lylia (11).

Their son, Keith Spencer, the girls’ father, passed away unexpectedly on January 4th, 2022 of a massive heart attack at only 51-years-old. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008.

His girls were at school. “The youngest (Ixul) was at home with Keith and Billy Evans, who we call our foster son because he’s lived with us off and on since he was about 12 or 13-years-old. He was also living with Keith,” Barbara said.

Billy said that Keith had asked him if he would keep an eye on Ixul, because he wasn’t feeling well and he wanted to lay down. “Keith went back into his room and laid down. Billy went in a couple of hours later to check on him. He called me and he said, ‘Keith is passed out and I can’t get him awake.’ I was at work in Owensboro and I told him to call 911 and Billy was just hysterical. He couldn’t even hardly talk to me,” She said.

“I called Ron and said, ‘Go over there and see what’s going on.’ Ron went over and he had called 911 as well. He called me back and said, ‘He’s been gone awhile.’”

Barbara drove from Owensboro to Keith’s house in Hawesville. “As I’m driving, the only thing I can think of is the girls. What are we going to do with the girls? We knew we couldn’t allow her back into their lives (the mother).”

Barbara arrived at Keith’s house on Pear Tree Lane and went inside. She said she had asked them not to touch or move Keith until she got there. “I spent a few minutes with him,” she said. “D.A. (Gibson) said, ‘Take as much time as you need, Barbara, but you know the girls (Lylia & Mikavonya) will be home in a little bit.’ They didn’t know about it.

So we got the girls off of the bus and put them in the van and we came over here to our home. The girls were used to coming over here on the weekend because they spent a lot of time with us. I sat them down and just explained to them that their daddy had passed away and that he was in heaven. They took it pretty good. They’re still processing.”

Barbara said that she and Ron immediately started planning the funeral and trying to get custody of the children. They were also seeking therapy and mental health help for the girls.

She said that stopping by to see them would be a great way to extend moral support. “Just a friendly face or a friendly voice will let you know that they have support. These girls feel like they live in a bubble because it’s just the 5 of us all the time. It’s very rare that they get any outside contact other than school.

They go to birthday parties occasionally, but, you know it’s kind of hard on them. When they go to church (at Mount Eden), they get a little contact there.”

Barbara and Ron are both retired. She moved to Hancock County when she accepted a city clerk position in Hawesville, in 2011. Ron joined her here after retiring from his contracting job in Indiana.

“Keith had full custody of the two younger children, in the divorce,” Barbara explained. “In 2019, when they got the divorce, she (the mother) gave up full custody to him. In early 2019, he was contacted by Lylia’s father. He wanted to know if Keith would take full custody of Lylia.” (Lylia is Keith’s stepdaughter.)

“He said, ‘She’s my children’s sister and I think they should be together.’ So Lylia’s father and step-mother drove her here from New Mexico.”

Lylia said she is happy living in Hancock County. She likes going to school at North Hancock and is in the fourth grade. “I was a little excited and I didn’t know what my sisters were like (She hadn’t met them yet). I saw them on one phone call that you could see each other’s faces,” she said.

Barbara said that they tell Lylia all the time that she is chosen. “We’ve chosen to keep her and we’ve chosen to make her part of our family and she is. She’s our granddaughter just like these other two. The day we got the final order, Lylia was the first one telling everybody at a little function we went to that we got the final order. ‘Mamaw and Papaw got custody of us,’ she was announcing it to every body.

Her circumstances could’ve turned out a lot differently. But, we chose to fight for her. We chose to keep her here with her siblings. And, you know, it’s a lifetime commitment for all of us.”

Lylia recalled the first day when she went to live with her sisters and new family. “It was different,” she said. “I didn’t really know anybody that much. Mikavonya walked around the house and showed me where everything was. I like it. I like school a lot.”

Barbara said that she feels “very blessed” to be able to do this. “I just would be lost without them and I think they feel the same way because there’s a lot of anxiety when we’re separated,” she said.

“They have their own ways of coping and dealing with it. In the beginning, the fear that they were going to be taken away from here was very real. We went to counseling and to therapy at Lighthouse.”

The youngest, Ixul, is autistic and Barbara said that it has been challenging. “She has a lot of behavioral issues that we have to deal with on a daily basis.”

She said she has found a very good pediatrician, Dr. Crystal Hayden in Leopold. “She’s been wonderful to work with and we finally got Ixul on some medication that is helping her a lot,” Barbara said. “Any time I need her I can call her and she’s right there. She sees all three of them.”

They go to Lighthouse Counseling in Hancock County. “We see Barbie Matthews there,” she said. “It’s a counseling group – a therapy group. She’s really good with kids. She’s been there every step of the way. She was there with us through court when we were able to get full custody. We have full custody of all three now.”

Ron and Barbara are not receiving any financial help. “My understanding is,” Ron said. “Once I get broke they’ll (social services) help me. We have retirement and social security.”

Barbara added, “We don’t get any assistance because my son was denied for social security and disability. He had re-applied and was denied twice. He was in the process of trying to get it submitted a third time when he passed away. We have no financial help whatsoever. We’ll do it. You do whatever you need to do. You figure it out rather quickly that you don’t need to take that trip and you don’t need to drive a new car. As long as these girls have what they need, that’s all that matters.”

Lylia, Mikavonya and Ixul are happy in their new home with Barbara and Ron and are looking forward to a cozy Christmas together. Despite their challenges, they have each other. They love each other and that love will carry them through this time of tribulation.

By Donn Wimmer


  1. Sue on December 21, 2022 at 9:04 pm

    God bless you both and your three granddaughters. Merry Christmas.

  2. Tina Higdon on December 22, 2022 at 2:01 am

    God bless these grandparents for taking these little girls and giving them a place to call home. Its hard enough for parents to raise kids and cope with the everyday issues of raising little ones. And having a child with mental problems makes it even harder. But thank God they had someone that was willing to step up and say we’re going to do this and do the best we can. You don’t have to be perfect just love them and let them know that on a daily basis. Kids bounch back easy and take things much easier than adults do. They just want love thats all. Do the best you can and let life take care if the rest. God bless you both and prayers will come your way for the great grandparents you are.

  3. Michele on December 22, 2022 at 8:23 am

    God Bless you for adopting your 3 beautiful granddaughters. The 2 sisters should be able to collect survivor benefits from their dad. Check with SS if you haven’t already. There use to be a group through the SNAP office called grandparents raising Grand children who can help with personal needs if the still exist. I hope all turns out well MERRY CHRISTMAS

    • Mandy Erb on December 22, 2022 at 10:32 am

      God Bless you All. Merry Christmas.

  4. Melody White on December 22, 2022 at 9:43 am

    God Bless Your Family this Christmas and New Year 2023. God will keep his arms around your family . Remember grief takes alot of stages and can be longer for each person. I will ask our Prayer Warriors @ Bethel Baptist Church to keep your family in continuous prayer. We are @ 9th and Fulton Streets in Tell City, IN. 47586. God Keep Watch during the Holidays !!

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