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Family back in China after spending seven months marooned in Kearney due to coronavirus
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Family back in China after spending seven months marooned in Kearney due to coronavirus

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KEARNEY — After seven months marooned in Kearney, Jason and Nicole McNeil and their two children are back home in Shanghai, China.

In late January, at the dawn of the global coronavirus pandemic, the family had left the city of 24 million to celebrate the Chinese New Year in the Philippines.

However, they found themselves hopscotching the globe seeking safety as, one after another, airports and nations were closed to prevent the spread of the virus.

Nicole and the children — Collette, 5, and Jaxton, 1 — arrived in Kearney on Feb. 6. Jason made a number of business trips and arrived in Kearney on March 15. They settled in at the home of Nicole’s mother, Judy Henning, who was pleased to hear family sounds once again filling her place in northwest Kearney.

“It’s been a lot of fun getting to see those little grandkids growing up,” she said.

As days turned into weeks and the visitors settled into a routine, Jason set up an office in Henning’s basement so he could stay connected with suppliers and distributors. He made his first calls of the day around 8 a.m. and began his final meetings around 8 p.m.

Nicole seized the opportunity while staying in her mother’s house to hone her cooking skills, while Collette spent the day at a Kearney preschool and Jaxton spent time with his nanny.

The family was stuck in Kearney while China gradually got its coronavirus problems under control and began issuing visas to people like the McNeils who do business in the country.

Jason, the vice president of sourcing and quality for AutoZone, oversees purchasing of parts and auto products in southeast Asia and India. Products Jason buys in those regions are sold to customers in the United States, Mexico and Brazil.

The McNeils had planned to enroll their children in preschool when back in China.

In an interview earlier this year, Nicole said it was wonderful having an extended stay with her mother and sister, Stacy Hurt. She posted this weekend that it is exciting to return to life in Shanghai.

“We are very much looking forward to returning to our friends and life in Shanghai, and we are very much going to miss our friends and family in Kearney, Nebraska,” Nicole said on Facebook. “You were an amazing place to live the past seven months. What an amazing town with amazing people. A special shout out to my mom, Judy Henning, who took us in and was the perfect addition to our routine the past seven months. Also a shout out to my amazing sister, Stacy Hurt, who was always there to help us when we needed it.”

The McNeils left Thursday for Shanghai. It was a 60-hour journey with health and safety checkpoints along the way.

Leaving behind family and friends was difficult, Nicole said. “Needless to say our departure is bittersweet. We arrived in the U.S. the beginning of February, and never in my wildest dreams would I have thought we would be there until September, but alas we were.”

mike.konz@kearneyhub.com

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