William Prince spread joy to everyone he met and smiled so much growing up that he gained the nickname “cheeks” from his classmates and teachers.

“He was never mad or anything like that,” said his mother, Rosemarie Massey.

Prince, Nazko First Nation, died May 17 from heart failure after being hospitalized with the coronavirus. He was 31.

Prince was born in British Columbia, but Massey raised him since he was 6 months old in South Dakota. She said he was always keeping her on her toes.

She remembers on one birthday, she gave him a skateboard and roller skates. Later she found him ready to jump off the porch, with his skates on, onto the skateboard.

“He was like 10 kids in one,” she said.

He maintained that energy as an adult.

Prince had three daughters, Sienna YellowEagle-Prince, 12, Serena YellowEagle-Prince, 11, and Emma Jade Prince, 3.

“He wasn’t afraid to run around with them and play and wrestle.” Massey said. “He was just like one of the kids himself when he was with them.”

Prince worked as a seasonal roofer and told his mother about a visit to a store during his lunch break where someone coughed on him. Massey said this bothered her son.

Then around late April, he told her about his chest pains. 

At first, he had no other symptoms. But about a week later, he was admitted to Monument Health Rapid City Hospital in Rapid City, South Dakota. He stayed there battling the virus for 18 days before passing away.

Massey said she talked to her son daily on the phone and kept in contact with the doctors and nurses who let him use an iPad to communicate through video.

“The hardest part was I couldn’t even hold him or even hold his hand.” Massey said. “I told him I loved him and ... his girls loved him.”

Prince graduated high school when he was 16 years old. His mother said at 18 or 19, he was the Golden Gloves boxing champion in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana.

His former teacher wrote on his GoFundMe page, “I have had thousands of students over the years, but I have never forgotten him and his wonderful energy.” 

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