By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — A beloved science teacher killed in a fire at her Richfield Springs home Saturday was remembered as an inspiring educator with an infectious laugh.
Mary E. Weingates, 59, joined the Richfield Springs Central School District in 1998, officials said, and on Sunday the school was open to offer counseling, hugs and other support to students, staff and the community.
“She is so-well loved — she will be deeply missed,” Scot Mondore, school board president, said Sunday night. “This lady was an unbelievable supporter of our children and our district.”
Otsego County 911 received a call about the fire at about 7 a.m. Saturday, dispatchers said.
Mondore said students and staff gathered outside the Weingates’ home at 40 Walnut St. during the day Saturday with hopes that their teacher would come out alive.
State police, in conjunction with Otsego County and state Office of Fire Prevention and Control teams, are investigating the cause of the fire, a media release said, and the manner and cause of death are pending.
Richfield Springs Central School in northern Otsego County has about 520 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, Mondore said. The school district is committed to helping pupils, staff and the community through the days and months of the healing process with the loss of Weingates, he said.
“The school is the center of our community, and we support one another,” Mondore said. “We’re small enough to know each other and love each other.”
Weingates taught ninth-grade “Living Environment” and science to seventh- and eighth-graders, Mondore said. The district’s crisis team met Saturday afternoon and again Sunday, he said.
Thomas Hallock, chief of the Richfield Springs Volunteer Fire Department, said crews tried to save the teacher but the fire was so advanced and the the smoke so thick that attempts weren’t successful.
More than 30 firefighters, including about 25 members from Richfield Springs with mutual aid from Schuyler Lake, Winfield, Springfield and Cedarville were at the scene Saturday, Hallock said.
The fire was well-underway by the time crews arrived at the two-story wood house, Hallock said.
Firefighters wearing air packs made several attempts to rescue Weingates but the smoke was so thick and heavy that a hand held in front of one’s face couldn’t be seen, he said.
Crews weren’t certain she was at home and also received conflicting reports on where in the house Weingates might be. A firefighter broke windows at one location and yelled but heard no response, he said.
“The guys did everything that was humanly possible to do,” Hallock said. A fire investigation team arrived with a dog, which located Weingates’ body, he said.
Crews used the village fire hydrants as the water source, Hallock said Sunday, and the department was back in service at the Richfield Springs station at about 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
Weingates also “thought the world” of her children — Lisa, Laura and Gary, said Mondore, whose daughter was in the 2010 class with Gary. Mary Weingates had an infectious laugh and was a positive influence on pupils and the school, the school board president said.
“She loved life,” Mondore said. “She loved these kids, and she loved her job.”
According to the school’s media release, Mary Weingates’ class raised the most money in a penny drive to help pay for the large new American flag in front of the school, which was flown for the first time as part of a Veterans Day ceremony.
“Mrs. Weingates planned a celebration for her students to recognize their achievement,” Superintendent Dan Myers said in the release. “That celebration will go on in recognition of her spirit and her ability to inspire her students.”
Weingates touched the lives of many students and will be missed, Myers said.
“I want the community to know we’re here for the students and the community in this time of grief,” Myers said in a prepared statement.
“We extend our most heartfelt condolences to her family,” Myers said. “We’ll mourn together and remember her for the special person and exceptional educator she was.”