A former superintendent of Eden schools died of complications from coronavirus Wednesday, less than a week after he was among 41 residents of Father Baker Manor to test positive for Covid-19.
Donald D. Fregelette, 88, was believed to be the first Covid-19 death connected to the Orchard Park nursing home, where 25 employees also tested positive for the virus.
David Fregelette said his father developed severe respiratory problems within days of the test result and was transferred to Mercy Hospital on Monday.
He died with a nurse holding his hand, according to David Fregelette, who lauded hospital staff for the care they provided.
“The nurses and staff there went above and beyond anything we could have hoped or imagined,” he said. “It was incredible to me.”
With no visitors allowed into the room, nurses used their own phones so Donald Fregelette could FaceTime with his children and grandchildren. Several of them joined with the family in reciting the Our Father and Hail Mary during the calls, said David Fregelette.
In the hours before Donald Fregelette died, a nurse held his hand and spoke with his son on the phone.
“She wanted to know all about his life. She wanted to be as much a family, while we couldn’t be there, as she could be for him,” said David Fregelette.
He said his father then told the nurse he was ready “to go give my wife a hug now.” AnnaMarie Fregelette died in 2015.
David Fregelette said he does not blame Father Baker Manor, which had the highest number of known cases related to a single Western New York facility since the pandemic began.
Nursing home staff did everything they could to ward against the virus entering the facility, including washing and disinfecting any personal items brought there by family members, he said.
“I never got the feeling they were lax or weren’t taking things seriously,” he said.
David Fregelette said his father was healthy and independent and only ended up in the rehabilitation unit at Father Baker Manor after breaking his hip in a fall on March 16. He received a partial hip replacement at Mercy Hospital and was transferred to the nursing home on March 21, David Fregelette said.
Donald Fregelette, pronounced Fridge-aletti, served as superintendent of Eden Central School District from 1984 to 1990. He was principal of the high school for 14 years before that.
He was remembered this week by community members and former students as a caring and fair leader.
"He treated everybody fairly," said Mark Clark, who graduated from Eden High School in 1974. "He wasn't a dictator. He was never like that.”
Mark Schwippert responded to Clark’s post on Facebook about the death, saying Fregelette was a “great person and made a positive impact for all Eden students."
"My favorite principal," wrote Bob Reed.
"He was a good man," added Barbara Perez.
David Fregelette said everyone in Eden knew him and his four siblings growing up, “whether we knew them or not, because of who our father was.”
Donald Fregelette was born and raised in North Collins, the son of the town dentist. He served in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany during the Korean War. He was a graduate of Canisius College and began in education in 1955 as a social studies teacher. In retirement, Fregelette remained active in the Eden community, particularly at Immaculate Conception Church, where he was a longtime member.
In addition to his son, David, he is survived by a daughter, Cathy Schneider; three more sons, James, Donald and John; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.