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Farmhouse fire kills two members of Golonka family

  • Fire on 6 State Rd. in Whately Thursday morning.
  • Fire on 6 State Rd. in Whately Thursday morning.
  • Fire on 6 State Rd. in Whately Thursday morning.
  • Fire on 6 State Rd. in Whately Thursday morning.

The victims were identified Thursday morning as Mary Golonka, 94, and her daughter Sonia Golonka, 64, members of a well-known local farming family and familiar faces at the farm stand next to their home at 6 State Road. Mary Golonka established the Golonka Farm with her husband, Bernard, in 1956, beginning with cucumbers.

In a statement released Thursday, Whately Fire Chief John S. Hannum and State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said the blaze was reported between 11 and 11:30 p.m. Wednesday by Sonia Golonka and was caused by a “malfunction of the fireplace.”

The fire started underneath the floor of “an old prefabricated fireplace where, over time, the fireproof brick had cracked and the metal fireplace rusted and decayed,” the statement said. “This allowed heat and possibly sparks from the woodstove and fireplace to come in contact with structural members.”

Still on the scene of the fire Thursday morning, Hannum said the blaze moved rapidly through the Golonkas’ single-family farmhouse built in 1827 and took over an hour to bring under control.

“That house is balloon construction, which means there are no fire stops,” he said, pointing at the ruined structure. “Once the fire got going, it went right to the attic.”

Hannum said flames were “running across the front porch,” pushed by the wind, when firefighters arrived on the scene minutes after Sonia Golonka called 911.

Firefighters immediately entered the house and found both women in the first-floor bedroom where Mary Golonka slept. Hannum said they carried the two women outside and began CPR. Both women were taken to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton where they were pronounced dead.

Hannum said Sonia Golonka “obviously went to get her mom” after calling 911. By the time firefighters arrived, the blaze was producing “a heavy fire load with smoke and intense heat,” he said.

Hannum said fire destroyed the second floor of the farmhouse, much of the first floor, and the kitchen at the rear of the house.

No firefighters were injured as a result of the fire, Hannum said.

At the scene Thursday morning, charred beams could be seen sticking out of broken windows on both floors and the back of the house was a dilapidated shell. A shed near the house remained standing, though it was charred black by the blaze. A small blackened metal fireplace stove rested on the lawn, along with fire hoses and clumps of wood ash.

A small group of family members watched as investigators walked through the wreckage and traffic was diverted around a fire truck still parked on the road. They declined to talk to reporters at the scene.

Across the street at the Whately Antiquarian Book Center, owner Barbara Smith was collecting her mail. “This is incredibly sad,” she said. “I heard about it this morning on the news and I haven’t stopped crying.”

Smith, who lives in Northampton, said Sonia Golonka sometimes came into the shop searching for books on knitting. More often, Smith went across the street to the Golonkas’ farm stand, which has not yet opened for the season.

“During the summer, I’d go there every day,” Smith said. “I’d see Sonia more often than members of my own family.”

Jim, the youngest son of Bernard and Mary Golonka, now runs the farm with his wife, Jan.

In the joint statement with the state fire marshal, Hannum also spoke of the impact of the tragedy.

“Whately is such a small, tight-knit community that a tragedy like this touches us all,” he said. “Today I have not only lost two members of my community, but two friends as well.”

Fire and ambulance crews from Hatfield, Northampton, Williamsburg, Conway, Deerfield, Sunderland and Plainfield were among the responding departments.

The fire was investigated by state police assigned to the office of the state fire marshal and officers assigned to the Northwestern district attorney’s office.


Farming community mourns Golonka family members after fatal house fire in Whately

Thursday, April 4, 2013

WHATELY — Residents and members of the local agricultural community reacted with sadness Thursday to the news that two members of a long-established Whately farming family died in a late-night fire Wednesday in their State Road home. Mary Golonka, 94, co-founder of Golonka Farm, and her daughter Sonia Golonka, 64, died in the blaze that began after 11 p.m. Wednesday …

Legacy Comments12

I saw Sonia during the summer more than I see members of my own family. When Sonia appeared, that meant summer had truly arrived. I loved her smiling face and her attention to her job at the cash register. I know she hated weeding beets and carrots. I spoke to her mom a few times on the phone, but didn't know her. This is so tragic - I've been very sad all day. My heart goes out to the hard-working Golonka family. So, so sorry for you. I hope there are no beets and carrots to be weeded in Heaven; I just know that's where she is, with her mom.

In retrospect, it wasn't 'weeding beets' that Sonia hated, it was thinning them. I hate it, too. God bless her.

We will sure miss Sonia. She ws so faithful to the business. From spring until into the autumn,standing at the stand every day. Rest well Sonia. Our prayers are with you and your family.

Sonia was a Whately institution and we are heartbroken to lose her and her Mom. What a hero she was and we will remember her for her loyalty to her family.

Shame on you Gazette. I load the page to read the story about this tragedy and I am greeted with an and for GCB showing a wall of flames and the statement " Burn your Mortgage!!!!" . Very low class and unprofessional. This ad should not display on this page!

We are so sad in our household. We LOVE the farmstand, and Sonia is/was indeed such an institution. Can't believe it. We'll miss her so much this coming summer. (and such bravery to go back inside for her mom - I'm so sorry they both died)

Agreed, completely unprofessional and heartless.

My apologies, this was meant to be a reply to the comment above. "Shame on you Gazette. I load the page to read the story about this tragedy and I am greeted with an and for GCB showing a wall of flames and the statement " Burn your Mortgage!!!!" . Very low class and unprofessional. This ad should not display on this page!" My condolences to the family & friends, RIP sweet angels. xo

Were they trying to use a decrepit fireplace because of an electric shutoff?

My family called her "Smiley"...we are just so sad for this family..

OMG - I'm heartbroken for the family. I loved going to the stand daily and trying to get a smile out of Sonia. She was such an institution. I will miss her so much.

This is unbelievably sad; I love their farmstand and always saw Sonia working there. My prayers go out to the family.

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