Popular teacher, wife, in ‘dark time’ after fire
ORANGE >> Amity High School history teacher Robert Catalde and his wife are counting their blessings that they got out of a Sept. 11 house fire unharmed and for the way the community has shown love in rallying to raise money for temporary living quarters.
“It’s a very dark, bleak time,” he said. “It’s very tough. We’re broken-hearted and sick with worry.”
Catalde, a town native, said he and his wife, Diana Hosen, had insurance on the structure of their house at 841 Glenbrook Road, but not for the contents or for temporary relocation.
The couple also has to continue paying the mortgage. The house needs to be gutted and will take several months to repair, Catalde said.
While they are in a hotel, Catalde said they cannot afford to live like that for much longer and are trying to raise $30,000 for a temporary trailer to put on their property.
“I cannot pay a mortgage and a hotel bill or I’ll end up homeless,” he said. “We’re living paycheck to paycheck.” The two, married 10 years, do not have children.
Colleagues in the social studies department at Amity have set up a gofundme account that raised more than $10,000 in four days. The goal is $35,000.
Catalde is a musician who grew up in the house where the fire broke out. He said the outpouring has been heartwarming:
• A lifelong friend is holding a fundraiser Oct. 8 at Orange Ale House, and others are planning events.
• A friend loaned him a car as his was destroyed in the fire.
• Colleagues handed him a large-amount gift card for immediate needs, such as clean clothes.
• Another friend handed him cash to hold him over until payday.
Catalde has taught at Amity for 15 years.
“There’s so much goodness in this world — I had no idea,” he said of the outpouring. “I never knew this many good people existed.”
Amity social studies teacher Leeann Browett, who set up the gofundme account along with colleague Chris Borelli, said Catalde is popular with students.
He keeps the subject matter interesting with dramatic voices and re-enactments, she said.
“He gives his all to the kids,” she said.
Catalde is also popular among adults at the school — a caring individual always there for others in need, she said.
Catalde is one who has always given back to the community, friends said.
He is a longtime member of Orange Youth Board Services, a frequent speaker at veterans’ events because of his history knowledge, and is coordinating the Constitutional Oratory Contest for the American Legion in town.
Catalde said he’s never asked for help in his life, but this time he’s scared.
Catalde said fire officials aren’t sure how the fire started. It began in the garage before filling the house with smoke and causing explosions in the garage because of gasoline.
Catalde was cooking dinner that evening when his wife came running downstairs to say the room was filling with smoke, he said.
He got her out, a neighbor called 911 and he went in three times to try to rescue a cat, Simon, but had to give up because the black smoke was so thick that he couldn’t see.
Catalde spent the night at Bridgeport Hospital, but has recovered and returned to school shortly after the fire.
He said they are grateful that two dogs, Olive and Penny, made it out safely, as well as a cat, Jet. Another cat, Sadie, is alive in the basement, but afraid to come out, so Catalde, unable to catch her, is bringing her food and water.
While all the furnishings were destroyed by fire or smoke, some other treasured items survived, including photographs, family Christmas ornaments — some dating back to the 1930s — his first guitar, bought by his mother with Green Stamps, the guitar he plays these days and a cane that his grandfather brought back from Scotland.
Another item of sentimental value that was saved: the pot in which his mother and “Italian grandmother” made sauce for decades.
Catalde said they are thrilled that those sentimental items were spared, and the stuff they lost was “just stuff.”
“I was worried about losing my family’s past,” he said.