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St. Lawrence Central copes with loss of two students, teacher

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MASSENA - St. Lawrence Central School Middle School Principal Christopher W. Rose said it’s been difficult enough in the past to deal with the loss of student.

Now they’re trying to cope with the death of a teacher and her two daughters, all members of the district.

“It was definitely somber. It’s bad enough to lose a student, but it’s more difficult when you lose two students and a teacher,” Mr. Rose said.

Laurie M. Dana, 42, North Lawrence, and her daughters, Caitlyn O., 14, and Lauryn E., died Thursday in a multiple-vehicle crash on Route 11 near Fox Ranch Road in the town of Antwerp.

Mrs. Dana was a special-education/speech teacher at St. Lawrence Central Elementary School. Caitlyn was set to enter ninth grade, and Lauryn was a rising sixth grader.

Also killed were the girls’ grandmother, Janet Dana, 69; Caitlyn’s friend Shannon Planty, 14, a student in the Brushton-Moira Central School District; and a woman in another vehicle, Maryann D. Gregory, 59, of Dickinson Center.

Mr. Rose knew Mrs. Dana and her daughters from his job as middle school principal, and he said it was a tough loss for the district as school counselors and representatives from Hospice and Palliative Care of St. Lawrence Valley tried to help students and staff cope Friday. Students in grades kindergarten through eight were participating in summer school and the summer recreation program.

“All of our counselors were there and Hospice was great,” he said.

“It was pretty somber,” Mr. Rose said. “We had a mixture of K through eight kids today. We had a good group of teachers, primarily elementary teachers that came in and met. I think it was good for them to come and meet. It was therapeutic to come in and talk about Laurie.

As a special-education/speech teacher, Mrs. Dana traveled regularly from the elementary to the middle school to work with students, according to the principal. A 1988 graduate of Brushton-Moira Central School, she received her master’s degree in speech pathology from SUNY Plattsburgh and had been with the district since 1992.

“Laurie was one of those people that always had a smile on her face,” Mr. Rose said.

“I have to say I’ve never seen a lady more in tune with her own children who went to school, the school kids and the staff members who worked with her. She just seemed to know everything she needed to know. Kids loved her as a speech pathologist. She knew how to make them better, make them more successful,” he said.

Mr. Rose said that, as a speech teacher who didn’t have a normal class of about 20 students, Mrs. Dana had to be flexible in her schedule and how she dealt with students.

“She just had a way about her of letting people know that she was willing to be flexible. She was just a great lady,” he said.

Mr. Rose also knew Caitlyn from her time at the middle school and was ready to welcome Lauryn back for her second year in the middle school.

“I knew Caitlyn more than I did Lauryn. Lauryn just came this year,” he said.

Both girls danced with the All That Jazz dance studio in Moira, and Caitlyn was also involved in gymnastics and soccer. She also enjoyed farm animals, winning ribbons in cattle showing.

“Her closest friends were in school today. They came in about 8 this morning and stayed until about 2 this afternoon,” Mr. Rose said.

Caitlyn was a member of the Brasher Falls U-17 summer soccer team and was a candidate for the high school varsity team in the fall. Lauryn, like her sister, enjoyed dancing and gymnastics, as well as quilting and four-wheeling, and also won ribbons in cattle showing.

“She was probably the one that was more like her mother. She was more the spitfire. She had a bit of an attitude in a fun way like her mom,” Mr. Rose said.

Lauryn had been diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 4, but didn’t let it get her down, he said.

“She was a diabetic and learned early how to stick up for herself. She knew what she had to do to take care of her diabetes at a young age. She didn’t let it slow her down a bit,” he said.

Those who came to the school on Friday remembered the family in their own special way. Hospice representatives also set up activities to help them deal with the loss.

“Hospice had some very good activities for both elementary-age kids and middle-school kids,” Mr. Rose said.

Among them was a memory wall, in which students, teachers and staff could write their feelings.

“I really think the memory wall is a good idea. They can write whatever they want,” he said.

“I sat for about two-and-a-half hours trying to figure out what I wanted to write under Laurie’s. She and I had this running joke that I never gave her a permanent room. Then this little girl came in for summer rec. She couldn’t have been in more than second grade. She grabbed a marker and within 30 seconds wrote one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen out of an adult or a kid. It’s amazing a child at that age knows exactly what to say,” he said.

Calling hours for the family will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at the Flint Funeral Home in Moira. A combined funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Mary’s Church Brushton, with the Rev. Christopher Looby presiding, and the Rev. Gerry Giroux co-celebrating the Mass.

Even when the funeral is over, though, the memories of the teacher and two students will be on the minds of St. Lawrence Central School officials when they reopen their doors in September for a new school year.

“I think we need to sit down as a district safety team. It’s something we’re going to have to do to start the school year. All those kids that couldn’t come in today and write on the memory wall, they’ll need some time to be able to talk not just about Laurie but Lauryn and Caitlyn, too. Other kids are going to need that too. I think we need to do something when school starts,” Mr. Rose said.

The Dickinson Center woman killed in the crash was remembered as a tireless employee and an active community member by those who worked with her.

From March 2009 to March 2011, Ms. Gregory worked as the full-time registered dietitian with the Franklin County Office for the Aging before budget constraints forced the position to be cut to 13.5 hours per week. In that short time, though, Director Susan Wilson-Scott said Ms. Gregory accomplished a lot.

“She was fabulous,” Ms. Wilson-Scott said. “She brought the program into compliance with what she did for us. She came up with all of the standardized recipes. ... She was extremely, extremely energetic person, completely thorough. She just knew her stuff.”

Ms. Wilson-Scott said she did not know Ms. Gregory before she came to work for the Office for the Aging, but she said the loss was nevertheless felt strongly throughout the office Friday afternoon.

“She was respected greatly for her work with the Office for the Aging,” she said. “She was terrific, just amazing. What she accomplished in a short amount of time ... she’s just sorely missed.”

Ms. Wilson-Scott said her thoughts and the thoughts of other Office for the Aging employees were with Ms. Gregory’s family in their time of grieving.

“All of us at the Office for the Aging, we just send our condolences sincerely to the family,” she said. “We feel so terrible for them. We just feel awful.”

Ms. Wilson-Scott also said she knew Janet Dana when Ms. Dana was a teacher at Brushton-Moira Central School.

“It’s a very sad day for the north country,” she said. “I just don’t even know. Everyone here is very sad. ... It puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?”

While Ms. Dana was the president of the Moira Historical Society, Franklin County Legislator Sue Robideau, also a society member, said Ms. Gregory was a member as well and led tours of old homes in Moira during the town’s annual Moira Heritage Day celebration.

“She was a very active part of our historical association,” Ms. Robideau said. “Maryann was very active at leading the home tours.”

Ms. Gregory was the wife of former Brushton-Moira Superintendent Earle Gregory and current Shared Superintendent Beverly Ouderkirk commented on that loss in news release regarding the tragedy that hit the local community. Ms. Ouderkirk was unavailable for further comment Friday.

“The magnitude of our loss increased late [Thursday] afternoon when it was announced that a sixth person, the lovely spouse of a former, respected BMC superintendent, who was critically injured in the same accident, had also died,” Ms. Ouderkirk said in the release.

Staff writer Jonathan Monfiletto contributed to this report.

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