Updated: April 13, 2010, 7:06 am /
Published: April 13, 2010, 12:30 am
Aug. 11, 1942—April 10, 2010
Judith A. Storms was 11 when a fire ripped through Cleveland Hill Elementary School, killing 15 of her classmates and leaving third-degree burns over much of her body.
She spent three months in the hospital and endured 10 years of skin grafts, an experience that motivated her to study nursing and spend her career taking care of the sick.
The Depew resident, who attended a 50th anniversary of the horrific fire in 2004, died Saturday at home under hospice care. She was 67.
Born Judith Marchese in Buffalo, she was in the sixth grade on March 31, 1954, when a fire broke out in a wooden annex of Cleveland Hill Elementary School.
Ten students died in their music classroom in the annex, their bodies found huddled underneath windows that wouldn’t open, according to a Buffalo News account on the 50th anniversary of the fire.
Five more died in the hospital, and at least 19 were injured. Many got out after breaking windows but were badly burned and scarred for life.
The fire drew national attention and led to substantial changes in building codes that made schools safer.
“She just remembers that somebody pushed her out of the window. She was on fire when she came out of the window,” said her husband, Jerry.
A brother standing nearby yelled at her to roll in the snow to put out the flames.
She graduated from Cleveland Hill High School in 1960 and four years later earned a nursing degree from D’Youville College.
“I believe it was from the care she’d gotten when she was going through that. It was just in her head that she was going to be a nurse, period,” her husband said.
She worked as a registered nurse at Deaconess Hospital in Buffalo before moving in 1979 to Connecticut, where she served as director of nursing at several long-term care facilities.
Later in her career, Mrs. Storms received a master’s degree in nursing administration from Western Connecticut State University.
She founded the first Alzheimer’s Caregivers Support Group in Connecticut.
Mrs. Storms retired in 2003 and moved back to this area last September.
In addition to her husband of 46 years, survivors include two daughters, Jill Pawlik and Julie Fontaine; a son, Jeffrey; her mother, Nellie Marchese; and two brothers, James Marchese and Charles Marchese.
A service will be at 10 a. m. Thursday in Amigone Funeral Home, 6050 Transit Road, Depew.