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Resident of Williamstown Commons dies of COVID-19

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NORTH ADAMS — A lifelong resident of North Adams known for her feistiness and community contributions died Saturday at an area nursing home, the fifth victim of COVID-19 in Berkshire County.

Before she died, Martha Louise (Benoni) Robare, 86, is said to have waved to family through a window while being cared for in an isolation unit at the Williamstown Commons Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Williamstown.

"She was one of those people who really contributed to the North Adams community," said Eileen Flynn DeLaO, a family friend. "She was just a really warm and loving person, but with an edge. She had a feisty side to her."

Robare's death was one of four in Massachusetts in a 24-hour period linked to the coronavirus, as reported Sunday by the state Department of Public Health. As of 4 p.m. Sunday, 48 people had died of the virus in the state. The number of confirmed cases in Berkshire County climbed Sunday from 119 to 151.

At the time of Robare's passing, 17 residents of the Williamstown nursing home had been confirmed to have the virus, an increase from 14 late last week.

One of those residents is now hospitalized, leaving 15 in the direct care of the nursing home, said Lisa Gaudet, communications vice president for Berkshire Healthcare Systems.

"The numbers are a moving target," Gaudet said Sunday.

The nursing home is in close touch with state health officials and is providing outreach to family members of residents who have tested positive for the virus — and are being cared for in the special unit.

"We're doing everything that we should be doing in the way we should be doing it," Gaudet said of care at the home. "What we're learning is that the virus changes quickly."

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Gaudet said a recent call for volunteers to help at the nursing home brought several responses. Staff are now working for meaningful, and safe, ways for the public to help.

Four members of the nursing home's staff have tested positive for the virus. Of those, two have been cleared to return to work, Gaudet said.

She praised how employees of Williamstown Common are shouldering the challenge of caring for so many people who have COVID-19.

"It's amazing the commitment these folks have," Gaudet said of the staff. "They're very committed to keeping them safe and protected."

Robare retired in 1999 as a receptionist at the local YMCA. Before that she worked in day care centers in Williamstown and North Adams and spent 20 years as an employee of the former Sprague Electric Co.

A private liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated for her Wednesday at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in North Adams, according to the Flynn & Dagnoli Funeral Home.

She is survived by three children, Lisa Marie Robare of North Carolina and Andrea Jean Robare and Peter Andrew Robare, both of North Adams.

DeLaO said she last saw Robare in the summer of 2019 while visiting her own father at the nursing home. In a social media post over the weekend, DeLaO shared stories of growing up under Martha Robare's stern but warm-hearted supervision in an informal day care arrangement.

Robare's husband, Norman, died in 2004. "They were a real indomitable pair," DeLaO said.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-588-8341.


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