As family members on Wednesday sifted through debris of a Northland home where a woman was killed in a fire, neighbors struggled to understand how someone with a passion for serving others could die so tragically.
Theresa Meloy, 50, had lived in the house near Penguin Park for about 10 years, neighbors said. She was known for her kindness to neighbors and the elderly.
“I can tell you she was a really giving person,” said Robert Meloy, her uncle. “Her passion was caring for elderly people, and that is what she was doing.”
Meloy went into social work after leaving a job at Ford Motor Co., her uncle said.
“She was unpaid,” he said. “She volunteered, and she spent all of her time the last few years doing that.”
The fire at Meloy’s house in the 3900 block of Northeast 51st Terrace was reported about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday when a driver saw billowing smoke. The man stopped and tried to force his way into the front of the house, then went around back, where he kicked in the door but was overcome by smoke.
The man was rushed to the hospital, where he was expected to remain for a couple of days, police said Wednesday.
Firefighters found Meloy unresponsive in a back bedroom. Emergency crews tried to revive her, but she was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Three of her dogs also died in the fire, which authorities said did not appear to be foul play. There were no working smoke alarms in the house, just one that had no batteries.
“The first I heard was the sirens,” said Cheryl McCabe, a next-door neighbor. “We ran outside We didn’t dream she was inside the house, so we started calling her cellphone screaming, ‘Theresa, come home, your house is on fire.’ ”
The neighbors were concerned about Meloy’s three dogs and were wondering how to get them out. They were in disbelief to learn Meloy had been inside.
“She was a wonderful neighbor,” McCabe said. “She was very kind, generous, hard-working. She just finished her degree a year ago in social work, which was a dream she was able to fulfill.”
Neighbors said they will miss her wonderful, neighborly attitude, her willingness to help and her kindness.
Gloria Silvers said she learned her neighbor’s house was on fire when McCabe called.
Silvers said one of the reasons Meloy got into social work was that her father had passed away and she had been taking care of her mother, who had become ill.
“All of the hoops she had to jump through trying to get the home health care and different things like that, that’s what made her decide to go into social work,” Silvers said.
“She was determined to try to help other people go through that process of finding help. She could help them rather than have to go through on their own.”
Meloy had adopted her three dogs, including one that was blind.
“When they brought the dogs out, I lost it with that,” Silvers said.
Meloy graduated in May with a bachelor’s of science degree in social work from Park University.
Walter Kisthardt, director of the bachelor’s and master’s of social work programs at Park University, said Meloy was an exceptional student who had a real passion for working with the elderly.
“She was an inspiration,” he said. “She was very, very compassionate and loved the people she worked with and went the extra mile. It’ll be a loss personally and a loss for the profession.”
Terry Tipton, program director at the Shepherd’s Center of the Northland, where Meloy volunteered, said everyone was in shock Wednesday after hearing the news.
“She was one of those people who gave 110 percent,” Tipton said. “She did over and above for the seniors of the Northland.”
Meloy came to the Shepherd’s Center as an intern from Park University. After she graduated in May, she asked if she could stay on to help. She had 20 clients.
“She was very special person. We were extremely lucky to have her in our lives,” Tipton said. “There’s an empty desk that just can’t be filled very easily at all.”