Golonka Farm is staple of community
WHATELY — The small, brown, wooden farm stand on State Road that has become a landmark locally and a main attraction for sweet corn fans across the Pioneer Valley will seem empty this summer.
The close-knit farm town lost two community members whose family vegetable stand had become a mainstay of the community.
On late Wednesday night, Mary Golonka, 94, and her daughter Sonia Golonka, 64, perished in a fire that destroyed their home at 6 State Road. Both were transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton by ambulance, but it was too late. The two women died from heat and smoke inhalation.
Mary Golonka and her husband, Bernard, began the vegetable farm with just cucumbers in 1956. Their youngest son, James Golonka and his wife, Jan, later expanded the farm over the years and added a farm stand in the late 1980s.
James’ sister, Sonia Golonka was the face behind the popular vegetable stand, the one who counted the cash and passed out the sweet corn. Sonia and Mary lived right next door in the large white farmhouse.
The loss reverberated throughout the long stretch on State Road and up to the town center, where many of the townspeople were in shock Thursday.
All that was left of the 1827 white clapboard home was its outer wooden frame and a backyard shed. The farm stand remained untouched as well as surrounding homes. The inside of the two-story home was gutted and burned and the backside addition had disintegrated. All that remained of the back of the home was an old prefabricated fireplace — the metal back of which had rusted and rotted and allowed the fire to burn the floor of storage room and spread throughout the house.
It was this fireplace that local Fire Chief John Hannum and State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan blamed for the late night blaze.
On Thursday morning, Hannum was still on scene hours after arriving at 11:30 the night before.
“You can’t ask for better people than the Golonkas,” he said.
Deputy Fire Chief Keith Bardwell said the Golonka Farm stand is a staple in the valley. In 1980, he had met James Golonka through the fire department and knew his sister, Sonia, through the produce stand.
“Whately is a tight-knit community. It’ll deeply affect a lot of people in town,” Bardwell said.
Many neighbors throughout Whately and along the Hatfield town line couldn’t believe it.
Down the road at Tom’s Famous Long Hot Dog and Grill, manager Lisa Labelle remembers the friendly woman she purchased her produce from.
“We would always talk recipes and food preparation,” Labelle recalled. “This is a loss to the community. We’re deeply saddened.”
In the Whately town center, Paul Fleuriel Jr. stood beside his red pickup and looked up toward the sky. He couldn’t believe the news.
“I’ve known the family for 40 years,” said Fleuriel, who was the Boy Scout leader of James Golonka years ago. “Every week, we’d go to the vegetable stand. The Golonkas are known in the valley for the quality of the products they raise.”
At the Whately Inn, owner Stephen “Chip” Kloc III felt devastated by the loss of the two Golonka women. His New England country fine-dining restaurant has purchased the Golonka Farm cucumbers and tomatoes since he came to town in 1980.
“They were fantastic, down-to-earth local people. You don’t find people like that anymore. They were honest people,” Kloc said. “This hits too close to home.”
Darryl Williams of Hatfield, owner of Luther Belden Inc., a diary farm, has known the farm family for years since their children attended Smith Academy.
“The Golonkas are certainly great folks, great people,” Williams said.
Adelia Bardwell, a long-time Whately resident, remembers Sonia Golonka also from the produce stand.
“She was very efficient and business-like. You could trust her. She was very well-respected,” Bardwell said.
Selectman Joyce Palmer Fortune said if there’s anything the town could do for the family, they would do it.
“The farm stand is such a fixture. People are always stopping in there. It’s a big loss for the community,” Fortune said.
You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at:
or 413-772-0261 ext. 268.