Caretaker, 98, dies in cemetery fire in Kennedy

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Before Thursday’s fatal blaze, in a small structure not much bigger than a tool shed, the old man lived alone.

At 98, Andrew Gupp had lived in front of the two cemeteries on Green Oak Drive in Kennedy that he had cared for almost all of his life.

He had lived in a brick house next door for more than 50 years, but he needed something smaller, and he was looking to take on less responsibility as caretaker. One cemetery would do. So when the small shed-like structure was built about 40 years ago, he added on to it and made it his home, his grandson Mike Gupp said.

From then on, he oversaw only one of the two cemeteries, Ahavath Achim Cemetery. He remained there and looked after the cemetery for more than 30 years, said Beth Fleck, his granddaughter. Everyone knew the man in the small shack.

Mr. Gupp had been married, although his wife is long deceased, and raised two sons. Now, even his grandchildren have children.

His family remembers his selflessness. “He would do anything for anyone else,” Mike Gupp said. “He never said ’no’ for anything.”

A thick smoke, one witness said, streamed from Mr. Gupp’s residence early Thursday. Mr. Gupp’s neighbor, who did not wish to be identified, said he tried to enter the residence when he noticed the smoke but was unsuccessful. He then reported the fire about 6:30 that morning and watched from the top of his driveway as crews extinguished the flames.

“He was a great man,” he said.

Kennedy Fire Capt. Justin Gutt said that when fire crews broke down the door to enter the structure, Mr. Gupp was at the foot of the door and was pronounced dead on the scene. He might have been trying to escape, but that is not certain. The Allegheny County fire marshal’s office is investigating the cause of the blaze.

Allegheny Chief of Emergency Services Alvin Henderson said no foul play is suspected and the living room area is likely the room the fire originated.

Mr. Gupp’s health had started to ail, Mr. Gutt said, so he used oxygen tanks. Whether those tanks contributed to the fire has not been determined, he added.

“Up until maybe a month ago, you would never know his age — [you would think he was] maybe 65 or 70 years old,“ said Martin Jacobs, Ahavath Achim Cemetery president. “He was very mobile, but in the last couple of weeks, he started getting some health problems."

Mr. Gupp, or “pap-pap, gramps or pops” as his family liked to call him, was always around, Ms. Fleck said.

Even from a distance, when family members would see the old man cruising along a residential street, a cigarette dangling from his lips, Ms. Fleck always knew it was grandpa, she said.

The speed he drove in his red pickup truck was usually the giveaway. He was the only one who would follow the speed limit, Ms. Fleck said laughing. On some days, she would look outside her back window and see her grandfather tending to her garden, which he did every year. This was the first year he couldn’t do it, she said.

The Allegheny County medical examiner’s office said the cause and manner of death have not yet been determined as autopsy results are pending.

Michael Majchrowicz: or on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz. First Published August 7, 2014 12:00 AM


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