FT. WINGATE, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico third grade teacher taught her students right up to the end before losing her battle with coronavirus. Her loved ones said she always put others, especially her students, before herself. “Everyone I know will always say they are going to miss her smile,” Phillip Belone said. “They are going to miss her big hugs and her genuine love that she had for you.”

Phillip is mourning his younger sister, Philamena Belone. “I am not surprised sitting here sharing her story because she was a special person,” Belone said.

The two grew up together on the Navajo Nation. Philamena went on to pursue her passion for being a teacher. She taught third grade for eight years outside of Gallup at Wingate Elementary where the majority of the students are native.

“Our kids on the reservation deserve the best, and my sister was the absolute best teacher they could ask for,” Phillip said. “She could have taught at many schools, but her life’s legacy was serving those she felt a connection with.”

The school is completely virtual right now, but Philip said Philamena still went in to create hard copy study packets and worked weekends to get them to her students. He said she tested positive for coronavirus a few weeks ago. “She taught and tutored even though she was on oxygen wearing an oxygen mask,” Belone said. “She taught until she couldn’t physically teach anymore.”

Philamena, who Phillip said was just 44-years-old and healthy, passed away Friday. Wingate’s principal, Eric North, said her death was a “kick in the gut” for the school. “To lose a member of the Bear Cub family in our own house is really traumatic and emotional,” North said. “She taught a number of students over the years. It’s really impacted a lot of different age groups.”

North shared a photo of the last bulletin board Philamena did at the school which encouraged students to achieve their full potential. Phillip said that is the mark she leaves behind. “I truly hope there are more people out there like my sister,” Phillip said.”

People have been flooding social media with messages about Philamena. One person said she was an “amazing jewel” at the school who uplifted students and coworkers. Another parent said their kids were blessed to have her as a teacher.

The principal said they have families who have lost a number of relatives to the virus. He said they are making counseling available for staff and students.

Latest COVID-19 News in New Mexico