Mary Ellen "Mel" Reiss Fightmaster, 71, of Glenolden, a retired first-grade teacher, died of heart failure May 27 at Delaware County Memorial Hospital.

Mrs. Fightmaster taught at Garrettford School in Drexel Hill for 27 years before retiring in 1998. Previously, she taught in elementary schools in Hershey, Pa., for 10 years and in the Tredyffrin-Easttown School District for two years. She briefly taught second grade but preferred giving first graders a good foundation, her sister, Carolyn Niebauer, said.

She kept in touch with former students and inspired several to become teachers, Niebauer said. She had a quick wit and wrote and performed in skits for parent-teacher shows at Garrettford, her sister said.

Mrs. Fightmaster was former membership chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees and was an active member of Alpha Delta Kappa, a teaching sorority.

After graduating from Notre Dame High School in Moylan, she earned a bachelor's degree from West Chester University.

In the summer, Mrs. Fightmaster and her husband, Thomas, traveled the United States in their RV and often camped in Tuckahoe, N.J. She loved dogs and volunteered at fund-raising events for the Delaware County SPCA.

In addition to her sister, Mrs. Fightmaster is survived by a stepson, Timothy Fightmaster; and brothers George and Charles Reiss. Her husband of 20 years died in 1997.

Friends may call from 7 to 9 p.m. today, Mrs. Fightmaster's 72d birthday, and 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at Cavanagh Funeral Home, 301 Chester Pike, Norwood. A Funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Our Lady of Fatima Church, 1 Fatima Dr., Secane.