Service has been a way of life for Henry Williams Jr., beginning with his time in the military and later in his community, where he worked with at-risk youth in a popular program he founded that combined golf with education.
Now, the man who likes to call himself the "real" Hank Williams Jr., is the one being served, with a black-tie event to honor him for 40 years of service to his community.
Organized by friends, family and a grateful community, the Legacy Gala will be held at 5 p.m. April 15 in Salvatore's Italian Gardens, Lancaster. In addition to honoring Williams, who founded the Buffalo Inner City Youth Fan Club for Golfing, the event will also celebrate the launch of the Major Henry S. Williams Jr. Scholarship Fund.
"He's so selfless and humble," said Venus Quates, Williams' granddaughter. "He always wanted the kids to shine. I wanted it to be his day for once. The man behind all of this is an amazing person."
Proceeds from the event will benefit the scholarship fund, a subject near and dear to Williams' heart. When asked what it was he felt was the most important lesson he wanted to impart to the more than 500 young people who participated in the golf program over the years, he immediately answered: "Education is the most important."
Born in North Carolina in 1934, Williams entered the Air Force at 18 and served four years of active duty. He later joined the Army ROTC, achieving the rank of major in 1985.
After moving to Buffalo, he graduated from Canisius College in 1966 with a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Master's degrees followed, as did a career at institutions ranging from the old E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital to the Department of Education.
In 1993, Williams founded the golf program, a vehicle through which high-risk, inner-city kids could learn about math, science, drug prevention, discipline and responsibility while mastering the game. Many of the children, who would not otherwise have had the opportunity, went on to college and success in life. And many of them credit Williams.
Helen Busch, a sophomore at Amherst Central High School, has participated since she was 4.
"I've gotten a lot out of the program," said Busch, 16. "Most importantly, I've gotten patience. I've learned to be calm, to keep going, to try again and to learn from my mistakes."
"They make sure you get good grades so you can get to college and you can get to where you need to in the future. They really encourage that," said Busch, who is already looking forward to going to college, where she plans on playing golf and studying to be a veterinarian.
"The program has been very good for Helen," her mother, Paula, said. "It's given her confidence. It's been a very positive part of her life."
The Scholarship Fund, which will be managed by Canisius College, was created to continue Williams' legacy following the dissolution of the golf program earlier this year. For more information and tickets, call 444-5251, or visit www.majorhenrywilliams.org.
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