Buffalo’s renaissance has made the city and the metro area seem more alive than ever. But a look back at those who passed from the scene during 2015 serves as a reminder that all this new activity had a foundation.
It sprang from a combination of enterprise, expertise and personal dynamics that sustained this community and gave it a sense of pride and satisfaction, even in its bleakest years.
Some of those who died over the past 12 months went on to distinguish themselves nationwide. Others were hometown celebrities who brought joy to the many lives they touched. And still others enhanced our quality of life in significant and memorable ways.
Through thick and thin, they were among the brightest parts of us, and even now that they’ve departed, their memory and accomplishments continue to shine.
Gabrielle Burton, 76, novelist, memoirist and screenwriter, died Sept. 3.
Before she moved to Amherst in 1974, she had distinguishing herself among feminist writers with her book, “I’m Running Away From Home, but I’m Not Allowed to Cross the Street: A Primer of Women’s Liberation.”
She followed it with works that included “Heartbreak Hotel,” which won the Maxwell Perkins Prize for an Outstanding First Novel, and the screenplay for “Manna from Heaven,” which her five daughters produced and filmed locally.
Thomas A. Constantine, 76, a Buffalo native who served as New York’s State Police superintendent and head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, died May 3.
Named superintendent in 1987, he was the first state trooper in 30 years to rise through the ranks to the state’s highest law enforcement position. He graduated at the top his class at the State Police Academy, worked on narcotics and organized crime investigations as a trooper, then went on to serve as a regional troop commander, headquarters staff inspector and full colonel, where he was in charge of all State Police operations.
Appointed in 1994 to head the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, he was credited with helping curtail the Columbian Cali drug cartel. A year after he stepped down in 1999, the British government tapped him to lead police reform in Northern Ireland.
Lance Diamond, 69, singer and Buffalo music legend, died Jan. 4.
In a career that spanned more than four decades, Diamond and his 24 Karat Diamond Band appeared at every major local festival and public event. He was a mainstay for many years at the former Elmwood Lounge. His dynamic personality, his deep croon and his dance rhythms guaranteed a good time.
Among his fans were the Goo Goo Dolls, who included him on their recordings and performed live with him on many occasions. Nicknamed“The Hardest Working Man in Buffalo Show Business,” he was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame in 1992 and won numerous music awards locally.
Herald Price Fahringer, 87, lawyer renowned as one of the nation’s most high-profile defenders of free speech, died Feb. 12.
A graduate of the University of Buffalo Law School, he started his career here but gained fame representing celebrity murder suspects such as Claus von Bulow and Jean S. Harris, and publisher Larry Flynt of Hustler magazine, whom he defended on pornography charges.
Jeswald J. “Joe” Jacobbi, 90, local pizza pioneer and founder of Casa-di-Pizza restaurant, died May 19.
With $2,000 cash and a $1,000 loan from his family, he quit his job as a window trimmer and opened a small pizza shop on the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Hodge Street in 1953, a time before pizza was popular. Employing only one waitress and a cook, he worked 15-hour days.
Over the years, he and his three sons expanded the shop into a full-service restaurant, tavern and banquet room and established branches in Sarasota and Bradenton, Fla.
Jesse Kregal, 84, principal timpanist for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, a founder of the Skylon International Marathon and founding director of the Scajaquada Pathway, died June 18.
A graduate of the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, he played with orchestras in Washington, D.C.; Toronto; and Oregon before joining the BPO in 1970. He performed in more than 30 countries.
He also was a hiker, mountain climber, preservationist, photographer and long-distance runner, completing more than 60 marathons.
He also was the founding director of the Scajaquada Pathway, a multiuse trail parallel to Scajaquada Creek that connects the Erie County Riverwalk to Delaware Park Lake. The trail was renamed the Jesse Kregal Pathway in his honor.
Van Miller, 87, television sports anchor and longtime voice of the Buffalo Bills, died July 17.
Arguably the most versatile play-by-play man in Buffalo sports history, Miller delivered memorable calls that became part of Western New York’s sports lore, notably the term “Fandemonium” to describe crowd enthusiasm during the Bills glory days in the early 1990s.
He began his lengthy career at WBEN radio and television in 1955 with “the promise of a three-month job” and retired as sports director in 1998. When Ralph Wilson bought the Bills, his first general manager, Dick Gallagher, decided Miller would do play-by-play after WBEN got the rights.
Known for his sense of humor, playfulness and his ability to “deliver the moment” during big games, he was a member of six Halls of Fame and has his name on the Bills’ Wall of Fame and a seating area at Ralph Wilson Stadium. In 2004, the Pro Football Hall of Fame gave him its Pete Rozelle Award, which until then went to network announcers. He was the first local play-by-play man to receive it.
Lawrence H. Reger, 87, developer and owner of Marc Equity Corp., died March 24.
He built a family construction business, Mader Plastering Co., into a holding company for dozens of firms involved in multimillion-dollar deals.
His Marc Equity Management Corp. once owned the area’s three largest apartment complexes – Williamstowne and Idylwoods in Cheektowaga and Raintree Island in the Town of Tonawanda – and built luxury townhouses on Buffalo’s waterfront.
Peggy Say, 74, sister of journalist-held-hostage Terry Anderson, died Dec. 23.
A housewife who grew up in Batavia, she spent nearly seven years on a quest for the release of her brother, the chief Mideast correspondent for the Associated Press, after he was abducted by the Islamic Jihad from the streets of Beirut in 1985 during the Lebanese civil war.
Her relentless efforts kept the fate of her brother and other hostages in the spotlight. She also withstood criticism that her campaign prolonged his captivity.
Cory Wells, 74, founder of hit ’70s singing group Three Dog Night, died Oct. 20.
Growing up on Buffalo’s East Side, he was inspired by street corner doo-wop singing and gospel music and performed in local bands before moving to Los Angeles in 1967. There he met singers Danny Hutton and Chuck Negron and perfected a three-part harmony that became their ticket to fame.
Beginning with Harry Nilsson’s ballad, “One,” they racked up 21 consecutive Top 40 hits and 12 gold albums before the band broke up in 1976. It reunited in the 1980s and, after the departure of Negron, continued to tour until shortly before Wells’ death.
Dr. Meir Wetzler, 60, chief of the leukemia section at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, died Feb. 23.
The Israeli-born physician, who joined the Roswell Park staff in 1994, was revered for his dedication to his patients and beloved for his antics at the annual Gelatin Splash fundraiser for the local chapter of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
“He gave the impression of being very serious, and then you’d see pictures of him dressed as Aladdin, and you’d think, ‘Is this the same guy?’ ” one of his colleagues recalled.
He also was a professor of oncology at Roswell Park, a professor of internal medicine at the UB Medical School, and chairman of Roswell Park’s Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee.
Also of note:
- Brad Anderson, 91, syndicated cartoonist and Brocton High School graduate who created “Marmaduke,” died Aug. 30.
- Robert A. Anderson Jr., 73, Niagara Falls City Councilman, died Nov. 25.
- Jack Anthony, 84, director of Cradle Beach Camp for 37 years, died June 3.
- Dr. C. William Aungst, 88, cancer researcher who helped develop the current treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, died May 11.
- Jean Reeves Barre, 93, retired Buffalo News art critic, died Oct. 17.
- Michael J. Bellomo, 75, founder of Feel-Rite Markets, died Jan. 16.
- Don Berns, 67, WKBW DJ legend in the 1970s, godfather of Toronto rave scene, died March 1.
- Right Rev. David C. Bowman, 82, ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York, died July 10.
- Stanley A. Buczkowski, 77, Buffalo councilman and city official, died Jan. 12.
- Charles “Chuck” Burr, 91, sports administrator and broadcaster, died Jan. 13.
- Judith S. Chick, 72, spearheaded Ellicott Creek flood control project, died June 28.
- Herman J. Ciminesi, 90, longtime Brant supervisor, died Sept. 6.
- Dick Ciprich, 76, champion bowler and member of Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, died May 26.
- Valerie Jeanne Cooper, 61, a familiar presence in the Elmwood Village, died June 14.
- Gerald DeBruin, 90, cantor at Temple Beth El of Greater Buffalo for more than 50 years, died June 25.
- Michael J. Desiderio Sr., 86, Cheektowaga restaurateur who hosted dinner theater, died July 14.
- Lou Douglas, 85, longtime WBEN radio and television newsman, died June 25.
- Thomas R. Flickinger, 83, food company executive helped found Food Bank of Western New York, died Nov. 15.
- Thomas M. Fricano, 75, director of United Auto Workers Region 9 in Buffalo, died Feb. 14.
- Earl Dean Gist, 90, first local African-American bail bond agent, died Jan. 11.
- James J. Gnojek, 54, stunt car driver known as “Flying Jimmy Elvis,” died April 29.
- Joseph Guercio, 87, Buffalo native led bands for Elvis Presley and other stars, died Jan. 4.
- Michael Hake, 52, music director for numerous Buffalo theatrical productions, died Dec. 3.
- Van Hall, 80, last owner of Crystal Beach amusement park, died Dec. 14.
- Duayne Hatchett, 90, artist and UB professor, died Sept. 7.
- Joan K. Holzman, 82, publisher who operated Buffalo Law Journal, founded Buffalo Business Journal, died Jan. 20.
- Nolan Johannes, 81, television newsman who hosted “Dialing for Dollars” on WKBW-TV in the 1960s and 1970s, died Sept. 12.
- Mark L. Luderman, 65, president and CEO of the Bank of Holland, died June 26.
- Joseph Guercio, 87, Buffalo native led bands for Elvis Presley and other stars, died Jan. 4.
- Ray Marks, 70, Buffalo radio newsman, died Feb. 4.
- James “Pappy” Martin, 82, jazz musician and bandleader, died March 12. James B. “Big Jim” McCusker, 78, three-time All-American football player, owner of popular downtown Jamestown restaurant, died Feb. 13.
- James T. McFarland, 84, assemblyman, Kenmore attorney, died Jan. 15.
- Bishop Bernard J. McLaughlin, 102, auxiliary bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Buffalo, second oldest bishop in the world, died Jan. 5.
- Donald F. Newman, 82, chairman emeritus of NOCO Energy Corp., died Dec. 11.
- Eva M. Noles, 96, first African American nursing graduate in Buffalo, head of nursing at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, died Dec. 2.
- Agnes Palazzetti, 86, award-winning Buffalo News reporter, died March 22.
- Patrick J. Reilly, 56, president of John W. Danforth Co., died May 26.
- Ted Reinhardt, 62, Buffalo Music Hall of Fame rock and jazz drummer, died March 4.
- Mozella Richardson, 86, parent activist and four-term Buffalo School Board president, died May 31.
- Shirley Rosenthal, 90, crafter and co-founder of the 100 American Craftsmen show at the Kenan Center in Lockport, died Nov. 22.
- Louis J. Russo Sr., 91, key official for four Erie County executives, former director of ECMC, died April 10.
- Alfred H. Savage, 84, Canadian transport expert headed NFTA in the late 1980s, died Jan. 24.
- Ron Schifferle, 84, longtime news photographer, died Nov. 6.
- Allen C. Schwartz, 96, musician and longtime owner of McClellan Music House, died May 3.
- John J. Sciuto, 72, CEO of Comptek Research, died April 14.
- George Scouras, 78, co-founder and owner of the Towne Restaurant, died March 20.
- Carl J. Spavento, 96, news broadcaster on Buffalo radio for 50 years, died March 20.
- Sister Mary Paulette Tirone, 73, president of Immaculata Academy, died June 17.
- Nelson Townsend, 73, former University at Buffalo athletic director, died Jan. 8.
- Carl G. Virtuoso, 73, prominent Niagara County builder, died Nov. 7.
- Robert E. Waters, 90, former editor and publisher of the Medina Journal-Register and Albion Weekly Advertiser, died July 29.
- Edward C. Weeks, 80, nursing home administrator who developed Canterbury Woods, the area’s first continuing care facility, died Dec. 2.
- Robert J. Wickenheiser, 72, the first lay president of St. Bonaventure University, died Nov. 25.
- Charles T. Wilson III, 91, longtime owner of Clayton’s Gifts and Toys, died Jan. 1.
- Dick Wipperman, 74, Cheektowaga police officer and heavyweight boxer who fought Joe Frazier in Madison Square Garden in 1966, died Sept. 12.