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New Era donates $540,000 to build Cradle Beach theater

Chris and Lindsey Koch’s Angola summer home is within earshot – “probably less than a quarter-mile away” – from Cradle Beach. That’s close enough to hear the shouting and cheering of the children who live their lives with a struggle, and who come together at Cradle Beach.

Some of those kids have disabilities. Others come from poor homes. All of them – 1,200 annually – gather for programming, play and mentoring at Cradle Beach.

Soon, they’ll have the chance to perform in a theater that’s being funded with a $540,000 donation by the Koch family and their company, New Era Cap Co.

The applause will probably echo in the distance at the Koch family beach home, too.

“You can actually hear everything that goes on, when they have all the celebrations and the parties,” said Koch, who spoke to The Buffalo News on Tuesday afternoon over lunch at Oliver’s in Buffalo.

He was joined by his mother, Valerie Koch, and his aunt, Dorothy Maritime, both of whom worked for New Era during the ‘70s and ‘80s and heading into the ‘90s, when the cap company’s visibility exploded as the provider of on-field headwear for Major League Baseball and as a fixture on TV, in movies and music videos.

That morning, the Koch family – including Chris’ wife Lindsey – had visited Cradle Beach to announce the $540,000 donation to fund the construction of a 4,500-square-foot, 350-person theater.

Ground will be broken this fall on the New Era Performing Arts Center, which will become home to Cradle Beach’s skits, plays, talent shows, movie showings and educational gatherings.

The roots of the donation reach back a couple of summers, when the Kochs decided to take their two younger kids, who were then 3 and 6, to Cradle Beach for a visit.

As his family toured the grounds, Chris Koch saw the campers playing sports, doing art, and working with staff and volunteers on an almost one-to-one basis.

“It was amazing to me when we walked around,” Koch said. “I thought, ‘We really should do something with Cradle Beach.’”

In recent years, New Era has made donations in excess of a million dollars to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, and the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Last January, James Tilley, the chairman of Cradle Beach’s capital campaign, asked New Era to support the construction of the performing arts center.

“It felt like the right thing to do,” Koch said.

Half of the $540,000 donation will come from New Era’s foundation. The rest will be split between Chris and Lindsey Koch, and Koch’s mother Valerie, whose connection with Cradle Beach spans decades.

She and her husband David, whose grandfather founded New Era, raised their children in the Derby-Angola area.

New Era’s U.S. manufacturing plant is located in Derby, a mile from Cradle Beach. The company’s headquarters, now located in downtown Buffalo, used to be there too.

“You had to pass (Cradle Beach) no matter what,” Valerie Koch said at lunch with her sister and son.

She recalled a moment from long ago, when some of her four children were attending high school in Buffalo and made friends with a couple boys who had a younger brother with a developmental disability.

When those boys learned the Kochs were from Derby, they reacted excitedly. Their brother was a Cradle Beach camper.

“‘Our brother goes out to Derby every summer and it’s the best time of his life! He goes for two weeks,’” Valerie Koch recalls the boys saying. “They just talked in glowing terms. The parents, too — like, ‘Wow, you’re from Derby?’ For these people, it’s the beacon in the dark.”

email: toshei@buffnews.com

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