A stranger who wants to get to know a new town can drive around and see the sights, read and watch the news to get a sense of the hot issues, study a map to learn the streets. But he wil not feel the heart of the place until he has learned something about the lives that are lived in it.
Every community is a tapestry, and Buffalo is an especially rich one, with threads from dozens of ethnicities and color from all kinds of characters.
This is a town that nurtures strong personalities. Its civic arguments are impassioned; its love of family and loyalty to home intense; its good times enthusiastic. There's an association for every interest and an institution for every talent. It's a good town for engagement. Life isn't lived small here.
But in the tapestry of a community, the weaving never stops. The individuals come and go, and tomorrow's overlap will be different from today's.
There's no way to freeze the moment, but a look back at the end of the year, remembering those who passed as its months unfolded, may be the most honest kind of snapshot we can manage. Death gets around to everybody, and the record it leaves in a year is startling in its completeness and clarity.
Here, in memories of some of those who died during 1997, a picture emerges of something we often talk about but can rarely summarize: a community.
A wizard, a sage, a poet
To professional photographer and herbalist Alvin J. Anderson -- wisdom was all.
"Without wisdom, all the academic knowledge in the world isn't worth 10 cents," the Depew resident noted when he was 92.
"Religion," he added, "is a moral code of ethics -- and, with it, you live longer."
Anderson -- philosopher and historian as well as "herb wizard" and sage -- then proceeded to live longer, dying Jan. 14 at the age of 100.
"Everybody goes sooner or later," he once said. "I decided to go later."
The son of an emancipated slave, Anderson was able to trace his roots back to the Masai people of Africa, and had reconstructed an African village, complete with huts, on 3 1/2 acres of his Depew herb garden.
He also wrote poetry, including this 1982 offering:
"Admire My Character
Not my penthouse which I don't have
Admire My Knowledge
Not my custom-made suit which I have none
Admire My Reputation
Not my automobile
Admire My Spiritual Values
Not my material possessions
The only way to enjoy a good person is to be one
Honesty, pride and dignity create respect
To the lost, there's nowhere to go
To the indolent, there is nothing to do
To the mentally blind, there's nothing to see
If you wish to be straight, stand up
If you wish to see, open your eyes
A good name is better than riches
Virtue is its own reward
You don't get paid."
A native of Marietta, Ga., Anderson worked as a houseboy for a Dalton, Ga., family before saving up enough money for a box camera from a mail-order catalog.
He was credited with taking the first color advertising photo for S.S. Kresge, later the Kmart chain.
He also took pictures for the Grand Trunk Railway and Schell Brothers Circus, and created post cards for tourists. He shot International Harvester's first tractor with rubber tires for an ad in Popular Mechanics.
He did photography for Goodyear Tire Co. and other major companies after moving to the Buffalo area and opening a studio on William Street in the 1940s.
Best known in Western New York during his retirement years, he gave lectures on longevity and herbs and prepared afternoon tea on a pot-bellied stove next to his African huts.
The herbs he grew were keyed to the Bible, and he took them as tea -- hyssop in the morning (the herb that David bathed in before his battle); penny royal at noon, and lemon balm at night.
"You're looking at history when you look at me," he would tell visitors.
"As a man thinks, so shall he be," he would add. "I don't think old. A man has to be programmed to do that, and I just don't think old."
Russell L. Russo, a.k.a. "Russ the Baker," was one of the last of the old-time street peddlers.
His wares were bread, rolls, pizza and doughnuts; his way, the way of wit and song.
"Ladies, come and buy my bread. Doo-dah, doo-dah," he'd sing, driving through town, ringing a cowbell. "Buy my bread, I knead/need the dough. Oh, doo-dah day."
If Stephen Foster's "Camptown Races" seemed an unlikely tune for a baked goods salesman, it was a natural for Russo -- who appeared in vaudeville as a youth, sang with the Buffalo Schola Cantorum in his teens, and, in 1950, competed on WBEN-Radio's "Voices of Tomorrow."
When he died May 17, he was 70 -- but he was still heading out in his trademark baker's hat, every few days, to peddle his wares, mostly in Black Rock, North and South Buffalo and the Hamburg race track.
Peddling baked goods was something he did for close to 40 years.
"It all began when I was a milkman and I had a cousin on Connecticut Street," he would recall.
"One day, he says to me,'Russ, I got an extra 40 loaves of bread -- can you sell 'em for me? I took my truck (to a gas station), honked real loud and sold 20 loaves almost immediately."
Russo, who made his own desserts, mostly hawked bread from Balistreri's and doughnuts from Famous Doughnuts. Until recent years, he worked seven days a week.
His wife, Rosalie, was often with him, and -- when they were little -- the Russos' nine children, as well.
"I'm no crazier than anybody else," he said in 1987. "Working the way I do, I'm very flamboyant. If I was reserved, I could never make out on this job. When I was younger, I used to be very introverted. I would stutter. I grew out of that -- and even more so."
Death seemed more cruel than usual this year, taking Buffalo Police Officer Charles "Skip" McDougald, Buffalo Firefighter Michael Seguin and Kenmore Firefighter Timothy Goff all died this in 1997.
It also took Wyoming County 7-year-old Samantha Zaldivar and Orchard Park 18-year-old Scott S. Krueger.
It came for global legends like Jimmy Stewart and Jacques Costeau, and local heroes like Buffalo businessman Burt Flickinger Jr., former Public Schools Superintendent Albert Thompson and Kaisertown's own old-style politician Stanley J. "Stack" Stachowski.
Drawing on strength
John J. "Jackie" Donovan of Buffalo's Old First Ward was New York State's welterweight boxing champion in 1939.
He also won the first Allied European Boxing Tournament while serving overseas in the U.S. Army during World War II, and represented the U.S. in an exhibition match against harry Mizler, the British pro boxer and Royal Air Force champion.
Then he quit the ring to become a postal clerk, and to do what he loved best -- drawing, painting and cartooning.
"His retirement was a real loss to boxing," his longtime friend Ed Cudney, curator of the Buffalo Boxing Museum, said after Donovan's death Nov. 16 at the age of 78.
"He was one of the best fighters I've ever seen. He was a great, great boxer, a fine soldier, a good friend and a very good man. He would have been world champ if he hadn't gotten out of the ring. No doubt about it."
Donovan, who began boxing at 14, fought his first amateur match at 16 -- taking down Buffalo's Golden Gloves flyweight champion Paul Columbo, and going on to become Niagara District AAU champion.
Buffalo Evening News sports writer Charlie Bailey dubbed Donovan "the Irish Imp" when the young fighter was still an amateur -- fighting in every weight division and winning all but two of his 47 AAU and Golden Gloves bouts before seeing the two losses overturned on appeals.
As a pro, he won 21 of his 28 bouts, with three draws.
But he became disenchanted with what he saw as mismanagement in professional boxing, and left the ring.
"I'm through with the gloves," he said in 1946. "I haven't got a hankering to punch anybody. I just want to draw, and everybody wants me to fight. What's the matter with everybody?"
A member of the intelligence staff of the Army's 12th Troop Carrier Squadron during the war, Donovan was also the unit's official artist. He wrote and illustrated a cartoon history of the squadron, and drew for Yank magazine.
When he became a U.S. mail handler, in the main office of the U.S. Postal Service on William Street, he drew cartoons of people who were retiring.
He also did cartoons of everyone and everything he knew, never forgetting his days in the ring, and claiming, when asked, that his greatest thrill as an amateur was the day he bested Jimmy Bivins.
Later, while Joe Louis was serving in World War II, Bivins became interim world heavyweight champion.
A woman before her time
Dr. Mary L. Catalano was a physician who believed mothers should give birth at home.
And, when her belief gave birth to controversy, she stood firm -- delivering thousands of local babies at home, many long before the practice became popular.
When she died in February, at 89, only nine months had passed since Dr. Catalano delivered her last baby at home.
"Over the years, many families of her home-birth babies gathered to honor her," said Kathleen Smith, a niece. "They were her pride and joy."
Dr. Catalano, a Buffalo native and a graduate of Hutchinson-Central High School and the University of Buffalo School of Medicine, was trained in anesthesia, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology.
She held staff positions at several local hospitals, including Millard Fillmore, Sisters, Buffalo General and Kenmore Mercy.
She also saw patients for many years in an office in her home, and was known to spend two to three days in the home of a mother-to-be, counseling the mother and her family on nutrition, exercise and other necessities.
In all, she delivered more than 4,000 babies, including 14 sets of twins, in hospitals and homes.
She was honored by the Erie County Legislature in 1986.
Colorful, controversial prosecutor Albert M. "Al" Ranni died this year. So did R. Steven Janke, an art history professor at Buffalo State College who had an international reputation; and former radio and TV personality John Wesley Luther who pioneered "all-night" radio here.
Walking with the Lord
The fact that the Rev. Merrick J. Bednar died at age 33 -- like Christ -- was not lost on those who knew the young priest.
"Young people looked to him as a leader -- as a person with all kinds of grace and ability," said Monsignor Richard T. Nugent, pastor of St. Bernadette's Parish in Orchard Park where Father Bednar was a parochial vicar for 5 1/2 years.
"(Young people) really idolized him, and the rest of the parish did too."
Father Bednar died May 12 at Presbyterian University Hospital in Pittsburgh, as he awaited a second heart transplant.
It was the seventh anniversary of his ordination and, although his priestly vocation was short-lived, Father Bednar made a deep impression on those whose lives he touched -- including those at Cardinal O'Hara High School, where he was campus minister, and at St. Teresa's and St. Francis of Assisi parishes where he also served.
"From a Christian perspective, we know well the meaning of life out of death," he said of his first heart transplant, performed in 1986.
"That's what happens when there is a transplant: Someone's death gives life to someone else."
Father Bednar, first diagnosed with a degenerative heart condition in 1983, became a spokesman for Upstate New York Transplant Services.
Shortly before his ordination in 1990, he delivered his first funeral sermon -- for 18-year-old Michael D. Tobin of Lockport, who had had a heart transplant three weeks earlier.
Father Bednar talked about the mystery that surrounds death:
"We can't explain it or understand it," he said. "I can't tell you why Michael died and my own transplant was successful."
In May of 1996, Father Bednar underwent a new type of bone-marrow transplant to fight a "preleukemic condition." The marrow came from a younger brother, Martial of Webster.
This transplant, too, was successful -- prompting physicians in Pittsburgh to say they believed Father Bednar was the first person to undergo both heart and bone-marrow transplants and survive.
But Father Bednar's bout with the preleukemic condition, coupled with lymphona in 1994, had weakened his transplanted heart -- which didn't hold out long enough for another transplant.
At Father Bednar's death, many remembered what he had said about his heart problem shortly before his ordination:
"It will be a blessing for me as a priest. I know that God has had a finger in my life. Whether I become sick again or remain healthy, I know the Lord is there, walking with me."
Otto E. Wangler, founder and former president of Wangler Electric Inc., died this year -- along with outspoken Detective Sgt. Edwin A. Gorski of the Buffalo Police Homicide Bureau; longtime county of ficial H. Dale Bossert, and Luke W. Pauly, principal assessor for the city for many years.
Minnie Alice Lane, organist and choir master at Ripley Memorial United Methodist Church in Black Rock for 77 years.
When Mrs. Lane died on July 8, at 101, the longtime piano teacher still had one pupil.
"She was still sharp. She was still able to teach," said her son, Arthur W. "Bill" Lane Jr. of Kenmore.
Mrs. Lane -- known as "Alice" to Ripley Memorial's congregation -- had been a concert pianist, an organ and piano teacher, and director, not only of the main choir but also of the children's and youth choirs at Ripley Memorial during her many years as a musician.
She liked to tell the story of how her great grandfather, Johann Baptist Cramer, played a duet with Ludwig von Beethoven.
"But I have never known what duet the two played," she would say with regret.
Mrs. Lane's musical heritage was not only strong but long: Her paternal grandmother taught in the Royal Academy of Music in London. One of her uncles was a composer and the organist in an Ottawa cathedral. Her mother, Eva Woodall Cramer, played for Ripley Memorial before her.
Mrs. Lane received musical training in New York City -- studying under composer Ernest Hutcheson, former dean of the Juilliard School of Music, and Warren Case of the David Manes School.
When she retired from Ripley Memorial, at the age of 94, the diminutive musician sat at the pipe organ and played -- what else? -- "God Be With You Till We Meet Again."
1997 saw the deaths of local NAACP president Daniel R. Acker Sr., the research chemist who led a successful fight to integrate Buffalo's public schools; Blasdell's Richard J. Martinez, head of the Martinez Family Circus; former Bennett High School physical education teacher Mary Nutter Bartlett Strunk, and William C. Moog Jr., the East Aurora inventor whose servovalves revolutionized aircraft and missile flight controls.
Fudge, sodas and love
Clarence H. Drescher was famous for his "meltaway fudge" -- and fatherly matchmaking at his Fillmore Avenue candy shop and soda fountain, Drescher's Candies.
The shop's heyday, in this century's middle years, was right out of "Happy Days" -- complete with juke box and cozy wooden booths. Sodas were a dime; banana splits, a quarter. Boys courted girls over chocolate fudge sundaes.
"When the war began, we put up a sign of all the boys' names in the armed services who used to come in here," Drescher recalled in 1979. "The girls used to sit in the booths and write long letters to the boys."
By his own count, Drescher's Fillmore Avenue candy shop fostered 62 marriages. And, when bars replaced soda fountains as courting places, Drescher's original patrons remained loyal -- coming back with their children, then their children's children.
Drescher died, fittingly, on Valentine's Day 1997. He was 90 and had continued to make candy until 1991, when he sold the business to Richard King of King's Candy. But not until he had taught King to make his famous slowly-beaten, non-cooked meltaway fudge.
In all, Drescher made ice cream and candy for four generations of Western New Yorkers. And, although his shops on Fillmore and George Urban Boulevard in Depew were highly successful, Drescher was visited in later years by both personal and business tragedy.
In 1978, his wife and longtime business partner Dorothy -- whom he had met in a candy shop in Riverside -- was shot during a robbery at the Fillmore Avenue shop. She died of a blood clot six days later.
In 1982, fire destroyed the soda fountain and front of the same shop.
But Drescher, who learned to make candy as a boy and had his own business by the age of 17, stayed on, making candy. He also remarried, spending his final years with the former Josephine Chilelli, who had worked in the candy shop since she was 14.
1997 saw the deaths of Robert E. "Corky" Grimm, longtime Democratic Party committeeman; former Park School of Buffalo headmaster Thomas J. Fulton Sr. and Margaret Shalala Beck, retired owner of the Margaret Shalala Chocolate Shop in Snyder, and the former co-owner of the Gertrude Shalala Chocolate Shoppe on Hertel Avenue.
A hard-working 'bundle of sweetness'
It took Clara Gugino Lucca seven years to say "yes" to marriage to Mariano Lucca -- the man she would help make Columbus Day a national holiday.
Then she spent the next 70 years showing all who met her that, behind every great man, there is a woman.
The diminutive Mrs. Lucca, aptly nicknamed "Sparky" by her husband, died Oct. 21 at the age of 102 -- but not before she had celebrated her birthday with a huge family party and a trip to Casino Niagara that she described as "good therapy for my right arm."
She also voted in October in the Democratic Primary -- for the 78th consecutive year -- every election, she said, since women's suffrage.
"She and Dad had quite a lifetime, in the presence of many of our presidents and statesmen, as well as foreign kings and queens, popes and many members of royalty," said her only son, TV documentary producer Fran Lucca.
Few Buffalonians were unaware of the Luccas over the years -- as they turned their Seventh Street home into a Columbus and Queen Isabella Museum, and their street into Columbus Parkway.
It was Mrs. Lucca who did the organizing behind her husband's efforts to put Columbus Day on the calendar -- and it was she who managed the countless Columbus Day banquet and awards programs here.
A secretary before her marriage (able to type 92 words a minute), Mrs. Lucca helped organize rallies and banquets during her husband's campaigns for Congress in the 1950s and 1960s. She helped her husband publish his weekly papers, the Warder and the Buffalo Beacon.
She handled the paperwork for his relief efforts for war-torn Poland and fire-ravaged Rimouski, Quebec. She served as an officer in his clubs, and co-organizer of his countless community events.
After Columbus Day was proclaimed a holiday by Congress and the president, she helped her husband bring 275 mayors of Italian towns to Buffalo and other cities to celebrate.
He died in 1994 while Mrs. Lucca, the elder of the two, continued to be the energetic "bundle of sweetness" her husband always said she was.
Real estate executive Alfred Bourne; 6-year-old Jennifer Lynn Guido of North Buffalo; Nardin Academy athletic director Jacquelyn V. Zanghi and John A. "Jack" Frauenheim, founder of the Jafco Marine Basin, all died in 1997.
So did Anne Rusin, retired administrative assistant to the Erie County Legislature, and Jerome J. Lyons, retired assistant superintendent of plant services for the Buffalo Board of Education, whose name was synonymous with the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
William R. Cavanaugh, former chief of the Lackawanna Fire Department; Leslie E. Chambers, who sailed the world for 55 years before becoming captain of the cruise ship Americana in 1989, and Ruth Franklin Dickie of Eggertsville, a direct descendent of one of Benjamin Franklin's brothers, all also died in 1997.
So did Kevin M. Durkin, UB's assistant vice president for student affairs and director of admissions; Richard E. Brendel, founder and operator of Town's Ambulance Service in Cheektowaga, and local children's book writer and advocate for world peace Mary Ann Mercurio.
Revered in two countries
In his native Poland, Marion Strzelczyk was an appellate court justice, trying and convicting many Nazi operatives. He was also corporate counsel for Alexander Hochberg, the Count of Pszczyna, overseeing all his forestry, coal-mining and manufacturing operations.
In his adopted Buffalo, Strzelczyk was the person responsible for securing the Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko monument for downtown -- and the Western New Yorker who played host to Pope John Paul II when the future pontiff visited Western New York as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla.
Strzelczyk died May 18 at the age of 92, a man revered in two countries.
Born in Lgow, he graduated in 1928 from the Adam Mickiewicz School of Law at the University of Poznan. He was appointed an appellate justice in 1932, presiding over Silesia, Poland's wealthiest section, during the rise of Hitler.
He became Hochberg's corporate counsel in 1936, and joined the Polish Army just before the invasion of Poland in 1939. During World War II, he served under British command as a public relations and intelligence officer in the Middle East.
Later, he was liaison officer between the British and Polish forces for the resettlement of Polish refugees, receiving both the Polish Army Medal and British Defense Medal for his work.
Strzelczyk came to the U.S. in 1951, working as a printer in several places and retiring in 1966 from the Tonawanda News.
In retirement, he concentrated on the travel agency, Pomoc Inc., that he and his wife, Hilda, had established on Fillmore Avenue in 1952. It was also a relief agency -- shipping food, clothing and medicine from Polish-Americans to relatives in Eastern Europe.
Strzelczyk was also president, for 25 years, of the Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle here.
He was frequently honored -- receiving the Lateran Cross First Class from the Vatican for promoting social justice; the officer's cross of the Order of Polonia Restituto from the president of Poland; and an award for civic and educational accomplishment from former President Jimmy Carter.
In 1990, when he was in his 80s, Strzelczyk received his native country's Gold Order of Merit from Jerzy Surdykowski, consul general of Poland.
The award was for Strzelczyk's unflagging support of Polish relief efforts and Polish-American activities.
Shannon P. Biela of Franklinville, a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., died this year -- along with Lisa L. Hertel of Millville, a May graduate of the University at Buffalo, and longtime Buffalo area pharmacist Gerald L. Kiefer.
Marietta E. Santoro, a retired Niagara Falls restaurateur and real estate agent, also died -- as did Milton Shetler, a school music teacher and director of marching bands, and Monsignor Basil A. Ormsby, a benefactor of Catholic education, former pastor of South Buffalo's St. Teresa's Catholic Church and longtime president of the St. Patrick's Scholarship Fund.
Caring for our health
Twelve years after Dr. William E. Mosher retired as Erie County's internationally known health commissioner, 85 health-care professionals gathered for a reunion with their former boss.
Seven health commissioners and three deans of public health from other parts of the country were among those who came to pay tribute to the man who served as guardian of our health from 1959 to 1976.
"The most meaningful thing he taught me was that it is worthwhile to suffer the slings and arrows from critics while working for the public's health," one of them said of Mosher. He was often before his time, espousing, for example, a ban on smoking in public places long before it was popular policy.
"I don't think I would have gone into public health if it hadn't been for him," added Dr. William Elsea, by then the health commissioner of Atlanta.
Mosher, a co-founder of Health Care Plan, died July 13 at the age of 88.
A physician who never stopped sharing his expertise, he had been consulted only weeks earlier about Amherst's mosquito-control program.
As health commissioner, he had been both vocal and visible. He had instituted life-saving health measures that many of us now take for granted, becoming something of a father-figure to Erie County residents.
Mosher came to Buffalo in 1948, as deputy health commissioner, and was instrumental in seeing that Buffalo was among cities to test vaccines against polio and measles.
As commissioner, he advocated fluoridation of our water, and established prevention clinics for the "well aging." He fought tuberculosis, venereal disease and pollution of our air and water.
He also served as administrative director of the J. Sutton Regan Cleft Palate Clinic.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, when America feared atomic attack, Mosher was considered the No. 2 man here in preparing for civilian defense.
"Many more local residents must be trained in first aid," he said. "A member of every household should be prepared to care for the family for from four to 14 days -- the period when atomic fallout could prevent the arrival of help from outside the home."
In 1993, Health Care Plan, the HMO he helped found 20 years before, named its Main Street building the Dr. William E. Mosher Medical Center.
It is the only one of the HMO's 10 medical centers named for an individual.
As Dr. Arthur R. Goshin, co-founder, president and chief executive officer of Health Care Plan, said at the building's dedication:
"Bill Mosher is an important part of our history."
Ann Odre, the Blasdell woman wounded in a 1981 attack on Pope John Paul II, died this year. So did retired State Supreme Court Justice Thomas F. McGowan; former county lawmaker Albert N. "Al" Abgott, co-founder of Partners Press, and admired Irish actor and director Chris O'Neill.
He 'owned the town'
Clint Buehlman was the Buffalonian you knew without ever meeting him -- the unseen guest at breakfast, the man with the voice to die for, the authority on snow closings.
Morning drive man for the old Buffalo Broadcasting Corp. and then WBEN Radio For 46 years, he was among the first sounds in the morning in most Buffalo households.
When he did his final daily show in 1977, listeners flooded WBEN with requests to bring him back.
When he died Dec. 2, at the age of 85, nostalgia swept the city.
"Clint was the biggest radio personality this town has ever seen," noted Bill Lacy, current morning man, with Kevin Keenan, at WBEN Radio -- where Buehlman worked from 1943 to his retirement.
"He was so far ahead of everyone else, he just owned the town" said Ralph Hubbell, the dean of Buffalo broadcasters.
"Buehly," as he was known to his countless fans, was an institution.
In the 1920s, when Buffalo radio was young and he was a child actor, he told stories on WGR.
Then, in 1931, he auditioned at two Buffalo radio stations. The old BBC let him do bit parts, for free, before making him a cub announcer a few weeks later. His salary was $15 a week.
Suddenly radio had a free spirit -- a young, wise-cracking Buehlman who woke Western New Yorkers up in the morning with his zany "Musical Clock" format.
The BBC had three radio stations -- and Buehly was morning man on WGR, went on WKBW around noon, then announced on the old WMAK in the afternoon -- followed by WGR and WKBW at night, and back again in the morning.
By 1943, he was at WBEN -- where he was "your AM emcee" six days a week, driving a jeep with a plow in the wintertime, to be sure he always made it to work.
With myriad sponsors and a vast record collection, he informed and entertained Western New Yorkers every working day of his life.
"I play music that is the least objectionable to most people," he said at one point, noting that he specialized in "happy music."
Then he endeared himself to listeners even more -- by discussing "what they're currently complaining about -- holes in the street, water shortage, careless driving."
That was the way "Yours Truly Buehly" was.
Philosopher and musician Rev. Patrick Leary, who taught philosophy and worked in the library of the Franciscan Institute at St. Bonaventure University, died this year -- as did Dr. David Kimball Miller, former chief of medicine at E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital (now ECMC).
Scholar, teacher and political aide Kevin M. Saviola also died in 1997 -- along with Alfred G. Pfuelb, retired owner and operator of Pfuelb's Bake Shoppe at Genesee and Moselle streets, and businesswoman and member of Housewives to End Pollution, Patricia Krasinski.
Motherly love, and lots of it
The eleven daughters and seven sons of Maggie Lee McCutcheon of Lackawanna were without their mother for the first time this Christmas.
The 76-year-old Mrs. McCutcheon -- who raised 20 children of her own and always left her door open for more -- died Aug. 15, also leaving 56 grandchildren, 100 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great grandchildren.
"She's going to be well missed because she was loved by so many people both in Lackawanna and Buffalo," said a daughter, Maxine Foster, noting that her mother had room in her heart -- and her house -- for as many children as came her way.
"If there were others out there, with nothing to eat or no place to stay, she fed and clothed and put them to bed, too," Mrs. Foster recalled.
If it was chaotic, that's not the way Mrs. Foster remembers it.
"It was beautiful growing up," she said.
"My mother used to take us to the Broadway Market, Sattler's and People's Clothing on Broadway on Saturday. On Sunday, we were all dressed early -- for church. My mother raised all her children in Mount Olive Baptist Church."
The former Maggie Lee Faucett-Hawkins, who came to Lackawanna from her native Richmond, Va., when she was 6, was a graduate of Queen of All Saints School and worked for Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna before her marriage, at the age of 17, to Winnie McCutcheon Sr.
He worked for more than 50 years for the steel corporation before his death in 1992. A son and a daughter also predeceased Mrs. McCutcheon -- who was also active in her community, serving as president of the Senior Citizens of Lackawanna for 12 years.
She also belonged to the Sunlight Household of Ruth, Grand Order of Odd Fellows, Eastern Star, Daughters of Deborah, Nurses' Guild of Mount Olive Baptist Church and the High Steppers Marching Club.
Tommy Tedesco, the Niagara Falls native who was a leading session guitarist in L.A. for more than 35 years, died this year -- as did Monsignor William A. Setlock, retired pastor of St. Monica's Catholic Church who worked in the astronaut program at Bell Aerospace before becoming a priest.
So did Marshall Davis Miles, the Buffalonian who managed Joe Louis' boxing career, and Herbert X. Blyden, an inmate spokesman during the 1971 uprising at the Attica State Correctional Facility, who spent the rest of his life seeking damages for the torture and beatings he and other inmates of the time suffered after the uprising.
A patriot for a cause
The day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, William L. "Bill" Gaiter became president of BUILD (Build Unity, Independence, Liberty and Dignity), the leading black advocacy group in Buffalo at the time.
Black crepe covered the podium. Flags were at half-mast. The Rev. King had died at the height of his work as the nation's civil rights activist.
Gaiter's death, too, was to come unexpectedly -- as he attended his son-in-law's church, Free Spirit Missionary Baptist Church on Titus Avenue on April 20 of this year.
He was 69 at his death, a revered civil rights and community activist, a founder of BUILD Academy and the father of the Institute for People Enterprises.
He was also a creator of the Juneteenth Festival -- and the person deemed responsible for the Buffalo Board of Education being among the first school boards in the nation to recognize the Rev. Dr. King's birthday as a holiday.
"He was not only a patriot of his minority community but of this city," educator Johnnie Mayo said after Gaiter's death. "He really cared for this city, and he was always there for us."
Gaiter, a native of Selma, Ala., attended his first BUILD meeting in 1966, shortly after the organization was begun. At the time, he was a Buffalo bus driver.
"I was impressed," Gaiter recalled years later. "Blacks had been talking in hushed tones since slavery -- but there were no hushed tones this time."
When Gaiter became president, and later executive director of BUILD, he appeared frequently on television, speaking out for BUILD's tenets.
"The main thing was to create action," he said. "We started out in employment and moved rapidly to education, criminal justice, health care."
Gaiter left BUILD in 1978 to form the Institute for People Enterprises, a support organization for groups like BUILD. He later became coordinator of Erie County's equal employment opportunity office.
He also headed a counseling program (STAR, or Student Timeout for Academic Renewal) for local students caught bringing weapons to school.
But many close to him thought he found his greatest calling in his formation of the Western New York Council for African Relief -- and in leading a delegation in the 1980s to the Sengalese village of Malika to deliver money raised by 47,000 Buffalo schoolchildren.
Sarah Moselle, the beloved "Cookie Lady" of Amherst Middle School, died this year. She was the attendance officer who brought home-baked chocolate chip cookies to school each day -- often still warm.
Natale S. Balistreri, the native of Sicily who became a master baker and opened the treasured Balistreri's Bakery here, also died, as did Katharine Tuthill, who taught special classes for gifted students at Schools 86 and 66 and was organist and pianist for the youth choir at First Presbyterian Church for 22 years.
Plenty of evidence
Prominent attorney and toastmaster Morris Mesch once said, of his avocation as a sculptor:
"I suppose I want to leave evidence of having been in this world."
His words were prophetic.
There is sculpture by Mesch in many places including the permanent collections of a number of local synagogues. But there is also a sculpture that, while not executed by Mesch, was occasioned by his artistic interest.
This is the Holocaust Memorial Sculpture in the courtyard of the Jewish Community Center in Amherst.
Mesch was the chairman of the committee that raised the money for the sculpture. He commissioned its execution, by sculptor Bernard "Tony" Rosenthal, and supervised its installation. He presided at its dedication in 1977.
This May, he presided at the rededication of the sculpture, on the 52nd anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
"We should never, never forget," he told close to 700 participants in the May remembrance. "You and I must remember even if it pains us."
Four months later, Mesch died while visiting family in New Jersey. He was 72 and left a legal legacy that included serving with the Legal Aid Society for seven years before entering private practice in 1958 as a partner in the firm of Gordon and Mesch.
He was also the attorney for Legal Services for the Elderly from 1982 to 1985, and for the Erie County Department of Social Services from 1985 to 1995 when he retired.
Mesch, a tennis and bridge player, also left memories -- of his invitations to the White House as a Jewish leader, and the numerous positions he held with Jewish societies and boards.
Along with his sculpture, he left awards he won for it -- including second place at the 1981 Allentown Art Festival.
"I suppose I want to leave evidence of having been in this world," he said. "Spoken words disappear."
A number of The Buffalo News' nearest and dearest died in 1997 -- among them Managing Editor Foster Lewis Spencer; retired columnist Ray Hill; retired general features editor Homer Edward Baker; retired payroll manager Alice V. Lankes; retired society reporter Marian Cornelius Roberts, and retired director of production and planning Ralph B. Tufts.
Bruce Exton Wallis, husband of Kate Butler Wallis, whose grandfather founded The Buffalo Evening News, also died -- as did Jeanne Przemielewski Palamuso, longtime Buffalo News garden columnist and a librarian in the Buffalo public schools, and Tom Stratton, whose offbeat "Buffalo Chips" cartoons amused readers of The Buffalo News Sunday magazine and many national publications.
The science of caring
Virginia L. Cummings knew all about bones -- old bones, and anything else to do with anthropology and archaeology.
She spent most of her life associated with the Buffalo Museum of Science. Her father, Carlos E. Cummings, was its assistant director when she was growing up, and later its director.
She was museum director from 1970 to 1979 -- one of a handful of women in the world to head such an institution.
"We are only interested in the past as it helps us to understand today -- because today is important, and tomorrow is even more so," she said.
Making the past and the present relevant to the public was something Miss Cummings did with wit and fervor, once describing her morning:
"In at 9. Sixteen bodies looking through the glass . . . Two people from Amherst. They wanted some bones identified. Steak bones as far as I'm concerned . . . And some people from Canisius College. They found a drum with four tones to it . . ."
Major renovation took place at the museum under Miss Cummings, who died April 16 at the age of 76, a woman who spent hours at the Museum of Science as a child.
She was a graduate of East High School, the Buffalo School of Fine Arts and the University at Buffalo. She held a master of fine arts degree from Columbia University and a doctorate in education from UB.
She taught art in Buffalo public schools before joining the staff of the museum, where she spent so much of her childhood, in 1945. Her time there was an upward spiral -- from acting to permanent curator of anthropology, from assistant to acting director to director.
During her tenure, the museum on Humboldt Parkway underwent numerous changes -- both in direction and appearance. Exhibits were modernized, special displays were mounted and fund-raising drives were introduced for the first time.
Miss Cummings herself became known beyond the museum -- with her Friday afternoon program on early WBEN-TV, "Fun to Learn About Yesterday."
Shortly before she retired, at the end of the museum's 50th anniversary year, she showed her forward-looking acumen, discouraging the museum from installing push-button exhibits.
"A museum has always been judged by its collections, by its ability to teach and as a resource for scholars. If you put up a technology display that works when you push buttons -- well, it gets dated very quickly once the technology changes."
Robert F. Weishaupt, a foster parent to more than 350 children; Donald L. Mix, the Buffalo police detective sergeant who founded the Franklin Street Puppet Patrol for children; and local developer and restauranteur James D. "Jimmy" DiLapo Sr. all died in 1997.
Leading the rat race
Lucy Alford Curley was a died-in-the-wool Democrat and the first woman treasurer of a large municipality in the U.S.
She was also the first woman to serve in a Buffalo mayor's cabinet, and the first female to hold the post of treasurer in the City of Buffalo.
"I was never, believe me, discriminated against at City Hall," she said in December of 1976 -- two weeks after she stepped down from the city treasurer's post she held for two decades.
"I've been in a rat race all my life," she observed. "I've always been a runner. Now I'm retired. Now I don't have to run. But I haven't figured out yet how to stop."
Mrs. Curley died March 7 at the age of 86 -- or thereabouts: Her exact age wasn't known, even to her children.
Until the late 1980s, she had been a vice chairman of the Democratic party's Erie County Committee.
"There wasn't a more loyal supporter of the party than Lucy," said Joseph F. Crangle, former state and Erie County Democratic chairman.
"The great thing is, she did it with such class -- but also with such ease. She was a pioneer at doing what women today take for granted -- and she never ran away from a fight."
Mrs. Curley's daughter, Lucy Curley Haley, concurred.
"She was widely acclaimed as the first major woman figure in local politics," she said.
"But more than her formal service to city and party, she is remembered as a beacon and counselor to hundreds of young women who, because of her example and interest in them, began careers in politics and government."
Mrs. Curley was city treasurer under three mayors -- Steven Pankow, Frank A. Sedita and Stanley M. Makowski -- and often represented them at parties and other functions.
At one point, she told a reporter, she didn't know how many keys to the city, or bronze bisons, she had presented on behalf of a mayor.
Politics ran in her veins -- and over the years she was active in the campaigns of President Harry S. Truman, New York Gov. W. Averell Harriman, and Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
She went to state and national conventions and held her vice chairmanship on the Erie County Democratic Committee for 25 years.
Bishop Stanislaus J. Brzana, a former Catholic Diocese of Buffalo auxiliary bishop who served as bishop of the Diocese of Ogdensburg for 26 years; former president of Stritt & Priebe, J. Henry Priebe; fiddler Melvin Cooke, and martial arts grandmaster Gary "Soke" Castanza all died in 1997.
A patriarch of his people
Agustin "Pucho" Olivencia spent the last years of his life tending to mango and avocado trees and helping care for his sister's chickens in his native Puerto Rico.
But, from 1951 to 1981, Olivencia was the moving force behind the Hispanic community in the Buffalo area -- giving his heart, soul and all of his energy to his people.
"He just comes up and says 'Hi, I'm Pucho,' " Erie County Surrogate Joseph S. Mattina said at the time. "He gets things done through kindness, charm and a gentle manner. He is a politician in the highest sense of the word. That kind of person is a dying breed."
There were only a handful of Puerto Rican families here in the 1950s -- and they were struggling.
"I knew that somebody had to help our people, so I tried to give them a hand," said Olivencia, who came to the area as a migrant worker. "God said to help your neighbor, to love him, to treat him nice."
Olivencia, who helped hundreds of Hispanic people find jobs, housing and food here, died in his hometown of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico, March 19.
He was 78, and his legacy to the Buffalo area was vast -- including the Agustin "Pucho" Olivencia Community Center at Swan and Chicago streets.
Olivencia, who had lived in a rented flat and always traveled by bus, had been instrumental in almost every "first" celebrated by the local Puerto Rican community: the first Spanish-language TV show, political club, musical group and beauty pageant.
He became a counselor for the state Labor Department, and later, community and university liaison for the University at Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center.
But he never turned anyone looking for a favor away from his home -- and he always played guitar Sundays at the Spanish-language Mass at St. Columba's Catholic Church.
When he returned to Puerto Rico with his wife Carmen 16 years ago, Olivencia, the Buffalo patriarch of his people, left a growing Hispanic community whose members included school teachers, lawyers, business owners and political leaders.
He left his three sons -- Chito, Carlos and Wilmer -- as well.
Carlos Olivencia, a counselor at UB's Educational Opportunity Program for more than 20 years, also died this year, after a brief illness.
He was 49, and had as many as 100 visitors a day while he was in the hospital -- many of them Hispanic students he had recruited to UB and given personal, academic and financial advice way beyond the call of duty.
Carlos' body was cremated -- so his ashes could be interred next to his father's grave in Puerto Rico.
Buffalo surgeon Dr. Henry Clay Edward Everett Sr., co-founder of the Drug Abuse Rehabilitation Treatment program of the Erie County Community Action Organization and a classmate of John F. Kennedy's at Harvard, died in 1997.
So did Domenic CQ M. Dantonio, owner and operator of the former Koinonia Cafe on Elmwood Avenue and a chef at Salvatore's Italian Gardens and the Blocher Homes, and Helen P. Doll of the Daughters of the Heart of Mary, an English teacher at Nardin Academy for 50 years.
Pre-eminent Buffalo architect Peter Castle died this year, as did nationally-known educator and former Geneseo State College president Robert W. MacVittie, and Joseph H. Attea, the youngest of four brothers who founded Milhem Attea & Bros. candy and cigarette business in the old Elk Street Terminal Market in 1926.
Peter Pucak Sr. was born in Niagara Falls, but his parents were from the Ternopol region of the Ukraine -- and he spent much of his life honoring his heritage both here and in the Ukraine.
"After World War II, my father sponsored many Ukrainian families in the U.S.," said his daughter, Judith A. Malaniak of Buffalo. "He signed many papers for families to come to this country from the Ukraine after fleeing the Russian army."
In 1951, Pucak had signed papers for a family named Malaniak to come from the Ukraine. Last January, Pucak gave his daughter Judith in marriage to Miroslaus Malaniak, a member of that family.
"He was so proud," she said after her father's death June 8 at the age of 76.
A leader in Western New York's Ukrainian-American community, Pucak was also the founder of the Trident Associates printing business; a retired printer for the former Courier-Express, and a retired printing instructor at Burgard and McKinley vocational high schools.
At his retirement from the Courier-Express in the early 1980s, he was a master tradesman in charge of the monotype room.
An Army Air Forces veteran of World War II, Pucak founded Trident as a foreign-language printing business -- doing Ukrainian and other foreign-language publications. The business is now run by Pucak's sons, Peter Jr. and Oris Michael.
When Pucak and his wife, the former Sophia Ciopyk, marked their 50th wedding anniversary two years ago, they celebrated in the Ukraine, their daughter recalled.
"They renewed their wedding vows in the same church my grandparents were members of -- in the village of Deniciv."
We lost Joseph V. Deren Sr., Lackawanna police chief from 1964 to 1996, this year. We also lost Stig-Ove A. Kongsted Hansen, president of Osmose International, a subsidiary of Osmose Wood Preserving here, and Barbara Ann Fahey, a longtime lay leader at St. Joseph's University Catholic Church and the mother of State Supreme Court Justice Eugene M. Fahey.
Dr. Albert J. Addesa Sr., chief school physician for Lancaster Central Schools for nearly 40 years, also died -- as did Cathy L. Spatholt of Youngstown, co-owner and vice president of Spatholt Management Services, which owns and operates McDonald's Restaurants in Erie and Niagara counties.
A baseball star of our own
Stan Rojek's major league baseball career was short -- but stunning.
From 1942 to 1952, he played shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns.
He played under Leo "the Lip" Durocher, the Dodgers' cantankerous manager, and, after a hiatus to serve in the Army Air Forces during World War II, had a locker right next to Jackie Robinson, the first black player in the major leagues.
Robinson, Rojek said, "really took a lot of abuse that first season -- but Robinson was tough."
Rojek also played for the Browns of the American League, and for Charleston, Montreal and St. Paul before retiring from baseball in 1956.
When he died July 9, the man who grew up on his family's dairy farm in North Tonawanda was 78.
He had run Rojek's Park Manor Bowling Lanes in North Tonawanda for 25 years, and as late as 1985 was happy to recount his baseball glory days -- including 1942, the year he was named All-International League shortstop.
In 1946-47, he played a utility infielder with Brooklyn, figuring significantly in the Dodgers' pennant drive -- filling in for Eddie Stanky and the legendary Pee Wee Reese, who had both been injured.
1947, Rojek would recall, was his best season.
He had just been traded to the Pirates -- and was up against his former team mates from Brooklyn. He had eight hits in nine at-bats during a double header.
"I would have had another hit but Gil Hodges made a great play at first base," he said.
Rojek batted .290 in 156 games that season.
Anna Caplan, the first Jewish person to win the Father Baker Service to Youth Award, died this year -- as did Harry C. Brotherton, a former IRC Transit Co. employee who drove the last trolly into Buffalo, and Olcott M. Brown Jr., a retired printing salesman and avid distance runner.
We also lost Glenn G. Chamberg, retired co-owner and proprietor of Elmwood Pet Supplies; lawyer and competitive runner Karl A. Niedermeier, and Buffalo advertising executive Harold Warner.
Popular obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Theodore Schulman died this year. So did Donna McGinnis Gilbert, an elementary school teacher in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District for 25 years; Harriet Montague, a UB mathematics professor for 44 years, and pianist Roy Wilhelm who accompanied nationally-known performers when they appeared here.