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A WORD OF THANKS TO A FEW WHO MADE A DIFFERENCE IN '97

BARELY MAKING IT under the New Year's Day deadline, we present an utterly subjective, non-comprehensive short list of people who did something good this year. Most are hardly household names. But thanks in part to them, it was a better 1997.

Jack Quinan -- A public figure who's soft-spoken, thoughtful and deflects instead of demands credit -- in other words, a rarity in these parts.

Quinan, who heads the art history department at the University at Buffalo, brought an international Frank Lloyd Wright conference to the city. Hundreds of Wright fans and scholars showed up. Having it here last September underlined our connection to America's genius architect. It pressured the state to come up with money for restoring Wright's Darwin Martin complex in North Buffalo. And it put the concept of architectural tourism in the heads of politicians who didn't know Frank Lloyd Wright from Orville Wright.

To pull off something this monumental, and be deferential about it, contradicted the usual do-little, boast-much power culture around here. We doubt others will follow Quinan's lead, but it's nice to know someone appreciates the virtues of understatement. The best testament to the guy's character is reading this will probably embarrass him.

Ted Nolan -- He was the first coach in the 15 years I've been here who actually got a Sabre team to break a sweat every night. Who got the players to care as much about winning as the poor schmo who dished out 30 bucks for a seat. As far as I'm concerned, they should've renamed the arena after him.

His impact went beyond players and pucks. As one of the few native Americans in an authority position, Nolan gave a higher profile to a largely ignored people. And women loved his looks and style -- which expanded the appeal of a sport generally associated with toothless thugs whacking each other with sticks.

Cindi Ingalls -- Not so much for the relatively small thing she did, but for what she represented. The stay-at-home mom from North Buffalo basically turned a neglected neighborhood park into a cultural oasis.

Ms. Ingalls symbolized the power of every private citizen. She and a platoon of volunteers turned Shoshone Park, neglected save for a thriving baseball league, into a mini-ArtPark last summer. She convinced local chefs, photographers, artists and the like to hold daily workshops for neighborhood kids -- more than 350 of whom signed up.

She reaffirmed what none of us should ever forget -- that one person can make a difference.

Dennis Gabryszak -- Forget the superstar lineup of national experts. Last summer's Chautauqua Conference was held mainly for local public officials. They needed to understand the powerful but invisible forces shaping communities. More than any of them, Gabryszak -- the Cheektowaga supervisor -- signed on.

He commuted for the three main days of the conference. He searched the Internet for pieces on growth boundaries and mixed-income housing. He found out that the threat to Cheektowaga's health wasn't so much Buffalo, but growth in Clarence and other new suburbs. Sprawl drives down the value of older homes and jacks up taxes with new roads, sewers and schools. And it comes at the price of vacant homes and storefronts in older communities. Gabryszak came, saw and understood.

Scott Gehl -- The head of HOME, a non-profit fair housing agency, gives policy wonks everywhere a good name. One of Gehl's clients, Altheria Anderson, recently won a case that languished in the state's notorious Division of Human Rights for seven years. If his budget was more than bread crumbs, champagne corks would've popped around the office. Gehl does something that matters for little recognition, minimal pay and no glory -- simply because it's the right thing to do. In an age of greed and self-promotion, the man is an endangered species.

Kevin Gaughan -- We don't know whether to pat the Hamburg attorney on the back or question his sanity. He devoted six months of his life, without pay, to a grand scheme to hold a Woodstock of urban planners in Chautauqua. And he pulled it off even though most politicians didn't help and Andrew Rudnick, the head of the Greater Buffalo Partnership, bad-mouthed it until the last minute.

Gaughan (with an assist from Stan Lundine, the former lieutenant governor) persuaded the best minds in the country to come last June; convinced the Chautauqua Institution to be host; and talked the Ford Foundation -- the Cadillac (heh heh) of civic charities -- to ante up $50,000.

What did you do on your summer vacation?

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