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IT'S BEEN A WILD RIDE
THE AMAZING CHANGE IN ATTITUDES SINCE THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

Some claim it's money that makes the world go 'round. That's silly. It's ideas, sentiments and attitudes -- good or bad. They direct the course of the money. They tell it where to go.

And us, too. Our attitudes drive our lives and explain our actions.

So they lie behind the history we write -- in the world, but also here in Buffalo.

Over the past century as we near the new millennium, Buffalo and Western New York have written lots of history. We have felt lots of attitudes about ourselves and our city. Some endured, some changed.

Take hats.

Hats?

Yes, hats. And gloves and dresses, and clothes generally. Sixty years ago, hardly a woman could be found in church on Sunday without a hat. But today? Hardly a woman wears one, to church or anywhere else.

One reason for this attitude switch is that the Catholic Church once forbade women from entering church without a hat. But that rule faded. Also, remembers one Buffalonian from a proper family: "The sense was that you did what your parents did. It was just terribly important to do what others did."

Then came church services that weren't always on Sunday, shopping at relaxed malls and the rebellion of women against strict old ways. Says a Buffalo native, age 90: "We just got more casual."

Or take bank passbooks.

Buffalonians loved 'em. We were uncommonly reluctant to surrender to the electronic age. "I still have one," said a member of an old German family.

Charles Mitschow, a native Buffalonian and banker, recalls when his Marine Midland Bank tried in the 1970s to persuade customers to trade in their passbooks. No luck. They rebelled. Ditto with automatic teller machines.

Buffalonians distrusted electronic banking for a time, said Mitschow. "It was a comfort to have something tangible, a book. And some families still have memories of bank failures before government insurance (in the mid-1930s)."

It took until the late 1980s for banks to phase out passbooks.

"Get yourself a job'

The arrival of thousands of immigrants and their children born here has shaped critical attitudes -- such as a strong work ethic.

But the attitudes of different groups varied, too. Early German families and Polish immigrants tended to cling to habits of the old country. Irish and Italians embraced new ways more quickly.

Listen to Monsignor Anthony Caligiuri, 75, retired pastor of St. Peter's Catholic Church in Lewiston. He grew up on Buffalo's lower West Side. His parents arrived from Italy just before 1920, looking for opportunity. No job was too menial. Everyone worked. (He delivered milk and newspapers.) All five children became college graduates.

"Family life for (my parents) was the most important thing," Caligiuri recalls. "What they did for the family you wouldn't believe. The children came first."

The center of life, he remembers, was the church. His family, while missing their homeland, had great pride. "Even when times were rough, they would not go on welfare," he said. They felt something was wrong about it.

Church, family and work were central as well in the immigrant family of Peter Paulakis, 69, who came from Greece in the 1920s.

"I almost led two lives growing up," said Paulakis, who became a chemistry teacher in Kenmore. "One with my American-Greek friends in church on the weekends; one with non-Greek-American friends in school. There was a certain amount of confusion there."

And tension in the transition. Paulakis vividly remembers "discussions" with his father, who, accustomed to going to bed at sunset in Greece, couldn't understand his wanting to go out at night.

Favorable attitudes about education grew during this century. In the 1930s, said a man of German parents, "old-timers thought that after high school you should go out and get a job. The idea was, "Get yourself a job, you clunker.' "

A teacher at Grover Cleveland High School from the 1930s through the 1960s youngsters from immigrant, Native American, Hispanic and old-line families. "Families were very interested in children being educated and even going on to college," she said. "If there was a problem, parents wanted to talk to the teacher. They believed in cooperation. They'd call me at home."

Expectations rose over the years, from completing elementary school, to completing high school, to going to college -- and now, almost, going to graduate school.

The old neighborhoods

Buffalo is home to separate neighborhoods carved out by people of similar language, interests and income. The Irish lived in South Buffalo, the Poles on the East Side and so on.

"Buffalo was segmented, a city divided into neighborhoods," said Brenda K. Shelton, a Buffalo native and retired historian at Buffalo State College. "There was no crossover. People shopped, went to church and sent their children to school in their own neighborhoods." That pattern eased with the development of the suburbs, but still lingers.

In this melting pot, unions and political parties were part of the soothing heat. Political parties balanced their tickets ethnically to attract votes. With thousands of steel and auto workers, Buffalo became a lunch-bucket town. The United Steelworkers and United Auto Workers, along with other industrial unions, flourished between 1935 and 1955. Stormy strikes erupted after World War II. In the 1960s and beyond, white-collar unions organized workers.

But pro-union attitudes among the public have since weakened.

"Now companies and unions are getting along a lot better," said Lockport's James J. Kyzmir, 86, a son of Ukrainian immigrants who walked many picket lines as president of the UAW's Harrison Radiator plant unit for more than 20 years at mid-century. "Competition's global now. It's not local or national. So our relationships (between union and company) are much better. It's our jobs. We have to cooperate."

Philip Rumore, president of the 4,000-member Buffalo Teachers Federation since 1981, recognizes recently revised public attitudes that now see teachers, once underpaid, as well-paid. In the new millennium, he said, the focus will emphasize salaries less and "teacher and learning conditions" more.

Amid stark ethnic, religious and racial differences, some attitudes could turn downright nasty.

Vicious anti-German feelings during World War I hastened the Americanization of German immigrants and even forced companies to change their names: The German-American Bank be came Liberty Bank. Anti-Catholic feelings sometimes flared. Marriages between those of different faiths or ethnic backgrounds were sometimes scorned.

Ugly racial bigotry persists. "I think Buffalo is very racist," said Shelton. "Relatively speaking, progress has been made," said another retired historian from Buffalo State College, Monroe Fordham, an African-American. "But are we closer together in racial terms than when I came here in 1970? I don't think so."

Women move into top posts

Even with the women's liberation movement of the 1970s, Buffalo women did not overcome all of the let's-not attitudes that tolerated inequalities of pay and position. Still, there surely were gains.

In the first third of this century, nurses stood up when physicians entered a room. Teachers did not marry until they completed a three-year probation period -- and left when they became pregnant. But UAW contracts of 1945 guaranteed equal pay for equal work.

Women rebelled against confining roles in the 1960s and after. Insistence on more equality helped fuel the growth of white-collar unions. It opened up new vocations. It may have figured in the 12-week strike by nurses in 1983 against Buffalo General Hospital.

These aggressive attitudes reshaped politics, too. Today the majority leaders of the Buffalo Common Council and the Erie County Legislature are women. So is the elected Erie County comptroller. And her predecessor. Several women elected to the city School Board have been chairwoman of it. The supervisor in Buffalo's largest suburb, Amherst, is a woman.

Civility, not upheavals< Does any of this melt down into some bottom-line Buffalo attitude?

Shelton, the native Buffalonian and retired historian, feels "Buffalo is very conservative, very stodgy." This can slow progress, sometimes painfully.

Yet the same conservatism spawns caution and a social restraint, perhaps even civility, that have spared Buffalo many of the worst upheavals befalling other cities.

Combine that ingrained conservatism with what Shelton also perceives as a looser "live-and-let-live attitude," and you could explain a community that deftly softened -- and sometimes concealed -- differences in ways that have helped us, however separate and stodgy, to get along reasonably well.

Even with our defensiveness over the weather.

It's these attitudes, not money, that have made our 20th century Buffalo world go -- or not go -- 'round.