For more than half a century, Florence L. Knorl was the glue who held Kensington High School together, the guiding force who helped lead the school through its years of demographic change and then its turbulent times in the 1970s.
One Kensington alumnus, Roger Weiss, always introduced Mrs. Knorl the same way at alumni functions: "She is the matriarch, the den mother and the first lady of Kensington High."
Mrs. Knorl, 82, a business teacher and administrative assistant at Kensington for 51 years until her retirement in 1989, died Dec. 14, 1999, in a Hamburg nursing home.
At her funeral Friday, four of the many Kensington principals she served -- Angelo Gianturco, Gerald Hesson, Yvonne Hargrave and Stanley Wegrzynowski -- paid their final tributes to her.
"My greatest fear was that Florence would be locked up in the vault with the permanent records at night," Gianturco told fellow mourners. "She was always the last to leave."
Each day when she left work, Mrs. Knorl, who never drove, took a Bailey Avenue bus to Veterans Hospital to visit her brother, Robert, then took two more buses to her West Seneca home, Gianturco remembered.
Mrs. Knorl served as a fixture and a calming influence when student disturbances and bomb threats rocked Kensington and other city schools in the early 1970s. Teachers quickly learned the code that went over the school's public-address system when there was a bomb threat: "Would Mrs. Knorl please come to the office?" The joke was that she was always there, no matter how rough things became.
During the late 1970s and 1980s, when a new principal was assigned to Kensington almost every year, Mrs. Knorl was the one constant. She knew how everything operated, and everyone in school knew her.
"The teachers felt Florence ran the school," said Marjorie Linhardt, a Kensington graduate and former Kensington teacher who now teaches at Hutch-Tech.
Mrs. Knorl may be the only person ever to have the school yearbook, the Compass, dedicated to her twice, in 1957 and 1981. "Regardless of who you are -- teacher, student, parent, visitor -- she is always willing and able to answer questions, to give information and to help anyone regardless of the situation," the 1981 dedication reads in part.
Even after Mrs. Knorl recently became so ill that she could hardly speak and had to be fed through a feeding tube, she continued to serve at coffee hours and dinners at her church, Woodside United Methodist Church in South Buffalo.
"Florence Knorl is probably the most loyal person I have ever known," Linhardt said. "That was the essence of her character -- loyalty to her family, her friends, her church and Kensington High."
A South Buffalo native, the former Florence Lehde graduated from South Park High School in 1933 and from the University of Buffalo four years later as a business major.
After her mother died, Mrs. Knorl cared for her widowed father, taught school and kept the books for her family's business, Lehde's Florist Shop on Seneca Street in South Buffalo. She lived more than half her life in an apartment above that shop, before moving to West Seneca.
Mrs. Knorl began her teaching career in Buffalo as a business teacher at Fosdick-Masten High School for one year beginning in 1937. She then moved to Kensington High School and Kensington Prep, as a business teacher and then administrative assistant.
Following her retirement in 1989, Mrs. Knorl remained active in the Kensington Alumni Association and served as church treasurer at Woodside Methodist for many years.
She married Howard "Gus" Knorl in 1960 and cared for him at home before his death in 1969.
She is survived by a brother, Herbert Lehde.