When John S. "Jack" Cullen moved to Buffalo with his family from Pittsburgh in 1952, he was less than enthusiastic about his new community and his new school, St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute.
"I thought my father was sending me to jail," Cullen joked Thursday. "And not only that, the jail was located somewhere north of the North Pole."
But Cullen, founder and head of Multisorb Technologies Inc. of West Seneca, had a dramatic change of attitude.
On Thursday, nearly 52 years after Cullen's graduation, St. Joe's announced that he has made a $2 million gift to the school. It will be used for the construction of new science labs and classrooms and to fund the annual school musical.
St. Joe's officials believe it may be the largest gift ever awarded to a Buffalo high school. While that could not be confirmed on Thursday, it was clear that the contribution is unusually generous.
Cullen's gift is "absolutely incredible," especially in light of the local economy and the tendency of benefactors to direct funds to colleges and universities rather than high schools, said Elizabeth Gurney, director of development at Nichols School.
"It's a spectacular gift," she said.
That view was echoed by Brother Kevin Dalmasse, director of education for the national Christian Brother Conference, of which St. Joe's is a member.
"This is a major, major gift and a wonderful thing for St. Joe's," he said.
Cullen said his contribution reflects his view of St. Joe's as the place where he developed discipline, a sense of belonging, a love of learning -- especially in science -- and a running start in his career.
"I got a good dose of study discipline, a good dose of what it means to be a team player," he said. "The relationship between the facility and the students was something I hadn't experienced before."
In fact, a chemistry teacher arranged Cullen's first date, with a girl from Holy Angels Academy.
Cullen also likes the guiding principles of St. Joe's, an independent Catholic high school for boys.
"This idea of a disciplined education, maybe even a disciplined same-sex education, has a lot of good things to say for it," he said of the school, located in the Town of Tonawanda. "In the cold light of dawn, this was the source, the defining moment when I matured and turned the corner."
The gift will provide a huge boost to instruction in science and fine arts, said Robert T. Scott, president and principal of St. Joe's.
"It's an investment in our kids, it's an investment in Western New York and it's an investment in science," he said.
Cullen said his success with Multisorb Technologies -- North America's largest manufacturer of drying agents -- allows him to help out with community endeavors.
"I thought the best thing to do was support the things I loved in life," he said. "St. Joe's was an obvious candidate."
Cullen also has assumed leadership roles with the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County, the YMCA, the Boy Scouts of America, Artpark, the Shaw Festival, Studio Arena Theater and Shea's Center for the Performing Arts. In the 1980s, he funded the Cullen Lecture Hall at St. Joe's.