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'Seeds' planted by gardener grow for OLV

The seeds of a gardener's labor decades ago have yielded an almost $700,000 bequest to Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity.

A ceremonial check was presented Friday night to Monsignor Robert C. Wurtz, head of OLV Institutions, at a reception for supporters in the Buffalo Transportation/Pierce Arrow Museum.

The money came from what is known as the Mecca Trust, started four decades ago by Daniel Mecca, a lifelong gardener who worked for Buffalo's wealthy families.

"This is a night that has never taken place before in my 34 years at Father Baker's," Wurtz said, using the common reference to the institutions founded by Father Nelson R. Baker. "It is unheard of."

The reception's location itself was of significance in the celebration.

The museum is owned by James T. Sandoro Jr., whose father, James Sr., is the trustee for the Mecca Trust. Mecca was an uncle of the elder Sandoro.

The younger Sandoro said Mecca's connection to OLV isn't known for sure, but at least two of his three daughters were adopted -- possibly from the orphanage established by Father Baker.

About 40 years ago, Mecca, who was born in Italy, asked his nephew to manage his $60,000 nest egg.

The trust dictated first that Mecca's daughters receive monthly allowances until their deaths, the younger Sandoro said. When the last daughter died a few years ago, the balance of the money was to go to Father Baker's charities.

That's $689,255.

"It will certainly take care of the kids," Wurtz said.

Father Baker's legacy includes the care of thousands of children, and 34 programs for children and families in need, offered at several locations locally.

One of those programs, WAY [Work Appreciation for Youth], was on display Friday. Young residents of Baker facilities worked as the caterers and wait staff for the reception.

That program also offers job training in horticulture, with youngsters working at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, and construction, with Habitat for Humanity.

"In carrying out the legacy of Father Baker, we are carrying out a work that God has given us all to do . . . to care for those who are in need," Wurtz said.

"I promise you," he said, "as long as God gives us the strength -- and the health -- we will devote ourselves to living that legacy."

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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