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New Jersey clan finds good life here While many flee the Buffalo Niagara region, family enthusiastically sings its praises

In a case of reverse brain drain, members of a New Jersey family now call the Buffalo area their home, and guess what brought them here:

Jobs -- along with a romance that kick-started this domino effect.

After relocating to Buffalo from Rockaway Township, N.J., Ellen and Bernie Schenkler, plus their children Sarah Deskiewicz and Alan, have compiled a list of things they love about Buffalo:

Good jobs. Easy commutes. Gorgeous summers. Affordable housing. Friendly people. High-quality, affordable theater. Summer festivals. And an area's ability to deal with snow.

Heck, this family ought to be featured in the next "Buffalo for Real" ads.

In fact, during a 1 1/2 -hour interview, getting the Schenkler clan and Joe Deskiewicz, Sarah's husband, to say anything negative about the Buffalo area was difficult -- except perhaps for its residents' communal sense of defensiveness.

"I don't understand why they're so defensive," said Bernie Schenkler, an attorney with the Damon Morey law firm downtown. "I see [Buffalo] as a really positive place, with a lot of plusses, a lot of things to do.

"When I told people I was moving here, they were like, 'You're moving to Siberia,' " he added. "I told them, 'it's not as bad as the Weather Channel says.' "

The family also seems mildly surprised that people have been so taken with their story.

"I didn't see it as that unusual, but everybody I talk to raises their eyebrows that we had a reverse migration," Bernie Schenkler said.

This family's story, of course, flies in the face of the Buffalo area's well-documented brain drain -- educated young people, native sons and daughters, fleeing elsewhere by the tens of thousands and leaving a huge demographic hole in our population.

The start of this family's migration dates back to the early 2000s, when Sarah Schenkler, a Cazenovia College student, met Deskiewicz and moved here after graduation to work for a temporary agency. The couple became engaged in October 2004, and she moved in with him and his folks.

That left an apartment available for Alan Schenkler, a graphic artist/designer and Rochester Institute of Technology graduate. He came here to visit his sister and future brother-in-law for Thanksgiving 2004 and was wowed by the $350 rent for the apartment.

"I guess initially it was the rent, the availability of the job and being near at least one family member who knew the lay of the land," he said of his move.

The parents, Bernie and Ellen, started coming here to visit their two displaced children and eventually rented an apartment in Kaisertown.

Then with the help of an upstate legal recruiter, Bernie Schenkler landed a job at Damon Morey.

"Basically, we were following our children, and we loved Buffalo," he said. "It's such a neat place."

> Good people, prices

Two factors -- Western New York's people and its modest prices -- have helped the family become huge Buffalo boosters.

Ellen Schenkler remembered being on jury duty two years ago and staying late one evening to deliberate during a murder trial.

As she waited outside for her husband to pick her up, a fellow juror offered to wait with her. She declined, but the man insisted.

"No, you shouldn't be standing here by yourself," the man said. And he waited until she got into her husband's car.

That was one of the jolts from a family more used to living in the greater New York City area, with its more impersonal reputation.

Another jolt was the prices, especially when it came to buying their home in Alden.

"When the builder told us the price, we actually laughed," Ellen Schenkler said.

And when the couple got its car-insurance quote, they thought it was a mistake.

The Schenklers also love Buffalo's festivals.

"When we moved here, we went to every festival -- the Chicken Wing Festival, Corn Festival, Taste of Buffalo, Allentown Art Festival, Dyngus Day -- there's always something," Ellen Schenkler said.

They also have bought a subscription to Shea's Performing Arts Center, which, they say, offers quality theater at a fraction of the price and without the hassle and cost of driving to New York City and parking.

They even have become Bills fans. Ellen Schenkler has come a long way as a football enthusiast, as seen by her earlier befuddlement about penalty flags.

"I'd always ask Bernie, 'Why is there a hankie on the field?' "

The Schenklers, of course, have their snow stories.

> Assurances on weather

The night before Bernie Schenkler began his new job here, the area got socked with 17 inches of snow.

"I was shocked when I got out to Clinton Street," he said. "It was clear, and it had just snowed 17 inches. In New Jersey, everything would have been closed for three weeks."

Ellen Schenkler remembers the time two winters ago, when she was caught in a major snowstorm on Southwestern Boulevard. Suddenly, she saw a wall of gray and thought she was going to die there.

But she didn't, and her son-in-law reassured her about the weather.

"I told her the snow always melts, the summers are beautiful, as long as it's not raining, and it's never too hot," Deskie-wicz said.

Four family members are working here: Bernie Schenkler with Damon Morey; Sarah Deskiewicz, in customer service at Fed Ex; her husband, in software work at SmartBorder; and Alan Schenkler, a software engineer at Ecology & Environment.

They're scattered around the area. The Deskiewiczes, with their 22-month-old daughter, Maddie, live in Lackawanna, near the Orchard Park line, while Alan Schenkler lives along the Depew-Lancaster border. And the parents live in Alden, with all the advantages of country living.

> Win some, lose some

Bernie Schenkler is an avid accordion player, with a license plate reading ACCORDYN. He started playing in the third grade, has six accordions and plays at some local nursing homes and other venues.

He even has a website, www.wnyaccordions.org.

Only the subject of accordion playing brought any hint of a negative comment about the Buffalo area.

"When I moved here, I asked, 'Where are all the accordion players?' They said they all moved to Florida."

We win some residents. We lose some.

e-mail: gwarner@buffnews.com