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Melissa Wickser Banta, community arts supporter; Aug. 18, 1925 -- Aug. 18, 2011

Melissa Wickser Banta of Amherst, a longtime and dedicated volunteer with the University at Buffalo and the local arts community, died Thursday in the Center for Hospice & Palliative Care, Cheektowaga, on her 86th birthday.

She was born in Buffalo to a family whose members included a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a founder of what is now M&T Bank.

Mrs. Banta attended Buffalo Seminary, graduated from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry and attended Smith College for two years before leaving to marry Charles Urban Banta.

In the mid-1950s, while raising her family, she returned to the classroom and the academic world.

Mrs. Banta earned a bachelor's degree in art history, a master's degree in English and a doctorate in English, all from the University of Buffalo.

She taught in UB's English Department and at the Calasanctius School for academically gifted children.

Mrs. Banta served as a special assistant to UB President Martin Meyerson in 1969 and 1970 on a foundation-supported national effort to boost and improve higher education.

In 1971, she received the Town and Gown Award from the Women's Committee of the Buffalo Museum of Science for her work in that position.

She also was employed as assistant curator of the University Libraries' Poetry Collection and as assistant to the director of the University Libraries in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

This began 25 years of service to the libraries, with a focus on the James Joyce materials held in the Poetry Collection.

Mrs. Banta and Oscar A. Silverman edited "James Joyce's Letters to Sylvia Beach, 1921-1940," published in 1987.

Her active interest in the local arts community continued a family tradition. A great-grandfather helped incorporate what is now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and her father was a founder of the gallery's Room for Contemporary Art fund.

Mrs. Banta and James Dyett operated the private Les Copains Gallery in the 1970s and 1980s in Buffalo.

She also helped in the preparation of the 1987 exhibition catalog "Masterworks on Paper from the Albright-Knox Gallery" and, the same year, co-curated the exhibition "Essence and Persuasion: The Power of Black and White" at the David Anderson Gallery.

Mrs. Banta served as a trustee of the UB Foundation from 1971 to 1987 and was the first woman to serve on the board of the school's former Center of the Creative and Performing Arts.

She received UB's Distinguished Alumni Award in 1990.

Mrs. Banta also served on the boards of the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the International Institute of Buffalo.

In addition to her husband, survivors include two sons, Charles Wickser Banta and Philip Livingston Banta; and a daughter, Melissa Winspear Banta.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Trinity Episcopal Church, 371 Delaware Ave.


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