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A Cradle Beach icon; Former colleagues seeking to honor longtime director with a new pavilion

Welcome home.

For more than three decades, counselors returning to Cradle Beach Camp were greeted with those two words by longtime Camp Director Jack C. Anthony.

For many people, counselors and campers alike, Anthony was the spirit of the camp in Angola, which serves children with disabilities and those who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Anthony started as a cabin counselor in 1951, became program director in 1958 and was named camp director in 1959. He held that post for 36 years.

Anthony, who is retired now, was diagnosed last year with Lewy body dementia.

To honor him for his years of service, former staff members are raising funds to build a state-of-the-art pavilion on the grounds at Cradle Beach and name it the Jack C. Anthony Performing Arts Center.

The pavilion, which is already nicknamed "The Chief" after Anthony, has been a dream of his since the camp moved to its current location 16 years ago.

"People wanted to do something in his honor," former camp counselor Marilyn Sozanski told The Buffalo News.

Since the old pavilion was integral to the camp experience, she said, the new structure, which was designed by Anthony and architect Kevin Connors, a former camp counselor, seemed like the perfect way to honor Anthony.

"Camp is like a family," Sozanski said. "So many people feel so connected. it's just an unbelievable bond."

That bond includes people such as Bernie Tolbert, who started out as a camper and eventually became a Cradle Beach counselor.

The impact that Cradle Beach and Anthony had on his life was "immeasurable," said Tolbert, former special agent in charge of the Buffalo FBI Office.

"It's no secret," Tolbert said. "The people I had a chance to meet, the things I had a chance to do, changed my life. You don't realize it at the time, but it was a life-changing experience. I could never pay back what camp has done for me."

Cradle Beach was a wonderful place for kids, and so many of its counselors brought their own children to the camp every summer, Sozanski said. Eventually, those kids became counselors, too.

"A lot of us had our kids there from the time they were infants," she said.

Anthony, who also was a science and health teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools for more than 30 years, has been a community leader. As co-founder of the Parkside Community Association in the 1960s, he fought racist tactics of redlining and blockbusting to maintain and preserve the Parkside neighborhood.

Anthony also was a founding member of Housing Opportunities Made Equal; a member of the Central Presbyterian Church, where he is an elder; and a member of the FBI Citizen's Academy. He also was a member of the advisory board of Central Day Care and a board member of the Buffalo Academy of Science Charter School.

He has been honored over the years with many awards, including The Buffalo News Citizen of the Year in 1990, the Father Baker Service to Youth Award in 1991 and the Michael J. Anelli Award for service to youth and community by the City Honors Foundation. He also received the Cradle Beach Camp Legends Award in 2007.

He still lives in his Parkside neighborhood home, where many remember the ice rink he made every year for the neighborhood children. It spanned his backyard, as well as his neighbors'.

Anthony continues to hear from former counselors and campers, said his wife, Molly, whom he met at Cradle Beach.

"We've also heard from students at City Honors [where Jack Anthony taught] who heard about Jack, about how Jack affected their lives," Sozanski said. "This is a wonderful experience for Jack. It's almost as if something good can come from something bad."

And Anthony's legacy?

"When you do something, and give it your life, you want it to go on," Molly Anthony said. "Camp is camp. Different counselors, different kids. Camp is still the camp it was when we were there. That's the legacy."

"It's been a pleasure," Anthony said. "You just do what you can. It's for the kids."

To help pay for the new pavilion, a fundraiser will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. April 29 at Buffalo's Best Grill, 3700 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg. For ticket information, contact Cradle Beach at 549-6307, Ext. 201 or Ext. 213.

The Pavilion Campaign Project Honoring Jack C. Anthony is also planning a staff reunion for June 9 and 10. For registration and information, email jlohr@cradlebeach.org.

email: hjones@buffnews.com