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A life well lived; Nathan Benderson leaves a remarkable record of achievement and generosity

Nathan Benderson's life epitomized the best of American ingenuity, risk-taking and perseverance, and topped off with the best of the best -- charitable giving.

Benderson died early Saturday in Sarasota Memorial Hospital in Florida at age 94. He had suffered a stroke last Tuesday.

The name "Benderson" is well known throughout upstate, Western New York and parts of the United States in residential and commercial real estate development.

Major local achievements include: Delaware Consumer Square, Boulevard Consumer Square and the Niagara Falls outlets. And there's the more than 20 million square feet of commercial space nationwide once owned by Benderson and the noteworthy position of once paying more property taxes than any other property owner in Erie County.

But perhaps not as widely known were his philanthropic endeavors, or his hardscrabble youth and the doggedness with which he pursued his dreams.

As chronicled in The News, Benderson's upbringing was anything but privileged. He was a high-school dropout who worked through Depression-era challenges to become a highly successful businessman, beginning with endeavors in early childhood that earned him lifelong experience.

It was through this pluck that Benderson began what would become an empire and, in doing so, transformed parts of Western New York through retail plazas and office buildings and nearly an entire block of Delaware Avenue.

His name and reputation expanded outside this area, as Benderson developed office buildings for major corporations around the Northeast and with retail outlet malls in Niagara Falls and a half-dozen other cities across the country.

But it was the charitable part of his legacy that will leave the deepest, indelible impression as he became the largest donor ever to Buffalo's Jewish community. The Jewish Community Center's suburban campus in Amherst is named for him.

This fact may not have been known to everyone in the Western New York community because he was modest in his charitable givings. But the trust he set up with funds specified to charities upon his death -- the Benderson Family Life Insurance Legacy Initiative, worth more than $130 million -- will make a sustained impact.

The range of donations he made during his lifetime to arts and culture and programs and facilities dedicated toinner-city youth live on with the unselfish spirit of a man who himself saw hard times.

The Foundation for Jewish Philanthropies saw fit to give him a lifetime achievement award in 2004. The Jewish Federation of Greater Buffalo created the Nathan Benderson Leadership Award and The Buffalo News in 2000 named him one of the top 10 most influential business people in the past century.

It's always difficult to offer a full accounting for someone as accomplished as Benderson, but you know you're dealing with someone extraordinary when it is difficult just to name all of the gifts he has made to innumerable programs, hospitals and missions.

Such is the distinguished record of the life of Nathan Benderson, whose legacy will continue to touch countless lives.