Two events influenced Williamsville native William Paul Freeman to consider moving to the Southwest. Both were rooted in the education he received in Western New York.
Freeman, 24, currently works as a fifth grade teacher in Clark County Schools, instructing at-risk students while holding a second job as director of music ministry at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church.
His fascination with the Southwest began as a 10th grader at Williamsville South High School. Band director Matthew S. Cool asked his students play a classical piece called “Godzilla Eats Las Vegas,” composed by Eric Whitacre.
Whitacre, Freeman explained, is an innovative composer who encourages musicians from across the globe to record his music then upload it to the internet, where it can be combined into a giant orchestra.
“Whitacre is from Las Vegas and graduated from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas,” Freeman said. “That’s where Nevada came on my radar.”
A few years later, as a student at Canisius College, Freeman participated in a service project with Dr. Keith Burich where he and a group immersed themselves in the Navajo nation. Freeman quickly fell under the spell of life in the region.
Late in 2013, he moved to Las Vegas to pursue a master’s degree in music education at UNLV. Working as a fundraiser for Boy Scouts of America, Freeman learned that Clark County schools were in dire need of teachers. So, in 2015, Freeman applied and was hired to teach elementary school, in a building where 97 percent of his students are immigrants or from immigrant families.
“I like working with this population,” he said. “Students are so appreciative of the education they’re getting. Last year, I did not have a single behavioral issue. It’s inspiring that despite the poverty, they are ready to learn and happy with life.”
Name: William Paul Freeman, 24
Education: Williamsville East, 2010 graduate; Canisius College, 2013 graduate
Current home: Las Vegas
Miss about Buffalo: Family, friends and the network of people he grew up with. Also, Wegmans: “There’s no grocery store like that out here.”
Loves about Las Vegas: Diversity of cultures, inexpensive dining choices, round-the-clock lifestyle.
Many experiences growing up in Western New York have shaped Freeman’s career in Las Vegas. As a teen, he participated in youth ministry at St. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Williamsville. He also sang with the Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus between 2012 and 2014. Being a church music director combines those two loves.
“In Buffalo, the church was established, but Las Vegas has one of the fastest growing Catholic communities in America,” Freeman noted. “With the immigrant population from the Philippines and South America, all the transplants come together. Factor in the tourists, and for bigger masses like Christmas and Easter, services are actually held in a casino because that’s the only space where everyone will fit.”
His parents, William and Patrice, remain in Williamsville, with his sister, Anne, and brother, Robert.
With its reputation as “Sin City,” gambling is only part of Las Vegas’ identity, Freeman stresses. He sees a community where people of all races, religions and ideas gather together.
“The diversity is astonishing,” he said. “I never played organ at a Polish mass in Buffalo, but out here I do it pretty regularly.” He also led Spanish choir practice — despite not being able to speak the language.
Food choices are varied as well, and because of competition, prices are low. Freeman noted a $6 McDonald’s meal in Buffalo sells for less than half that in Las Vegas.
Despite the distance from home, he encounters former Buffalo residents everywhere.
“The neighborhood where I live is crawling with Buffalo people,” he observed. “There are Canisius College and Buff State and St. Bonaventure grads all over.”
One morning, on his way to work, he noticed a Canisius College license frame on the car ahead of him. He was surprised to see the driver turn into his school parking lot. The woman who exited the car was a fellow teacher whose classroom was next to Freeman’s. Neither had known the other had Western New York ties.
“Our paths might not have crossed if not for that license frame,” he said.
If you or anyone you know has a story to tell about moving back or to Buffalo, or about moving away, email JeffSchober@hotmail.com. Jeff Schober is the author of "Bike Path Rapist," "Growing Up Gronk" and several works of crime fiction set in Buffalo in the 1980s. His newest book, "Faces and Fingertips," is available now. Visit his website at www.jeffschober.com.