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Remembering those who left a lasting mark on life in WNY

As 2016 ends, we bid farewell, reluctantly, to Buffalonians we’ve lost this year, men and women who touched our lives and contributed to this community.

They made their marks in different fields. Their ranks include leaders in the arts, sports, philanthropy, government service, newspaper publishing, college administration, banking, architecture and grassroots community leadership.

All made an impact, some of them in a colorful, distinctive way. We lost an auctioneer who had changed his first name to Cash, a Buffalo native who earned four Tony Award nominations, a Polka Hall of Famer, two public officials from prominent political families, a country-music champion and an assistant coach from the Bills’ Super Bowl era.

We are poorer for their passing, but we thank them for their service.

Here are some of their names:
Elbert “Cootie” Blanks, 75, who helped launch Juneteenth Festival, died Oct. 13.

As a senior at Bennett High School, where he is a member of the Sports Hall of Fame, he was credited with developing a special move in which he would pin the ball to the backboard, blocking opponents’ shots, a maneuver later made famous by LeBron James.

In addition to his work on the Juneteenth Festival, he was a founding member of the BUILD organization.
Cash Cunningham, 65, prominent local auctioneer, died Nov. 17.

Born Raymond Cunningham, he was nicknamed “Cash” early in his career and liked the distinction it gave him so much that he had his first name legally changed. Known for his ability to get top dollar, he organized numerous high-profile liquidations in the Buffalo area and was licensed to operate in 11 states.

He was equally well-known as a celebrity auctioneer for charities, volunteering his services for as many as 50 events a year.
Bruce DeHaven, 68, the Buffalo Bills’ special teams coach during the team’s Super Bowl era, died Dec. 27 after a battle with cancer.

DeHaven coached with the Bills for two different stints, from 1987-99 and again from 2010-12.

This season, DeHaven worked as a special teams adviser for the Carolina Panthers as he received treatment here in Buffalo, where he maintained a home.
Kevin M. Dillon, 65, former Erie County district attorney and State Supreme Court justice, died Jan. 7.

A member of one of the area’s most prominent political families, he was appointed district attorney – a post his father, Michael F. Dillon, once held – by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1988 and went on to be elected twice, the first time by a record plurality. Describing it as “the toughest job I ever had,” he directed the prosecution of approximately 350,000 cases.
Edward W. Duffy, 89, last chairman and CEO of Marine Midland Bank, died April 6.

One of the youngest heads of a major bank when he took the helm at Marine Midland at 47 in 1973, he went on to engineer its sale to HSBC after guiding it through several lean years. “We needed capital,” he told The Buffalo News when he retired in 1983, quoting another bank official who said, “We were a company that was going 35 miles an hour on a 50-mile-an-hour highway.”
James P. Keane, 70, former Buffalo Common Council member and deputy Erie County executive, died Dec. 19.

Brother of the late Assemblyman Richard Keane and retired Buffalo Fire Commissioner Cornelius Keane, he served as a Buffalo firefighter before becoming South District member of the Common Council.

After unsuccessfully challenging Dennis Gorski in the 1987 Democratic primary for county executive, he became the county’s commissioner of emergency services, then served as Gorski’s deputy.
Stanford Lipsey, 89, longtime Buffalo News publisher and philanthropist, died Nov. 1.

A native of Omaha, Neb., he headed a chain of small newspapers there that was acquired by investor Warren Buffett and went on to serve as an adviser to Buffett after he purchased The Buffalo News in 1977.

As publisher of The News from 1983 to 2012, he took the lead in numerous cultural and charitable causes locally and contributed to them generously.

He donated $1.1 million to Roswell Park Cancer Institute after leading a campaign to get state funding to rebuild its campus. He also led preservation efforts at the Darwin Martin House, provided a major bequest to help restore the Richardson Olmsted Complex and pushed for the adoption of the state’s historic preservation tax credit. The Buffalo Architecture Center, scheduled to open in 2017, will be named in his honor.
Mark R. Mendell, 77, award-winning architect and president of Cannon Design, died Oct. 25.

Acclaimed for designing the glass-clad nine-story Occidental Chemical Building in Niagara Falls, he became president of Cannon in 1992. During his 23-year tenure, he led the company’s expansion to 17 regional offices. Locally, he guided the design of the new terminal at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the HSBC Atrium and the Flickinger Natatorium at Erie Community College City Campus.
Jan Peters, 69, Buffalo School Board member and community leader, died April 10.

As director of the Neighborhood House Association, a century-old settlement house in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood, she led its merger with Westminster Community House, another long-standing settlement house, to create the Buffalo Federation of Neighborhood Centers, which she turned into one of the city’s leading human service agencies.

A Board of Education member from 1995 to 2004, she served as board vice president and was liaison to the Joint Schools Construction Board.
Steven B. Sample, 75, 12th UB president (1982-1991), died March 29.

He arrived at UB after serving as a senior administrator at the University of Nebraska and took several steps to enhance its reputation nationally. He emphasized research, oversaw major campus construction and established academic exchange agreements in Asia and Europe.

Under his leadership, the National Science Foundation in 1986 awarded the first National Center for Earthquake Engineering Research to a consortium headquartered at UB.

He went on to serve 19 years as president of the University of Southern California, where he led a dramatic rise in its academic ranking. As an electrical engineer, he held patents
on various digital control panels, including the touch pad on microwaves used all over the world.
Ramblin’ Lou Schriver, 86, radio station owner and bandleader, champion of country music, died Jan. 17.

Starting out playing parties and barn dances, he led the Ramblin’ Lou Family Band, a popular attraction at local jamborees and festivals. The band grew to include his four children and five grandchildren.

In 1970, he bought a radio station in Lancaster, used his initials when he changed the call letters to WXRL and had an enduring influence on country music locally. He also sponsored popular bus tours to country music meccas such as Nashville, Branson, Mo., and Wheeling, W.Va.
David “Scrubby” Seweryniak, 68, Polka Hall of Fame musician, died July 22.

Originally an accordion player in wedding bands, he picked up what became his trademark, the concertina, after seeing polka legend Li’l Wally play one at a local dance. He went on to lead one of Buffalo’s most successful polka bands, the Dynatones, for two decades.

Winner of numerous Vocalist of the Year awards from polka organizations, he and his band were nominated for a Grammy Award in 1992. A showman noted for his bizarre costumes, he appeared on stage wearing everything from a Dracula cape to a muumuu.
Elizabeth Swados, 64, composer, writer and director who created socially conscious musical theater, died Jan. 5.

Already writing music for Manhattan’s avant-garde theater while she was a student at Bennington College, she had a hit in 1978 with “Runaways,” a gritty revue about runaway teenagers that earned her four Tony Award nominations.

She went on to stage dozens of experimental productions, song cycles and oratorios, including a pair of collaborations with “Doonesbury” cartoonist Garry Trudeau. She also published three novels and seven books for children, plus two memoirs, “The Four of Us: The Story of a Family,” about her difficult family history, and “My Depression: A Picture Book,” which she later turned into an animated film.
Also of note:
Hazard Knox Campbell Sr., 87, philanthropist, president of Ducks Unlimited, died July 27.

Tony Conrad, 76, avant-garde artist and UB professor, died April 9.

Rev. Alan T. Forbes, 93, founder of Buffalo Christian Center, died Feb. 18.

Dr. Glen E. Gresham, 84, former ECMC medical director, died Feb. 24.

Arun K. Jain, 70, UB professor, marketing expert, died March 3.

Donna Majewski, 55, gourmet pastry chef for leading restaurants, died Feb. 29.

Mary M. Myszkiewicz, 82, longtime president of Allentown Village Society, died May 5.

Larry Owens, 71, “the Peanut Man” at Buffalo Bisons games for a quarter century, died Oct. 16.

Donald “Butch” Palmer, 49, famous Buffalo Bisons batboy, died Nov. 22.

Joe Peters, 92, drummer in famed piano-drum duo with Jackie Jocko, died March 30.

Richie Pidanik, 54, drummer and executive for Guitar Center music store chain, died Sept. 27.

Joseph T. Pillittere, 83, former Assemblyman from Lewiston, died June 24.

Joseph E. Ryan, 73, former Buffalo city planning chief, died June 11.

Mamie Simonson, 87, professional portrait photographer from Lewiston who campaigned to change name of the Robert Moses Parkway, died Oct. 5.

William Sylvester, 97, UB professor, poet and mainstay of literary community, died June 12.

H. Ward Wettlaufer, 80, one of the best amateur golfers in Buffalo sports history, died March 31.

Toni Smith Wilson, 69, actress, teacher, co-founder of Theatre of Youth Company, died May 28.

Brock Yates, 82, author and columnist for Car and Driver magazine who conceived “Cannonball Run,” died Oct. 5.

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