Dec. 21, 1939 – April 16, 2017
Emily R. “Lee” Oprea, a champion of architectural and environmental preservation, died Easter Sunday in her home in Sardinia after a short battle with cancer. She was 77.
One of the founders of the Western New York Land Conservancy in the early 1990s, she was a prominent opponent of the Chaffee landfill and nuclear waste storage at the West Valley Demonstration Site. Recently she successfully challenged the Northern Access Pipeline, which would have crossed her family property at Cattaraugus Creek.
She also arranged for the property and its buildings – the 1841 Rider-Hopkins Farm, which has survived with its original boundaries since it was settled by pioneers, and the 1910 Olmsted Camp, a classic Arts and Crafts family summer retreat – to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Born in Wyandotte, Mich., the former Emily Roderick was a distant relative of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and granddaughter of Buffalo architect and painter Harold LeRoy Olmsted, who designed the Olmsted Camp, as well as the Italian Gardens of the Twentieth Century Club, and houses on St. Catherine’s Court and Nottingham Terrace in Buffalo.
She grew up in Grosse Ile, Mich., and Winnetka, Ill., and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan.
For 20 years, Ms. Oprea lived in Westport, Conn., not far from Martha Stewart, raised her children, became an environmental activist and pursued a variety of jobs while her ex-husband taught at Columbia University.
“I was a hustler,” she told the Buffalo News in 1996. “I had a French degree, so I subbed and tutored and did research for writers.”
She assisted civil liberties lawyer Frank Donner in the writing of “The Age of Surveillance” and worked for a realty investment firm as its investment relations manager.
Once her children were out of college, she returned in 1984 to become manager of the Olmsted Camp, where she had spent summers during her childhood. An avid gardener and landscaper, she restored the camp’s buildings and grounds, along with the farm.
The Western New York Land Conservancy was headquartered at her home in its early days. For years she organized Olmsted Camp concerts, which included performances by her late sister, folk-blues singer Judy Roderick, and other folk and blues artists.
Ms. Oprea oversaw her sister’s legacy, promoted her music and helped arrange for re-releases of her recordings. She served as manager of Roderick’s band, Big Sky Mudflaps, in the 1980s.
She also had a knack for discovering long-lost items of historical interest.
She uncovered a poster from the 1860 Presidential campaign behind a fireplace during a renovation project at the farm.
She also discovered a crate in her attic that came from her grandfather’s barn in Springville and hauled it to the Buffalo History Museum, where it was found to contain the original McKim, Mead and White architectural drawings for the Metcalfe House on North Street.
Among her sister’s mementos, she unearthed the earliest recorded live performance of singer-songwriter David Crosby from a show in a coffeehouse in Boulder, Colo.
She also was a supporter of the Springville Center for the Arts and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy.
Survivors include two daughters, Lia and Yani; a son, Mircea; three sisters, Grace Page, Sally Scholl and Connie Roderick; a brother, James Roderick; and two grandchildren.
A memorial service and celebration of her life will be held this summer at Olmsted Camp in Sardinia.