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Jay H. Wattles Jr., 93, wholesale food distributor with a passion for golf

Jan. 24, 1924 – June 18, 2017

Jay H. Wattles Jr., longtime president and chairman of the board of the Niagara Frontier Food Terminal, grew up in Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood and had a passion for golf that began when he was a boy, playing with his father on the course in Delaware Park.

Mr. Wattles was a low-handicap golfer as an adult and a member of the U.S. Golf Association, the East Aurora Country Club and the Wanakah Country Club. He was among the serious-minded players who hired renowned course architect Robert Trent Jones to design the course for Crag Burn Golf Club near East Aurora in the early 1970s.

Mr. Wattles acquired a Jeep so he could oversee construction of the course and, when it was finished, he built a home overlooking the 15th hole. In addition to being a founding member, he served as president of the club.

When Crag Burn encountered financial difficulties, he became one of the four general partners in Crag Burn Associates, which took over operations in 1981, raised funds, increased membership and refurbished the course and its buildings. In 1999, the group sold the course back to the members for approximately the same price at which they purchased it.

Mr. Wattles attended the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga., several times and followed golf tournaments on a 60-inch television set he installed in his business office.

Before he died on Father’s Day in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga, he was able to watch the finale of the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. He was 93.

Born in Buffalo, he was a graduate of Bennett High School. He interrupted his studies at Colgate University to enlist in the Navy during World War II. Trained as a fighter pilot during the final months of the war, he remained stateside.

Returning to Colgate, he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology, then joined his grandfather’s wholesale food distribution business in the Niagara Frontier Food Terminal at Clinton Street and Bailey Avenue.

In 1949, he and his father founded J.H. Wattles and Sons, a wholesale distributor of butter and eggs to local grocery stores. He became president of the company in 1958 and, with his brother, Robert G., expanded into other dairy products and a full range of food service items.

He continued to be active in the business until about four years ago. The company, which includes Willowbrook Farms and Willowbrook Beverages, is the largest tenant at the Food Terminal and is operated by the fourth generation of Wattles family.

Mr. Wattles also served as president and chairman of the board of the Niagara Frontier Food Terminal from 1960 until 2012, overseeing its transition from a center for many small food brokers to a handful of large-scale distributors.

“He always wanted the Food Terminal to remain in the food or food-related business,” said his daughter, Karen W. Vogelsang, a Food Terminal board member. “Kohler wanted to open a large bath showroom there and he said no.”

An athlete and avid outdoorsman, Mr. Wattles enjoyed skiing, fishing, hunting upland game birds and boating. He was a former member of the Buffalo Ski Club, the Buffalo Canoe Club and Ducks Unlimited. He also was a member of the Buffalo Club.

His wife of 62 years, the former Jean Mackenzie, died in 2009.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include three other daughters, Nancy W. Oliphant, Janet W. Hukill and Judy W. Jacobs; his brother, Robert; 11 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Services will be private.

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