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Charles A. Volkert, Common Council member who stepped up when city simmered

July 4, 1928 — May 23, 2018

It's just one snapshot of a long, successful life, but it could be among the most significant.

In 1972, court-ordered busing to desegregate Buffalo schools raised racial tensions, leading to student clashes.

University District Common Council member Charles Adam Volkert, a Republican, opposed busing. But when violence hit Kensington High School, he and state Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve went there.

In his 1998 book, "Desegregation in Boston and Buffalo: The Influence of Local Leaders," author Steven J.L. Taylor tells the story: "Eve, Volkert and Ted Kirkland, a popular black policeman, walked to the front of the school, where blacks and whites were facing each other off. They brought the students together, walked inside and conversed about the school's problems. This prevented the situation from becoming violent."

"This story shows you exactly what he was most proud of," said Mr. Volkert's son, Charles Adam "Chad" Volkert III. "Whether it was a Democrat or a Republican, he understood how to cross party lines, collaborate, and work together for the betterment of Buffalo. And all of his stories were about what he did with his colleagues to better the city, to improve relations."

Mr. Volkert died on May 23 in Fort Lauderdale after an illness. Although he and his wife moved south in 1983, they maintained close ties with Western New York, retaining property in Buffalo and spending summers until 2006 in the Bertie Bay cottages they bought in 1968, said their son.

Mr. Volkert served a single term on the Buffalo Common Council, representing the University District from 1972 to 1974, and ran unsuccessfully for County Legislature in 1973. But he is best known for operating, with his wife, Nancy, the John Robert Powers modeling, finishing and career development school, which at its height in the 1970s and 1980s, had eight branches and graduated more than 5,000 students a year. The Volkerts later operated the Volkert Career Center in Buffalo and Florida.

Born on Wallace Avenue in Buffalo, Mr. Volkert, known as Chuck, was the son of Charles A. Volkert and Gertrude King Volkert. His work ethic developed early after his father, who had operated the Shoemaker and Volkert candy factory at 756 Broadway, was financially devastated by the Great Depression and died in 1939.

So Mr. Volkert worked three jobs before age 12 to help support his mother and younger brother, Richard. Starting as early as 5 a.m., Mr. Volkert delivered newspapers and worked in the basement storage area of a nearby furniture store. After school, he helped out in a neighborhood butcher shop.

Mr. Volkert graduated from Bennett High School in 1948 and from the University of Buffalo in 1952 with a business degree. After college he opened an insurance company, followed by his own real estate firms, Realty World and C.A. Volkert Inc. During the 35 years he owned C.A. Volkert Inc., it owned more than 60 rental buildings, employed more than 30 people and sold hundreds of houses a year.

"He perfected a real estate model to allow low-income families to purchase their first homes," said his son. "He would literally hold the mortgage and negotiate with the bank and pay the deposit to allow people who could never imagine purchasing a home to be able to purchase a home. They would never qualify for a bank loan. He was able to do that hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times."

After Mr. Volkert married Nancy Walter on Jan. 14, 1961, the couple bought the franchise rights to John Robert Powers modeling, finishing and career development school, opening their first office in 1964 in a building they owned at 310 Delaware Ave. Through the 1980s, they opened John Robert Powers locations in AM&A's department stores throughout Buffalo as well as in Rochester, St. Catharines, Clearwater, Fla., and Montclair, N.J. Mr. Volkert was president of the company.

In a 1979 Buffalo Evening News story about the business, a reporter wrote that the couple transformed modeling locally from a "non-profession" to a million-dollar business. The Delaware Avenue building became headquarters for their modeling and self-improvement school, and they branched out to offer a model agency, an acting and drama school, a boutique featuring clothes by local designers, the Salad Gazebo Health Food Restaurant, and the Finishing Touch Boutique, which sold their own line of cosmetics. They employed 65 people.

After selling the Powers franchises in 1983 when they moved to Sarasota, the couple opened the Volkert Career Center in Buffalo and Florida. It operated until the 1990s.

Through Mr. Volkert's involvement with the Jaycees and their businesses, the couple traveled across North and South America, the United Kingdom, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Russia, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, Japan and Hong Kong. In 1969, the Volkers escorted several models from their agency on a three-week tour of the fashion showrooms of Rome, Florence, Paris and London.

Mr. Volkert served as president of the Sarasota Republican Club for more than 10 years and tripling it in size.

Mr. Volkert taught real estate courses for many years at Bryant & Stratton College and at Bert Rodgers School of Real Estate in Florida.

In Buffalo, he was a lifelong member of Holy Trinity Church, devoting himself to church events and Christian education.

Mr. Volkert was a Rotarian for more than 40 years, serving as president of the Buffalo Rotary Club and the Sarasota Rotary Club. He was a three-time winner of Rotary's Paul Harris Award. He was also a high-ranking member of the Masonic Lodge, his son said. He was the president of Alexander Farms and Bertie Bay Home Owners Association for more than 20 years.

He was a member of the Buffalo Yacht Club, Cherry Hill in Fort Erie and the Sarasota Yacht Club.

Mrs. Volkert died in 1995. Besides his son, Mr. Volkert is survived by his daughter, Mary Alice Volkert, his brother, Richard Volkert; two granddaughters, a niece and two nephews.

A funeral will be held at 10 a.m. May 31 in Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, 1080 Main St., Buffalo.

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