By Margot Hamilton
It was 1950 when I emigrated from West Germany to Buffalo, leaving a country literally in ruins and with no opportunities for young people. I was 29 years old – yes, I’m 96 now – and it was not an easy decision. I left behind family and friends, some stranded in communist East Germany.
Like many immigrants today, I had witnessed terrible atrocities of war: starvation, destruction of property, persecution of Jews and other ethnic groups, and many other violations that are far too painful to discuss. I was lucky. A wealthy family hired me as a governess for their children and took me with them when they fled to Switzerland during WWII.
At the end of the war, while working in Heidelberg in West Germany, friends and I decided to visit our parents (then living in East Berlin), whom we had not seen in years. I saved whatever money I could to pay the black market smugglers for their help. Led by a local farmer, we walked and crawled on our stomachs through open fields, past Soviet and East German soldiers. They say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Indeed it did!
After the war ended, I studied nursing and worked in a hospital until I was convinced by my mother to come to Buffalo and live with my grandmother – who I hadn’t seen in 25 years. Our reunion made the front page of the Courier Express. I quickly got a job at Children’s Hospital, but as fate would have it, nursing was not to be my lifetime career.
As part of my introduction to Buffalo, I attended a welcoming party hosted by my grandmother's Spiritualist Church, led by Rev. Thomas “Jack” Kelly, a clairvoyant famous for wild stunts. I met several people, including Willard Hamilton, a graduate of West Point. Kelly announced, much to my embarrassment, that Willard and I would marry. Guess what – three months later we were husband and wife.
My husband and I were entrepreneurs from the start. In short order we opened “Hamilton’s Kiddie Rides,” and later added a hot dog and custard stand, which we eventually turned into a restaurant. In 1963 we bought the Sheridan Park Motor Motel. We were young and inexperienced, but hard workers.
Life was busy. We were raising three children and I was manager, cook and chief bottle washer in the restaurant – often from 6:30 a.m. to midnight. But that wasn’t enough for me. To ensure a steady stream of business for our newly purchased motel, I reached out to Dunlop, DuPont and Chevy, and joined the Delaware Sheridan Business Association and the Chamber of Commerce. Often I was the only woman at their events.
I was very appreciative of the opportunities afforded me in my new country and wanted to help other new immigrants achieve success too. I reached out to the International Institute to see how I could help. Looking back, one of my greatest satisfactions was that I was able to assist so many people who came to America looking for a better life.
All these life experiences contributed to the strength I needed to be successful in business, raise and educate three children, and help other immigrants. But I was so fortunate. I was able to leave a country divided by politics and in desolate condition, and come to a place where my hard work and initiative were welcomed with open arms. Even today, that’s the way I think of the United States, faithful to the inscription on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Margot Hamilton, of Williamsville, is grateful to the United States for rewarding her hard work and initiative.