April 17, 1957 – Aug. 15, 2018
Jeff Biehler had a boundless store of energy.
He played tennis year-round. He went skiing and snowboarding out West. And most of all, he loved kiteboarding, a watersport that lets you take to the air.
He kept a board on top of his car. When conditions were right, he would leave his shop, Biehler's Village Square Liquors in the Village of Hamburg, and head for the beach in Hamburg Town Park, 10 minutes away.
"He had a weather app on his computer," said his brother, Michael Biehler, an attorney and associate Hamburg Village Justice. "If the wind was up, he was going to the water. He'd go out in October and November in his dry suit, when the wind was really screaming. He preferred the challenge of a really windy day."
He died unexpectedly Aug. 15 while he was kiteboarding off Hamburg Town Beach. He was 61.
Born in Buffalo, Jeffrey M. Biehler was the second of four children in a family that had been part of Hamburg's commercial life since the early 1900s.
His great-grandfather built a village movie theater, the Palace. After it was destroyed by fire, he rebuilt it across Buffalo Street in its current location. For many years, his grandfather and grandmother operated the theater and, across the street from it, Biehler's Tea Room, a popular spot for teens.
His grandfather also established what is now the Hamburg Village Shopping Center on Buffalo Street in the 1950s. It included Sieder Liquors, which opened in 1957. When Mr. Biehler's father, George, bought the store in 1959, he kept the original name until the plaza and its signage were renovated in 1986.
Mr. Biehler worked in the store while he was attending Hamburg High School. A 1975 graduate, he played on the varsity football team, which was undefeated in his senior year, and was a sprinter and a pole vaulter on the track team.
Where he excelled, however, was as a diver on the swimming team. He set school records that stood for many years. He went to Colgate University on an athletic scholarship as a diver and completed a bachelor's degree in business in 1979.
At Colgate, he also began playing Ultimate Frisbee.
"It was a club sport then," his brother Michael said. "He brought that sport back home with him. Jeff and I played every summer at the high school on Wednesday nights for 42 years straight."
After college, Mr. Biehler spent summers in Nantucket, Mass., where he worked in restaurants and a liquor store when he wasn’t windsurfing.
The winters took him to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where he worked in restaurants and became an avid skier. He returned to Hamburg in the fall of 1981 to join his father’s business. He took over operation of the store in 1988 and expanded it twice.
He knew Karen Hovey as a customer at the store, then went on a blind date with her in 1982. They were married in 1985 and were parents of three girls. He died two days before their 33rd wedding anniversary.
A virologist at Oishei Children's Hospital, Mrs. Biehler will head operations at the store, with her daughters' help.
"It’s always been a family affair," his brother Michael said, "and it will remain a family affair."
Mr. Biehler was active in the community and a supporter of charitable causes.
He was a member of the Village Business Advisory Council and Hamburg Council 2220, Knights of Columbus. He also was a founding member of the Hamburg Oktoberfest Committee.
"You rely on business people," said Jeff Leyonmark, who worked with him on Oktoberfest, "and he played a trusted role as a fiduciary expert with ticket sales. He was really important in the success of the event."
"He was heavily involved in a lot of community events,” said Jamie Decker, marketing director for the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce, "either with donations or putting up a poster in the store window. He would donate items or gift cards. He was always happy to do that."
He helped organize events with the WNY Sailboarders Association to raise money for Camp Good Days and Special Times. He also was involved with cleanup efforts at Hamburg Town Beach and was an integral presence among windsurfers and kiteboarders there, teaching techniques and offering rides.
"He abundantly lived life well and to the fullest," his daughter Kaitlyn said.
Survivors include two other daughters, Kendra Biehler and Kelly Kowalski; a sister, Bonnie Brown; and a step-granddaughter.
A celebration of his life will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 26, in the Knights of Columbus Hall, 36 Pierce Ave., Hamburg.