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Another Voice: Ralph Wilson's bequest endows stronger communities

By David Egner

The late Ralph C. Wilson Jr., longtime owner of the Buffalo Bills and Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee, cared deeply about helping others. With a humble, low-key approach and Rust Belt spirit, he touched lives and championed the common man.

Ralph’s widow, Mary, remembers a morning in Miami leading up to Super Bowl XXIX in 1995 when her husband, on the spur of the moment, asked their breakfast waitress if she would like a ticket to the game. “Ralph enjoyed making a difference, in big ways,” Mary remembers. “He took pleasure in the unexpected and always sought to bring others joy.”

Ralph Wilson also strengthened communities, in particular Detroit, his hometown, and Buffalo, his adopted hometown, building connections, overcoming barriers and bringing people together.

Wednesday’s announcement that the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation will invest $200 million in parks and trails in Western New York and Southeast Michigan to celebrate what would have been Mr. Wilson’s 100th birthday further reinforces his lasting impact on the two communities he loved.

The announcement follows a series of recent parks and trails grants, including a $6.5 million grant to help complete the Niagara River Greenway Shoreline Trail, and the Empire State Trail.

This new round of funding will be split evenly, dedicating $100 million to each region. And it will help support the creation and sustainability of two signature legacy parks on either side of Lake Erie – including LaSalle Park, the City of Buffalo’s largest waterfront park – and surrounding trail systems.

Through the years, many individuals, organizations and benefactors have worked hard to develop LaSalle Park. Today, the City of Buffalo and others – including the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute – continue their efforts to make this a community-driven vision. The same can be said for the groundwork laid in Western New York’s burgeoning trail system, with countless groups having toiled to build and maintain trails that have the potential to connect us all. Mr. Wilson’s generosity will now help further fuel this noble effort.

The funds set up an opportunity to reach more than a half-billion dollars in direct investment and economic development – all while contributing to the construction and improvement of more than 250 miles of trails in coming years.

The foundation is excited to continue building on Ralph Wilson Jr.’s legacy of community impact and giving. Especially when it relates to the potential enhancement of infrastructure that will foster and encourage physical activity, healthy lifestyles and an appreciation for nature. It is truly amazing how the contributions of one extraordinary man can make a lasting difference for us all.

David Egner is president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation.

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