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Sandra Sheldon, 79, first woman to serve on ECC Board of Trustees

June 1, 1940 – Nov. 4, 2019

Sandra “Sandee” Sheldon, the first woman to serve on the Erie Community College Board of Trustees, had a passion for details on a grand scale.

According to her son Alan, she considered her greatest achievement to be the 1984 Buffalo Philharmonic Ball, which she oversaw as chairman.

Under the theme, “Dancin’ Downtown,” it was an extravaganza of three simultaneous events around Fountain Plaza, featuring the Jimmy Dorsey, Tito Puente and Duke Ellington orchestras playing at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo and in the lobbies of what were then the Goldome and Norstar banks.

It also included a nightlong cabaret with local performers in the Hyatt, a preball patron dinner with music by the Philharmonic and decor in all three venues paying tribute to the orchestra and its history.

In a congratulatory letter afterward, Robert D. Gioia, then president of the orchestra, described the evening as “a high point for the Buffalo Philharmonic.”

She died on Nov. 4, her 57th wedding anniversary, under hospice care in Sandy Springs, Ga., after a long illness. She was 79.

Born Sandra Weinstein in Buffalo, she attended School 66 and was a 1958 graduate of Bennett High School, where she was a Voice of Democracy contest winner.

After a year at the University of Michigan, she completed her bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Buffalo in 1961 and married Donald P. Sheldon the following year. She taught kindergarten for two years at School 19, then left teaching to raise her family.

Her husband, one of the area’s foremost bankruptcy attorneys, was a statewide United Way chairman and was active in the Republican Party. They hosted many dignitaries in their Amherst home, including Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.

When one of the original ECC board members, Max E. Bretschger, stepped down in 1972, he wrote to County Executive Edward V. Regan that it would be “advisable to have a woman on the board, considering that over 40% of the students are female and should have representation.”

Mrs. Sheldon was 32 when Regan named her to the board. He said she would offer a fresh and youthful perspective.

She served as board secretary and vice chair, then in 1982 became the first woman to chair the board. She retired from the board in 1985.

During her tenure, ECC acquired the landmark Old Post Office building in downtown Buffalo and converted it into the college’s City Campus.

Beginning in 1978, she served two terms on the board of directors of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. She chaired the Agencies Division in the 1985 campaign and the Public Services Division in 1986.

She was a member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra board of directors. In the 1970s and 1980s, she also served on the boards of the Kadimah School, the United Jewish Federation and the Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo.

She became director of development for the Jewish Center of Greater Buffalo in 1987 and held that post for three years.

At Kadimah, she co-chaired the Israeli Folk Festival in 1974 at Kleinhans Music Hall and a performance by the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Lukas Foss, in 1975.

She chaired the Early Childhood Committee at the Jewish Center and was a founder of the Jewish Service League. In 1974, she served as an auctioneer in the annual Channel 17 Auction. She also was a member of the Curtain Raisers group at the Studio Arena Theatre.

For her community service, she was presented with the Ruth and Milton Kahn Leadership Award by the United Jewish Federation in 1975 and was honored by the YMCA of Greater Buffalo in 1986.

In the 1990s, she designed jewelry and applied her passion for detail to the creation of elaborate dollhouses after her husband bought her one as a present on their wedding anniversary.

“She had the artwork she collected made into miniature copies that she put into the dollhouses,” her son said. “That’s how detail-oriented she was.”

Her houses were featured in the July-August 1998 issue of Miniature Collector magazine, which noted that she made the needlepoint rugs and beaded curtains for her dollhouses and copied the wallpaper from her home in three different sizes.

She and her husband retired in 1999 to Scottsdale, Ariz., taking their grandchildren on trips throughout the Western states and traveling extensively around the world. They moved to Georgia in 2016.

Survivors also include another son, James P.; a daughter, Jill Sheldon Brown; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Dec. 15 in Sunrise Huntcliff Summit II, Sandy Springs, Ga.

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