A million dollars from the trusts of two of Ralph C. Wilson Jr.'s daughters, both deceased, will go toward a relocated Barkyard, Buffalo's first dog park, and a planned entry garden by a pedestrian bridge that will be built in the park named in his honor.
In addition, $300,000 a year will go to the Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy, now being established, to support the maintenance of the garden and seasonal plantings at Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park.
The grant will cover the costs of designing and building a “signature” pedestrian bridge to connect the new Centennial Park to the adjacent
"I think this will be a great tribute to Dee Dee and Linda, and to Ralph's love for them," Mary Wilson, Ralph Wilson's widow, said of Edith "Dee Dee" Wilson and Linda Bogdan.
Wilson, a life trustee and board chair of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, said Covid-19 has demonstrated how much the public seeks the outdoors.
"Covid has brought greater light on how important parks and recreation and getting out and exercising is," she said.
On what would have been Ralph Wilson’s 100th birthday, his foundation will announce what will be the largest philanthropic gift ever made in Western New
The trusts were set up by Ralph Wilson, the founding owner of the Buffalo Bills, for his daughters prior to his death in March 2014.
Bogdan, who died in April 2009 at age 61, was the first female scout in the National Football League. She was also a vice president and assistant director of college and pro scouting for the Buffalo Bills during her 22 years with the team.
Dee Dee Wilson, who died in January 2020 at age 68, was a caregiver to her mother and to Wilson as he aged, and the two often traveled together and enjoyed playing tennis.
The two women, like their father, were avid tennis players. The trusts from the two women will also provide $125,000 annually across the region for youth tennis programming, court maintenance and capital repairs of courts.
The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is working with Project Play Western New York partners and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy on a plan to resurface courts and offer tennis programming.
“What Ralph brought here and what Ralph continues to bring here is truly mind-boggling to me,” Mary Wilson said of her late
The 90-acre park, formerly named LaSalle Park, will be transformed through the foundation's $50 million commitment, including a $10 million endowment, announced in 2018. The foundation also announced that day, on what would have been Ralph Wilson's 100th birthday, $50 million toward a regional trail system, also including a $10 million endowment.
The Barkyard's new location is being designed, along with the rest of the park, by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. The new topography will include lawn, gravel and other materials to make it more interesting for pets and people than its current location, which becomes a mud pit in winter.
ADA-accessible paths, benches, drinking fountains with dog bowls and plantings for shade and comfort are also planned.
The entry garden is expected to have an expansive view of Lake Erie.
“On behalf of the residents of Buffalo and Western New York, I once again thank the Wilson family for their continued generosity, which is driving the creation of Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Centennial Park," Mayor Byron Brown said.
The park's transformation is expected to be completed in 2024.
"Buffalo is a better place because of the Wilson family, and we are extremely grateful,” Brown said.
Mark Sommer covers preservation, development, the waterfront, culture and more. He's also a former arts editor at The News.