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Mark E. Hamister, founder, CEO and chairman of the Hamister Group

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Mark Hamister, founder, chairman and CEO of the Hamister Group, has died.

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Oct. 18, 1951 - Aug. 20, 2021

Mark E. Hamister used "maxed out credit cards and a dream" to strike his first business deal in the late 1970s, and almost bought the Buffalo Sabres in 2002, on his way to building a company with more than 500 people and annual revenues of more than $80 million, his son, Daniel, told The Buffalo News Saturday night.

Loans from his father and uncle helped him buy that first assisted living facility in 1977, which he bought from a religious institution.

"What they cared about was the character of the person," his son said. "They didn't really care about money or anything else." 

Mr. Hamister, founder, chairman and CEO of the Hamister Group, died Friday after a brief illness. He was 69.

Daniel Hamister, who has served as executive vice president and chief investment officer at the Hamister Group, will take over as company president and CEO. His succession had been in the works for a decade and he was slated to take the helm Nov. 1.

The Lafayette Square-headquartered company specializes in hotels and assisted living residences. Its 19 holdings include the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Buffalo, Hyatt Place in Niagara Falls, Doubletree Inn in Jamestown, Brompton Heights senior living residence in Williamsville and Orchard Heights senior living in Orchard Park.

Mr. Hamister made a bid to buy the Buffalo Sabres hockey team nearly two decades ago after owner John Rigas was forced to sell the team after the bankruptcy of his Adelphia Communications Corp., a development that could have taken the team away from Buffalo. Creditors accepted a bid from Mr. Hamister but his partner pulled out late in negotiations and Rochester businessman B. Thomas Golisano bought the team instead.

Mr. Hamister, born in Kenmore, also owned two Arena Football League teams, the Buffalo Destroyers from 1998 to 2003 and the Rochester Brigade from 2001 to 2003.

He was mostly known in the region, however, for the businesses he built. The first assisted living facility led to the purchase of others, and the company grew into National Health Care Affiliates, which had nearly 40 businesses in six states and annual sales exceeding $100 million. It made the Inc. 500 List five times.

In recent years, he and his son also have taken a lead role in the transfer of Westwood Country Club to the Town of Amherst in exchange for launching $300 million in proposed private and public development on 38 acres of town-owned sports fields that include a portion of the Audubon Golf Course.

Daniel Hamister left his father's company for a few years to work at a real estate investment trust so that he "could learn not to be the boss's son."

"But I learned a hundred times more by working alongside him," he said Saturday night, "and those are times that I'm gonna miss." 

Mr. Hamister's daughter Katie Hamister is executive director of the Hamister Family Foundation, which serves nonprofits in education, health care and economic growth.

"Philanthropy has been a part of both our work and family values forged by our father," she said.

Brian Lipke, chairman and CEO at Gibraltar Industries, was a friend and colleague of Mr. Hamister for 30 years, investing in a number of his real estate projects and spending two decades on his board of directors.

Mr. Lipke spoke of Hamister's membership of the Group of 18, an informal group of local organizational leaders started by late M&T Bank Chairman Bob Wilmers and the late Buffalo News Publisher Stanford Lipsey, which influenced decision-making in Buffalo and significantly shaped the city.

"He was very active in politics in Western New York and supported numerous candidates on both sides of the aisle in an effort to put the best candidates in office and make Western New York as good a place as it could possibly be," Lipke said.

Lipke described Mr. Hamister as very generous and charitable, and a "consummate businessman" who had "a quiet way of supporting issues and making things happen."

When deals in their early stages were not working out well, Hamister used money of his own to compensate shareholders instead of letting them take the hit.

"That’s a very rare characteristic in a businessman," Lipke said, "but his ethics and reputation meant more to him than money. He was a very humble guy."

A snowbird, Mr. Hamister loved the beach and bought his first Florida home in 2001. He spent the summers in the Buffalo area and in a beachfront home in Canada, and eventually became a Florida resident with a home on Highland Beach. He was also a faithful parishioner at St. Gregory's Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, Fla.

Mr. Hamister received numerous public awards, including the Buffalo Business First Lifetime Achievement Award, Junior Achievement Hall of Fame Laureate, and Entrepreneur of the Year for New York State. He was a member or chairman of several boards in Western New York and Florida, including those at the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, the UB Foundation, the Miami Transplant Institute, Buffalo Public Schools Foundation, the Empire State Development Corp., the Rochester Institute of Technology and Shea's Performing Arts Center.

Mr. Hamister was predeceased by his wife, Sharon, and a brother. He is survived by his mother, Jane Hall Hamister; two brothers; three children; and four grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

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