Long-overdue diploma

Guenter Burkhardt is a college graduate at age 81.

Burkhardt, who owns Good Earth Organics in Lancaster, finished school at 19. But he didn't receive his diploma until last month, when his German university mailed it to him 62 years late.

Burkhardt, who spoke to The Buffalo News for an article running Sunday, said he finished his course work at a school in Lower Saxony in February 1951.

But he didn't stick around for the graduation ceremony, when he would have received his diploma.

The missing document bothered him until finally, in January, he called his alma mater.

“I contacted the university. They said, 'This is too long ago. We don't keep records that long,' ” Burkhardt said.

But the records of the State of Lower Saxony, or Niedersachsen, went back further, and the bureaucrats there dug up his diploma and mailed it to him.

The certificate – or “prufungszeugnis” – lists his major as “gartner,” or horticulture. It spells his name “Günter,” which is how Burkhardt wrote it until he arrived in the United States, at 22, and immigration officials added the “e” when they couldn't type the umlaut above the “u.”

Burkhardt has the diploma in a plastic sleeve tacked to his wall.

“I had tears in my eyes,” he said of first pulling it out of the envelope, “because that is something I always wanted.”

How does his garden grow?

The garden of Lockport Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano is featured in a recent issue of the magazine Upstate Gardeners Journal. Ottaviano said the photos of his backyard were taken last summer, after a crisis. “The week before the photo shoot, five deer got into my backyard and ate everything around my pond. My wife and I went out and spent $1,000 replacing everything,” Ottaviano said.

“How about the deer lick in your backyard?” Alderman John Lombardi III asked.

No respect

Buffalonians haven't fared well in the monthly “60 Minutes”/Vanity Fair poll.

Last April, 36 percent of those polled said Millard Fillmore, our 13th president, never occupied the White House.

And last November, 1 percent of those polled identified Michael Tilson Thomas, who led the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra during the 1970s, as President Abraham Lincoln's assassin.

Now, a poll in the March issue of the magazine asked: Who is Harvey Weinstein?

We know him as a former UB student who started his career in show business as a concert promoter here. And 21 percent of those polled did accurately identify Weinstein as an Oscar-winning producer. But 59 percent didn't know or didn't answer.

And 10 percent thought he was Jimmy Stewart's imaginary rabbit friend from the movie “Harvey.”

Courtroom dialogue

Cocaine salesman James Puckett found some of Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas' questions challenging in court last week.

“Have you consumed alcohol in the last 24 hours?” the judge asked, one of her standard questions for defendants who, like Puckett, are pleading guilty.

There was a pause. “He had to think about it,” the judge noted .

But Puckett finally answered no.

“Have you ingested any illegal drugs in the last 24 hours?” Farkas asked.

Another pause. “I saw the eyes roll back,” Farkas said.

Puckett said he had smoked marijuana two days previously.

“Have you ingested any other illegal drugs in the 24 hours?” Farkas asked.

“Not that I know of,” Puckett said.

On further review, Puckett recalled taking some drugs the day before.

“Well, you don't look like you're under the influence of drugs today, unlike some other times when you came to court and I sent you home,” the judge said.

“You sent him to jail,” defense attorney James J. Faso Jr. said.

“Well, that's like home,” she replied.

By Stephen T. Watson with contributions from Thomas J. Prohaska. email: