NORTH TONAWANDA – The East Hill foundation, created by the family of the man famous for inventing the implantable pacemaker, has left Williamsville and moved to a bigger place on the Niagara River, where it is developing a more public mission for giving away its millions.
“It’s a dream of mine. It’s my hometown,” said Ami Greatbatch, daughter-in-law of the late Wilson Greatbatch, at a news conference at the Island Street waterfront Monday morning. She and a small crowd of local officials stood by ceremonial golden groundbreaking shovels in an empty building that her husband, Warren, once used to restore antique boats and motors.
Construction crews have now begun to turn the boat garage into headquarters and offices for seven. The expanded and converted space is expected to be finished for less than $1 million and ready sometime in January for staff and board members who have been looking at new ways to give away money and help their community.
The Island Street property, with docks and a lighthouse built in 1999, has a dining room and porch with wicker furniture and was a gathering place for wedding and holiday parties.
Even though the foundation aims to use it more than the family had been, the change made Warren Greatbatch nostalgic.
“Once it’s owned by the charity, you can’t use it for private purposes … I have mixed feelings,” he said, with a smile. “Once you get over the selfish part of it, it’s very positive.”
Greatbatch family members are: the five children of Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch; their spouses; and 25 grandchildren and spouses. Some serve on the board. All can find charitable projects to champion with foundation money.East Hill’s new North Tonawanda approach includes donating an annual $50,000 to charities in the city. The sum is a close match for the tax revenue lost by converting the Island Street property into a nonprofit foundation.
This summer, the water-protection-organization Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper used the docks for a kayak tour of the Niagara River. Another nonprofit, Excalibur, which specializes in boat excursions for people with handicaps, has been planning to use the docks.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Warren Greatbatch said. “Boring people don’t do this kind of work.”