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May 31, 1934 – Feb. 17, 2014

Owen Burke Glaser, former director of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, died Monday in Beechwood Continuing Care Center. He was 79.

Born in Buffalo, he grew up in the Fruit Belt neighborhood, and graduated from McKinley High School. He was later drafted into the Army where he served as a medic at Fort Devens in Massachusetts.

Mr. Glaser credits the beginning of his interest in gardening and horticulture with the gift of a book, “Wise Garden Encyclopedia,” that he received at 8 years old. His mentors, family friend Fred Griener and McKinley High School instructor Tobbio Martino, helped him develop his knowledge and skill.

At 18, he worked at Ellicott Creek Park and later at Grover Cleveland Golf Course and South Park. In 1964, he was named head grower at South Park and later was named specialist of Horticulture Management for South Park and the Botanical Gardens. In 1971, Mr. Glaser was named director of the Botanical Gardens.

One of the most memorable moments in his career occurred during the Blizzard of ’77. With oil to heat the Gardens running dangerously low, Mr. Glaser drove a snowplow through otherwise impassable streets to an oil delivery truck stuck on William Street, only to discover that the brakes of the oil truck were damaged because of the ice and snow. He drove the dump truck close in front of the oil truck and plowed the way back to the Gardens, just in time to save one of Buffalo’s great treasures from total loss. His efforts were described in the book “Black Death” – a compilation of blizzard stories – and in The Buffalo Evening News.

Mr. Glaser was also noted for the elaborate mum shows he designed and set up with pompon-sized blooms filling several greenhouses. In addition, he was instrumental in beginning the use of the Gardens for weddings and special events.

Mr. Glaser was very active with his church, The Tabernacle of Orchard Park, where he served as an elder and an usher. He took mission trips to Honduras and Romania to help construct buildings and volunteered at St. Luke’s inner city mission to help distribute food. Most notably, Mr. Glaser was director of the food pantry for The Tabernacle from 1999 to 2007.

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Delores “Dollie” Highland; two sons, Burke Michael and Kevin Neal; and six granddaughters.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m., Saturday at Life Church, 4928 Seneca St., West Seneca.