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I’m seventh-generation Buffalo and a prodigal son. I left more than a decade ago with my Canisius College degree in search of greener pastures. I still remember my Grandma Jan telling me, “You should grow where you’re planted,” or Paula DeMarco’s sage words, “One day you will be back; you belong here.” They were right.

Returning now from sunny Arizona, I’m frequently asked, “Why on earth would you leave Phoenix for Buffalo?” Too often my response is some cliché: the Bills, Bocce’s Pizza, Anchor Bar wings or a white Christmas. While these things are wonderful, they are not what make Buffalo great. It has taken a little time to recognize it, but what makes Buffalo great, snow and all, is its character.

If I’d paid closer attention, I would have noticed our character immediately. On my first weekend back, I attended the Buffalo Rugby Club’s annual banquet. Even though I didn’t know many people, I instantly felt at home. Jeff Qualey even gave me a spot on his couch, in spite of an “alleged” incident with fire.

This is the same club that showed up shorthanded at Delaware Park in April battling rain, 40 mph winds and wind chills near zero. It’s the kind of day that characterless people mail in, but not the men of Buffalo. I’ve never been so proud. We flat out grinded. No championship was won that day. It was just another weekend at our beloved Delaware Park, where our club made many small choices in support of the collective belief that you never leave your teammates on the field.

If I’d paid closer attention, I would have noticed the same collective effort of this community at the Ride for Roswell last year. It is a true testament to our community of neighbors. From the staff and countless volunteers, to the riders and the people we ride to honor, this event is truly an example of the very best of Buffalo. The entire community came together behind a cause that crosses every line. I cannot wait to ride again later this month and I hope you come out and join us.

If I’d paid closer attention, I would have noticed the way we have rallied behind the Kelly and Sauer families. Countless prayers and support have been offered up for their plights. I’m reminded of a man named Paul who, imprisoned before his death, said, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith …” Faith is the cornerstone of character. For those praying for a miracle, know you are witnessing one. The miracle is the faith and resolve these families are demonstrating. Rest in peace, Ben Sauer.

If I’d paid closer attention, I would have noticed Kenmore and the Wellness Institute of Buffalo in their bid for All-America City honors. What makes a city All-American? I sure hope character is a requirement. After all, it is foundational to the liberty that defines America.

Take a quick look at the examples of Buffalo’s character I’ve mentioned. None of them required government influence, a political party or mandate. They grew in the soil of the self-governed character of this community. Win or lose, we are All-American not because of what we do, but because of who we are.

I’m paying attention now, Buffalo. Are you? The next time someone asks why I came home or, better yet, why I stay, I’ll proudly answer, because Buffalo has character. A character demonstrated in small things never seen, that we do every day.