The Buffalo News - My View Latest stories from The Buffalo News en-us Sat, 12 Jul 2014 01:35:26 -0400 Sat, 12 Jul 2014 01:35:26 -0400 <![CDATA[ Judith Whitehead: Parents need to help children find their way ]]>
When I started school back in the 1950s, those children were classified, unfortunately, as troubled and defiant kids and were treated with punishment and displeasure. No one had a clue what was going on in their confused and tortured minds while they were trying to fit in with the “normal” kids – whatever that means.

We have come a long way since those years, but we still have a long way to go to improve how these special children are handled and rewarded for their gifts, which often go untapped.

More than 20 years ago, my husband and I lived the nightmare of having a son diagnosed with ADHD. During his elementary school years, the teachers were very nurturing and encouraging. But when he moved to middle school and high school, the whole picture began to change.

There are supposedly many teachers who are trained to deal with children who need to learn in a special way. But we found that those who could both educate and nurture a child with special needs were few and far between. Many teachers seemed to feel punishment was the way to win a child over. We spent many sleepless nights, initiated many meetings and called the School Board on the carpet many times for not sticking to a lesson plan that would help educate our son.

Children who are a square peg trying to fit into a round hole aren’t the norm for school, and many teachers have a very hard time making school a challenging and rewarding place for them.

Every child has a gift of some sort and trying to find that gift and encourage it is the path to learning. We found that our son had an innate gift for music and an ear to play guitar. Many children with ADHD excel in hands-on learning. Thank God for the Internet and YouTube because watching videos and learning how to accomplish things helped grow his knowledge in many areas.

My son is a hands-on learner, but conventional schools no longer encourage that. The trades are falling by the wayside. These kids need to know that they can excel in many areas; they need to realize there is a place in this world to show their gifts.

Parents must help their children find their way; whatever helps them succeed is worth the effort. Much to our worry, my son decided to venture out in his 20s to pursue his dream. He left with all that he could carry in his car and drove out West. He became very proficient in refurbishing musical instruments, such as guitars – all self-taught through trial and error. He had the confidence he could succeed and so did we. It was a gutsy thing to do and we could not be more proud of him. He has made a name for himself in California as being a top luthier.

We encouraged his gifts all through his growing up years and made sure he knew he would be a success some day in a field he was comfortable with. Unfortunately, the schools he attended here did nothing to encourage that. We as parents must take on that duty. My heart goes out to all those parents who are struggling with their children, because many days are an uphill battle. Look for the little rewards in each day; they will give you the strength to carry on. ]]>
Fri, 11 Jul 2014 14:31:49 -0400
<![CDATA[ Kenneth Holley: Powerful storyteller captivates audience ]]>
On a hot and humid day, our family was touring Washington, D.C. As the sweat poured off of us, I didn’t really care which building we went into. I just needed some place to escape the sun and heat.

As we walked, I spotted a poster on the wall. It featured a picture of an African-American woman who is a storyteller. My wife looked at the flyer and recognized the name, Jackie Torrence.

Torrence is a librarian-turned-storyteller from North Carolina. I had seen her books in the bookstore. This was it – my escape from the heat. And I knew the children would love her. A smile spread across my face as I thought of the air conditioner, comfy seats and some place I could close my eyes for an hour. As we walked into the room, you could feel the sweat leaving our bodies. The seats were so comfortable, I was wishing for some very long stories.

Torrence came out in a motorized chair without any props or papers in her hand. I was just hoping and praying that she would keep the children’s attention. As for me, I relaxed in my seat and hoped they would dim the lights.

As the first story about Brer Rabbit elicited laughter from the audience, I couldn’t keep Torrence’s voice out of my mind and I found myself looking at her different facial expressions. There was something special about how these stories came at you. I was getting mad at myself because I was really paying attention to these stories instead of taking a nap.

The second story was a historical tale and then came a reflection from the Civil Rights Movement. Suddenly she said something that made me sit up. “I will now do a scary story. Can you please lower the lights?”

This was it – when the lights were turned down, I sank back in my chair and closed my eyes. This was the moment I had been waiting for all afternoon. Now if this could just be a long story.

Then I heard her voice again and I opened my eyes and there she was, just as she had been for all of the stories, sitting there with her whole face becoming part of the story. As I looked around, every man, woman and child had eyes on this storyteller. I sat there also listening and looking at this lady tell her story.

She had warned us that it was a scary story, so I expected the “boo!” at the end, but when she said it, I jumped in my seat and felt a chill going down my spine. I quickly looked around, hoping no one saw me jump, but all eyes were still on the stage.

On the way out, the girls were saying how scared they were and my wife stated it even got to her. I just walked out and didn’t say a word.

I didn’t get my nap that day because I was held captive and molded in the palms of a storyteller’s hand with her voice. I would never admit to anyone how a woman sitting in a chair with just her voice and facial expressions made me, a grown man, almost jump out of my seat. That’s when I recognized the power of the story and the storyteller. ]]>
Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:29:55 -0400
<![CDATA[ Bill Nowak: Everyone should have great friend like mine ]]>
His gifts are usually of a home-made variety, involving both thought and action on his part. Somewhere in those 40-plus years, he started taking a weekly woodworking class. Soon he got to be good at producing first-rate frames. Around various holidays, friends and I would receive framed mementos with personal meaning on subjects like things we’d done together, nature, iconic windmills and places we loved.

In recent decades, Rick started getting good at photography. Soon we’d get exquisite pictures of trees, or landscapes from Italy. When he went through his “ivy on Buffalo buildings” period, that made for some really superb shots. He also would do public art shows, giving the gift of beauty and insight to a wide audience. A good example was the stunning and educational display of tree photos spread out on the walls of Merge restaurant several years ago.

When we both started having kids, they spent a lot of time together and Rick and I are happy that they’re still close today, even though they all live in different cities (including one in Buffalo, I’m happy to say).

We established a great practice – probably proposed by Rick – of taking our munchkins camping in the deep woods every year, giving our wives a richly deserved rest. On the anniversary of 30 years of friendship, Rick gave me a beautifully framed picture of us and our six young’uns, standing happily at a remote campsite. It sits on my dresser as I write.

Then there was the time I was informed on Christmas Eve that I had lost my job with the City Council as part of a political power grab. Rick went after the new Council leaders, giving them a piece of his mind and making sure they wrote a good reference letter for me in the process.

Rick’s the guy who usually brings a batch of chocolate chip cookies to potluck dinners we have with our friends, in addition to whatever he and Ann have pledged to bring.

So I was very happy, but not surprised, when something recently jumped out at me in The Buffalo News. I was eyeing the Jumble and the Cryptoquip, wondering if I’d have enough time to get them done, when I spotted a legal notice. It was from the Buffalo Schools, seeking proposals to put solar panels on the roofs of 20 district schools. You see, Rick has been part of the Sierra Club’s Energy Committee and has been working patiently with the School Board to do a transformative solar project to cut greenhouse gases before it’s too late and to expose Buffalo’s students to this clean technology of the future.

This is a gift that will be enjoyed by thousands of young minds as they discover the magic of producing electrical energy from a ray of light. It will inspire generations to come, as humanity faces up to what will be an increasingly urgent need to transition to truly clean energy.

In a perfect world, everybody would be surrounded by Ricks. There would be no room for war in that world. ]]>
Tue, 8 Jul 2014 16:29:51 -0400
<![CDATA[ Deborah A. Dickinson-Deacon: Allure of red shoes too strong to ignore ]]>
I’ll admit it – I’m more than 50 years old, so I’m limited in what I may wear. Gone are my days of owning and wearing 3-inch stiletto heels in every color of the rainbow. Imelda Marcos had me outnumbered by only a dozen or so shoes. In the 1980s I thoroughly believed in the motto, “dress for success.” I still have two pairs of shoes from that period of time. Both were made in Italy, where the best genuine leather shoes are made. My mustard-colored Salvatore Ferragamo loafers, a gift from my mom, are the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned.

I also have four-color pumps (with red pointed toes, yellow trim around the ankles, blue sides and lime green heels) with 2-inch heels that are so unique, I still receive compliments when I wear them. My husband recently bought me bronze-colored SAS loafers, which I would normally equate with acknowledging my age (being orthopedic), but they make my feet look tiny and I adore them.

Back to my quest. I was about to admit defeat when a pair of shoes sang out to me – not “Blue Suede Shoes,” but “Lady in Red.” Bright, shiny red (faux patent-leather – they can’t all be Italian) sling-backed shoes with 1.5-inch heels and a bow on the front. There was the perfect combination of sweetness and sophistication calling my name. After trying them on, no further convincing was necessary; I had to have them. The clerk looked at my shoes and surprised me by asking if I would consider delaying my purchase for one week. I wanted to wear the shoes back to work and show them off. But she told me they were scheduled to be discounted another 25 percent. Style, comfort and a sale price – this was a triple enticement. Of course I could wait the week!

Red shoes are second only to a little red dress. Black or brown shoes are all-purpose. White shoes are for spring/summer and weddings. Blue shoes are for business (for women). But red shoes say, “positive outlook, bright future and invincible” to me. Consider Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.” She was told by Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, that as long as she wore those “ruby slippers,” the Wicked Witch of the West could not harm her.

The June/July edition of AARP The Magazine offered women over 50 plenty of encouragement with an article written by Simon Doonan, creative ambassador for Barneys New York. In “Dress Your Age? No Way!” he states that, “Sophisticate style is about looking turned out and glamorous,” and “A Sophisticate … is unapologetically addicted to shoes.”

So now I’m wearing my newfound red shoes to church and work several times a week. When I come home from work, I walk through the back door and gently kick off my heels. I am greeted by my husband and throw my arms around his neck, kiss him three times and state, very seriously, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”

As for my mission to find navy blue pumps, in the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “After all, tomorrow is another day.” ]]>
Mon, 7 Jul 2014 14:21:29 -0400
<![CDATA[ Frank J. Dinan: From a different era, the trip of a lifetime ]]>
It was July 1947, and my friend, Bob, and I had just finished eighth grade. His father, a railroad conductor, arranged to smuggle his son and a friend onto a train to New York City as Bob’s graduation present. Luckily, he chose me to go with him. His dad gave us each $10 and then we were on our own in New York City. My, how parenting has changed.

We knew what we wanted do: go to a Yankees game, see the Empire State Building, visit Coney Island, eat in an Automat and travel using the subway system. We’d never seen a subway but knew of them from our favorite movie, King Kong. We thought that all we would have to do to get around was find a station and ask someone how to get where we wanted to go.

We quickly found that many of the people we asked either didn’t speak English, couldn’t be bothered with us or, instead, asked us how to get where they were going. After many false starts, we somehow managed to use the subways, but I still don’t know how.

We wanted to see the Empire State Building because that was where King Kong had climbed to swat down planes. It was a very impressive building, but, disappointingly to us, there was no plane swatting going on that day, so it was back on the subway for a trip to Yankee Stadium.

We bought bleacher seats at that fabled park and were thrilled to be where Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had played and to see Joe DiMaggio and Phil “Scooter” Rizzuto (my idol) play that day. I was confident then that Rizzuto was only holding down shortstop for the Yankees until I could take it over in a few more years. Several hot dogs later, we were back on the subway to Coney Island.

The elevated train we rode to get there was like the one that King Kong threw off the tracks in our favorite movie; we were disappointed that he didn’t show up that day. Coney Island’s legendary amusement rides were fun, but the boat trip to Crystal Beach was much more fun than the subway to Coney Island.

Another ride took us to legendary Times Square and to an Automat, the high-tech, fast-food restaurant of that time. You put a coin in a slot, a little glass door opened and you took your meal from it. Wow, we were impressed. I still remember that I had a hamburger and baked beans; yum.

One last goal remained for me. I had read everything that the author Damon Runyon wrote about New York. The musical “Guys and Dolls” is based on his work. His unforgettable characters hung out in a restaurant called Lindy’s; I had to see it. Bob and I thought we had enough money to eat there, but one look at its menu showed us that we had only enough left to split a dessert. I was satisfied, though. Lindy’s really existed and I had eaten where Runyon’s fabulous characters ate. Yet another thrill.

A walk back to Penn Station, a furtive entry onto an overnight train to Buffalo and two exhausted boys with empty wallets and full hearts went home after an unforgettable day, carrying memories that linger still. ]]>
Wed, 2 Jul 2014 17:17:47 -0400
<![CDATA[ Joseph Xavier Martin: Magic carpet ride of reading is still a joy ]]>
Science fiction captured my imagination early and firmly. Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clark, Frank Herbert and many other fabulists still hold my interest. J.K. Rowling is only the latest magical spellbinder.

Whole continents came within my reach from visits to dozens of libraries. Wilbur Smith, Robert Ruark and later Clive Cussler introduced me to the mysteries of the “dark continent,” Africa. Pearl Buck, James Clavell and many others delved into the mists of the faraway Orient. Colleen McCullough did a wonderful job showing us Australia.

The world wars of the 20th century proved a mother lode of great story tellers. James Jones, Leon Uris and others held up the tradition of rich narration that showed itself so well in Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” Many new writers like James Webb and Steven Banko have drawn for us the gripping battle scenes of the Vietnam War and conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

My favorite author is James Michener, whose epic narrative series entertained me with the in-depth histories of many areas of the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean and the Iberian Peninsula. Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Mayakovski and Pushkin played out the full grandeur of the Russian Experience before and after the fall of the tsars.

Edward Rutherfurd has several excellent volumes detailing the history of Britain. C.S. Forrester captured the rule Britannia era with his Hornblower series. Uris, James Joyce, Edward Rutherfurd, Morgan Llewellyn and scores of others revealed the history of those who came before me in the faraway misty isle of Eire.

James T. Farrell, William Martin, William Kennedy, Edwin O’Connor and others shined a sometimes amusing light on the Irish participation in the American political process. A list of offerings, too numerous to mention, detailed the sprawling history of the emerging American continent.

The poets, of course, examine the human condition. Shelly, Keats, Byron and the Lake poets waxed brightly in their lilting poems. Even dour Milton is of interest. Kipling introduced us to the British raj. In America, Wordsworth, Sandberg, Thoreau, Emerson and others speak from the past. Alec Ginsberg, E.E. Cummings, A.E. Robinson and many more take up their tradition in modern times.

I thank them all for their craftsmanship. They have much entertained me these many years and taught me how to connect a few words. I thank them all for their tutelage. God bless them every one, as the esteemed Dickens would say.

I still prowl the library stacks, looking for some undiscovered literary gem that will catapult me into a world or a place that I have not yet been. And I hope to find many more such treasures in the years ahead. I hope you do as well. ]]>
Thu, 3 Jul 2014 15:57:19 -0400
<![CDATA[ Sandy Barton: Good people fill lives with blessings ]]>
Seems like an innocent enough question, but in context, it was the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. It came from a high school friend I hadn’t seen for 45 years, and when she said it we all laughed and said, “In five words or less how’s your life?” We were in a restaurant, the noise level was high and they were just beginning to eat, so I opted not to go into great detail, but oh, how I wanted to say …

I’ve been home for four days after spending five days in Detroit for my son’s wedding. And though the music has stopped, I seem to still be dancing – dancing through the tables of precious family members, dancing past the crowds of lifelong friends, dancing on an invisible cloud of awe at what I had witnessed there. If I am really, really lucky, I can hang on to this abundant dose of happiness for the entire summer. The cast of characters was as nuclear as it was far-reaching, and the experience was as personal as it was universal.

I’m not sure how it came to be that I have been so blessed. I looked around at this gathering of people and wanted to freeze the moment. Our children have grown into humble, genuinely good human beings. Our friends and my kids’ friends reflect the loyalty and love you hope to cultivate throughout a lifetime. Our moments of pure joy were too numerous to count, but were links in a chain that kept growing and growing.

“What’s new?”

I wanted to say that I had just been to a Flag Day program at Holmes Elementary School that morning and was still reeling from the sentiment that spilled over on to every soul there. It was a sea of red, white and blue, of patriotic songs and of solemn tributes. And though these were elementary students, there was an undeniable maturity in their actions and their pride.

This is indeed a unique school, with a stellar staff, an insightful principal and a student population with heart. What a brilliant decision it was to keep Holmes open. The music was delicious, the essays were heartfelt and there were even a few lessons about our beautiful flag.

Firefighters, veterans and service members were on hand to join in the celebration. Finally, the dedication of a garden in memory of Mark Kaiser, a past principal at Holmes, was tender and so very touching. Again I took a look around, wishing to freeze the moment. Another link.

I wanted to say that although we’ve had our share of bumps in the road over the last year, I have faith. I have faith in us, and in all of those whose love supports and lifts us during those times, so much so that these celebrations of life and all that is good about it are allowed to bubble to the top. These are the things that remind me of why I smile, why the people in my life have such a profound impact upon my outlook.

I wanted to say, amazing as it may seem, I find myself constantly surrounded by good people, doing good things, making a difference in this crazy world and filling my life with such blessings that words just don’t do them justice.

So to all of the people I have the honor of sharing moments with, be they big moments or small, they all are significant links in my chain. I had only a short time to respond to my long-lost friend’s question, so I chose to simply say … I am happy. ]]>
Thu, 3 Jul 2014 15:39:49 -0400
<![CDATA[ Dale Zuchlewski: Our negative image can be changed ]]>
In the late 1960s my grammar school, School 79, was integrated during the forced busing era. While our school seemed diverse to us, our new schoolmates were being bused from the East Side. We were scared because of the demonstrations and riots going on in Buffalo at the time of racial unrest and protests over the Vietnam War. Those being bused into a new school and to what must have been perceived as a far-away neighborhood were equally scared.

The nervousness eventually turned into friendship over time, although there was still turmoil at some of the schools. Eventually forced busing was accepted, helped along by a national model of magnet schools.

Over the course of my lifetime I’ve seen various forms of racism and lack of acceptance of others who are “different.” Some relatives and acquaintances have expressed intolerance at times and working 10 years in the City of Buffalo Affirmative Action Office drove home the fact that while gains have been made since the ’60s, we still have work to do on the acceptance of those different from us.

Certainly, there has been increased integration of neighborhoods and suburban communities, but Buffalo is still a relatively segregated community. Acceptance of “mixed” marriages and same-sex couples is more widely spread, but again, there is still work to do.

Recognizing the work that still needs to be done, over 120 partner agencies and 5,000 individuals linked hands along the length of Ferry Street May 17 for Hands Across Buffalo, an event designed to celebrate our region’s diversity. Hands Across Buffalo had strangers not only linking hands, but speaking to one another, singing, dancing and laughing together as we showed not only Buffalo but the world that there are people united in the goal of acceptance of one another.

The positive feelings from this event still resonate today when people talk about it. A quote from one of the participants sums it up best: “I held hands with a stranger but left with a new friend.”

May 17 should go down in Buffalo history as such a positive event, but the disappointing part of Hands Across Buffalo was the relative lack of media coverage. The 5,000 people who gathered peacefully got less coverage than one ranting racist woman in a YouTube video or a misguided owner of a basketball team. The local media could have presented Buffalo as a national model for acceptance, but instead they chose to propagate a negative image of Buffalo by widely publicizing negative actions rather than positive.

I’ve always thought that the negativity that seems to reign in Buffalo has given us a “Charlie Brown mentality” that nothing can ever go right for us. If Lucy ever let Charlie Brown kick the football, it most certainly would go “wide right.”

The “official” Hands Across Buffalo video will be released shortly. When it is, this video needs to be as widely viewed as the ranting racist woman video. The seeds of how the world perceives Buffalo have been planted. Which seeds are going to be watered and nourished? You can determine how the rest of the world views Buffalo. ]]>
Wed, 2 Jul 2014 17:17:00 -0400
<![CDATA[ Julius P. McCann: Give veterans a break, stop using fireworks ]]>
My family knows something is going on, especially at this time of year. They see the anxiety and dread of the emotional roller coaster that is around the corner. The evening of July Fourth is always spent with the windows closed and the volume of the TV or stereo on high, as I try to distract myself from the bangs and booms from thousands of fireworks filling the night air. And it’s not just on the Fourth; fireworks have already started and will last for a week or more after the holiday.

For many combat veterans, fireworks resemble the sounds of small arms and machine gun fire, mortar and rocket attacks and exploding land mines. They trigger memories of the subsequent cries of pain, the silence of death, the smell of blood and the feelings of fear and anxiety. This is no way to live, no way to celebrate a national holiday and no way to treat our country’s veterans.

Give us a break, please. Let the towns, villages and Buffalo Bisons provide the fireworks displays. I can handle those because they happen in one location, from one direction, at a set time. I can control the anxiety, compartmentalize it and move on. But being surrounded by thousands of small explosions in rapid sequence makes this difficult. As a result, July Fourth is anything but a celebration.

People think of war as a distant event with a senseless loss of life. Most never know the truth of combat and what soldiers go through. It’s far uglier and bloodier than you can imagine; it’s scarier than your worst nightmare. When it’s over, we are different people. We leave it behind us the best we can. Some are successful, some are not. It doesn’t get easier as we get older, and fireworks make it worse.

Aren’t fireworks illegal in New York? Why is there no enforcement of the law? I recently received a mailer advertising fireworks for sale. I’m not a grumpy, old man who wants to suppress my neighbors’ right to celebrate our great country’s independence, I’m just a combat veteran who is tired of hiding from the ghosts of war.

Every year The Buffalo News runs an article about the danger of handling fireworks. Why not run an article about our veterans and the effects fireworks have on them? Out of respect for their service and post-traumatic stress, we as a community should refrain from using fireworks.

Americans were appalled to learn that veterans were dying while waiting for services from their local VA hospitals, and demanded that the quagmire and corruption be fixed. But that problem was caused by other people, and it’s easy to make demands of others. This is our problem. Correcting this disservice takes action on our part as individuals. You have to tell your kids, “no fireworks,” and ask your neighbors to please stop using them for veterans’ sake.

It takes a platoon to fight a war, bound by brotherhood, and a commitment to survive. It will take a community effort to bring the use of fireworks to a halt. Please join the effort. ]]>
Tue, 1 Jul 2014 16:53:50 -0400
<![CDATA[ Cathy Tallady: Optimism of the past appears to be fading ]]>
We define our beliefs in many ways, and one of the ways we express ourselves is reflected in the songs we sing, especially during wartime. Those songs, which I so clearly remember, have become more meaningful to me this year.

Thanks to my father, who served in World War I, I can repeat the lyrics to a special song of that time. Dad sang it around the campfire at our summer cottage. I can still hear his voice: “Keep the home fires burning, while our hearts are yearning. Though our lads are far away, they dream of home. There’s a silver lining, through the dark clouds shining …” I love the words. There’s hope within them and a yearning for a better world.

I was a teenager during World War II and the song I loved best was once again filled with hope. I associate it with D-Day. We recently commemorated its 70-year anniversary: “There’ll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, tomorrow when the world is free. There’ll be love and laughter and peace ever after.” It sometimes makes me cry to remember the optimism then, compared to what our world is like today.

Another song I recall from that war was sung about the Royal Air Force pilots who flew their planes over Germany from bases in England. It was a song of faith: “Coming in on a wing and a prayer. Coming in on a wing and a prayer. With our full crew aboard and our trust in the Lord …” Could God even be mentioned today without offending someone?

I don’t recall any songs from the war in Korea, and only one from Vietnam: “Pin silver wings on my son’s chest. Make him one of America’s best. He’ll be a man they’ll test one day. Have him win the Green Beret.” The theme this time was not one of hope and peace but a continuation of another generation that would go to war.

And sadly, no songs of hope have come from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’ve omitted the War of 1812, usually forgotten except for the song it inspired – our national anthem. It is a stirring song, but it’s hard for me to sing, and sometimes even professionals forget the words or try to vary the tune to their own liking. It again has an ending of hope that we will always be “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

For me, however, the song that most moves me was sung just before World War II and throughout that horrendous time. Many reading this won’t even remember Kate Smith, the woman who made “God Bless America” unforgettable. She would stand on the stage, alone, with just a microphone – no flashing lights, no special costume or effects, no booming sound system. She just stood there singing: “While the storm clouds gather, far across the sea … God Bless America. Land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her … God Bless America. My home sweet home.”

As the Fourth of July approaches, I think about the frightening world in which we live today. There are no new songs to sing, and that’s sad. So I hang on tight to the old songs, filled with hope. I want Smith to sing once more, inside my head and my heart, “God Bless America.” ]]>
Tue, 1 Jul 2014 06:26:18 -0400
<![CDATA[ Bob Skurzewski: Casey Kasem found fame, but remained down to earth ]]>
I should point out that while Casey and I are not personal friends, we associated with each other while Terri and I were writing “No Stoppin’ This Boppin’ - Let The Good Times Roll,” a look at Buffalo’s rock ’n’ roll era. Through help from his daughter, Kerri, I received several phone calls from Casey allowing me to interview him about his career.

He said he was surprised that a book like ours about Buffalo’s broadcasting heritage had never been done before. He added that he worked at WBNY with Lucky Pierre, Art Roberts, Mark Edwards, Dick Carr, Joey Reynolds and others.

Casey Kasem is a household name today, more because of his syndicated show called “American Top 40” than his days as a DJ. His began his radio career as a disc jockey and, while many know the name, few recall that he spent time in Buffalo as “Casey at the Mike” on WBNY-AM, playing the Top 40 hits of the day. This was in 1960 when it was the first radio station to consistently format Top 40 rock and roll.

He used “drop-ins” and “wild tracks,” short funny audio bits that yelled at him with sayings like “you said it!” and funny sound effects that he created dialogue around. His on-air sidekicks were “Happy” and the “Girl with No Name.”

Casey must have been comfortable with me, as he provided his personal contact information, permitting me to call when I had a followup question. We talked about the business of broadcasting and how it could be insecure, and of course the opposite, how his fame soared with “American Top 40.”

He also kept some personal information private and that included details about the time he was fired from WBNY for insubordination. He never revealed the reason he was let go. He took the station to court and after the ruling, jokingly said it took three months to figure out how the judge ruled against him.

Air checks was the other reason we were in contact with each other. They are audio tape recordings of radio shows and I had some of Casey’s from WBNY. We each had bits and pieces of different ones and traded them. Later, when I found his air checks from other radio stations around the country, I sent those along. He thanked me for them and in appreciation I also received two of Casey’s autographed photos.

Then there were his voices used in many cartoons. He’s best remembered as the voice of Shaggy and Robin, Batman’s sidekick. He was a very active broadcaster, and appeared in low-budget movies. Like his contemporaries, Casey released several 45 rpm singles.

In my dealings with him, I found him to be a nice guy who found fame and fortune but remained down to earth.

He was inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters in 1985 and the Radio Hall of Fame in 1992, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6931 Hollywood Blvd.

Kemal Amin Kasem passed away on Father’s Day, June 15, at age 82.

Casey’s signoff through most of his career and at WBNY was “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.” ]]>
Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:31:16 -0400
<![CDATA[ Bob O’Connor: Recalling bygone days at Crystal Beach ]]>
The Crystal Beach of my memory was noise and excitement, bright lights and adventure. It was golden sand, too hot to walk on, French fries with vinegar and the giant Ferris wheel. It was the roller skaters in the big ballroom, the dancers frozen in concrete on the parapet wall overlooking Lake Erie and the raunchy vending machines in the men’s room.

For a mere 25 cents, one could buy cologne, a comb or even a condom. I can tell you from personal experience that the combs tended to break the first time you used them. Makes you wonder about the quality of the other items.

Then, in 1989, after over 100 years, the park closed. It seemed like overnight the big rides were shipped off to strange and faraway amusement parks. My childhood memories were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Gone was the scary fat lady from Laff-in-the Dark, the garbage can with the talking lion head and the big neon clock on top of what we called “the hill.”

There is a gated community there now, a place of cookie-cutter Victorian-style homes that the locals refer to as the Vinyl Village. It is called the Crystal Beach Tennis and Yacht Club, although I have yet to spot a yacht on the premises. The little community outside the gates is quiet now, with lots of boarded-up storefronts.

Several years back, when my kids were still little, I took them to one of the last remaining stores from my youth. “BEAS GAG GIFTS, NOVELTIES AND SOUVENIRS” was located on Derby, just down the street from the old park. The place was a shambles with old records and books piled in the corners and shelves filled with cheap glassware, plastic radios and used toys. There was a box full of five-and-dime gag gifts that fascinated my children. The boys liked anything that involved bodily functions and inappropriate noises.

“I’m in the middle of getting organized,” said the storekeeper, an old woman with hair dyed the blackest black I had ever seen. “Are you Bea?” I asked. “Course I am,” she snapped.

I told her that I used to come there as a boy and look over all the great stuff she used to have. She smiled. “It was a real heyday back then. The kids would come over from the cottages and buy up every sheet I had for those crazy parties.” “Toga parties?” I offered. “Yeah,” she sighed.

“You know when the park closed,” she continued, “they invited me. My family’s been here for over 50 years, so they invited me. They closed the park to everyone but workers and their families and special guests – like me. We rode the rides all day for free.”

She looked at me like it was the first time she’d seen me. “Remember the train?” she asked. “The engineer let me sit up for the final run. I had the last ride on the Crystal Beach Train.”

I shuffled the kids out the door and I don’t think Bea noticed us leave. ]]>
Thu, 26 Jun 2014 17:05:26 -0400
<![CDATA[ Allison R. Scanlon: Children flourish in their own facility ]]>
On May 28th, the acting commissioner of mental health for New York State was in Buffalo and met with seven family members at the Buffalo Psychiatric Center. Along with her were representatives from Buffalo Psychiatric Center and Children’s Psychiatric Center. We were given the opportunity to listen to what their plans were for the grounds and the two floors in the Strozzi Building where the children will be housed. While it was very interesting to see what they are envisioning, it remained indisputable to the seven family representatives that CPC cannot be replicated and shouldn’t be replicated.

Why are they trying to close a facility that was specially designed for our mentally ill children? It’s because they want to redirect funds to outpatient services. At the time of their visit CPC had 19 children waiting for a bed to open for them. CPC has 46 beds currently and it is going to be reduced to 36 if they move the children into Buffalo Psychiatric Center; 36 beds to cover 19 counties. Absurd. Find the money you need, Governor Cuomo, from some other source.

The thought of our governor ignoring the outcry from parents in Western New York is unacceptable. We are talking about mentally ill 4- to 18-year-olds being placed into a hospital setting with mentally ill adults where they may or may not be safe. We are talking about removing them from a facility that has the lowest rate of reinstitutionalization across the state. Why not promote CPC as a role model for every state in the union to pattern? CPC does not look like a hospital and doesn’t feel like a hospital. At CPC, as they heal, kids can still be kids.

Western New Yorkers showed up in the hundreds to attend a fundraiser on June 8 supporting the fight to keep CPC open. CPC is already a center of excellence. The children will not receive better therapeutic treatment at Buffalo Psychiatric Center because the infrastructure does matter. Children flourish at CPC.

Everyone that I have spoken with, excluding the commissioner of mental health and Buffalo Psychiatric Center management, thinks this is one of the worst ideas this governor has come up with and it took them about five seconds each to reach that conclusion. Leave CPC alone and let it flourish.

Moving these children out of Buffalo Psychiatric Center back in the 1960s was based on studies of what was best for the children. Putting them back into that facility 50 years later is not based on any new study, but on the state budget. If the children will not be better served at BPC, then don’t move them.

It’s pretty simple. Western New York families are not going to be silent on this and we are not going to go away. Governor Cuomo has been invited multiple times to come and see both facilities for himself, but has not made it a priority.

Western New Yorkers, help the weakest among us and voice your opposition to this egregious decision. It must be reversed. The governor must do the right thing. ]]>
Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:29:35 -0400
<![CDATA[ Khimm Graham: Long-cherished ties to Canada have frayed ]]>
As a child, snug between my cousins in the back of Aunt Geri’s Galaxy 500, I held my breath waiting for our cue. Auntie rehearsed us before the border agent poked his head through the window and asked, “Citizenship?”

“USA!” we’d shout in unison to cover Aunt Yvette’s obvious French accent. After many years in the states, her English was still a charming but garbled lexicon of Elvis tunes and sitcom sound bites. Raised in a small town near Montreal where her sister was mayor, her exotic looks and chocolate voice spoke volumes of Canada’s free spirit and Quebec’s nonconformity.

One summer I spent the season there with her niece, Josette, and the rogue clan of bakers and musicians who spoke in tones of endless celebration. Dancing past dawn with music waking the streets, the police who half-heartedly came to arrest the nightly noise couldn’t inhibit the summertime joie de vivre.

I made fast friends with my northern cousins. Lost in adventure, “oui” was the only word I needed to know. It answered to street carnivals, breakfast ice cream and teasing kisses from eager little boys.

But now, beloved Canada is a foreign country increasingly veiled under suspicious screening and technological tension in a valiant effort to protect us from our inhumanity. After years of orange alert, a gross of duct tape and enough plastic sheeting to cover City Hall, I haven’t crossed the border since 9-11. I don’t want to ruin my only innocent fantasy.

HSBC Tower evacuated, canceling our morning floral delivery Steve was determined to make in spite of the attack. We listened to the radio without breathing. I felt vulnerable and nationalistic. “My country is under attack,” I thought, “and this Canadian is oblivious!”

I told him to go home while he could still cross the border. After some coaxing, Steve locked the doors before noon and I walked home down a silent thoroughfare, anxious for the safety of friends and family.

As nations we were simpatico, but on that once-beautiful day in September, something insidious struck more than the Pentagon, the Towers and a lonely field in Pennsylvania. A cold northern wind of hysterical uncertainty blew between two romantic old friends and permanently sealed the maple leaf border sharing one of the world’s seven wonders – peace. In a quintessential moment, the ghost of quasi-McCarthyism rose to spy and question a long-cherished relationship.

We betrayed each other and like lovers desperately vowing to “still be friends” – oh, Canada – so sadly, we will never be the same. ]]>
Thu, 26 Jun 2014 17:04:49 -0400
<![CDATA[ Matthew Ingro: Working with Equi-Star brings inner peace ]]>
Accomplishing these goals made me very proud. I was a nice guy, who was confident, trustworthy and full of life. Or so I thought. Then, as our life grew, I gradually began to fall. I am not exactly sure when it started. That strength soon became cockiness. My confidence morphed into overconfidence. I was trustworthy only when I wanted to be. The person that friends described as full of life soon took most aspects of life for granted.

It felt like I was sleepwalking. Suddenly I opened my eyes, and things were different. This was hard to imagine and it was much easier for me to accuse others of causing this change. Acting infallible had allowed me to avoid reality.

My wife and I went to counseling, and decided to separate. After that, I drank a lot more, took more risks. I got into legal trouble. I nearly lost everything. Those friends that stayed close to me were understandably concerned. It was easy to tell people that I was just going through tough times. But something wasn’t right. A part of me was missing. I was selfish, alone, nearly broken.

I decided to get up. I chose to embrace the long, arduous process of fixing the mess that I had created. How else would my children ever resolve their own feelings? The thoughts they had in their precious hearts about their family, their future, their dad and the things he was doing. All a parent could want is for their children to feel safe and loved. How could I ensure this? Being self-absorbed was no longer an option. I had to admit I was wrong, get help, overcome my mistakes and get better. Get up … if not for myself, for them. I did.

It’s hard to imagine much good coming out of self-destructive behavior. But it has, many times over. I have been involved in group and individual counseling, and have had the opportunity to meet many fascinating people. Good people, who have made mistakes and yet speak with unparalleled honesty and sincerity. These folks, who appear lost and insignificant to most, have helped me find some of my own missing pieces.

Through a chance encounter and a desire to have my community service obligation be impactful, I began volunteering at Equi-Star Therapeutic Riding Center in Newfane. Equi-Star provides safe and structured horseback riding for children and adults with disabilities. The workers, students and horses at Equi-Star are truly exceptional. It is an atmosphere built on hope, encouragement and trust. To be able to help the riders interact with such strong, beautiful and intelligent animals is simply amazing.

On a recent day at Equi-Star, it finally hit me. As I walked out of the horse barn smelly, dirty and tired, I could feel a slight breeze beckoning the summer days ahead. I realized then that the ghosts of the past were no more. That giving back and helping others was a transformational part of making me whole again. There I stood … happy, just being me.

I looked around and took a deep breath. Smiling, I whispered “Thank You.”

As the wind carried my words for all to hear, I was humbled knowing that my actions would do the talking from now on. ]]>
Wed, 25 Jun 2014 15:52:40 -0400
<![CDATA[ Alice Smith: The long, long road to a better head of hair ]]>
What was going on? Well, I wasn’t going to let that happen to me. I had a reasonable amount of mousey brown hair, but I yearned for that “Breck Girl” look advertised in magazines.

So off I went to attend beauty school, where I hoped to learn the secret of having long, thick hair. At first I thought getting a perm was the answer. I got one and I was thrilled with the results. My curls stayed in for days, I had body, it was wonderful. It lasted only three months. So I got another perm. This time I got some breakage and my hair looked more like sheep wool on a rainy day.

So no more perms. I let my hair grow out, getting it cut repeatedly until once again I had unprocessed, virgin hair. This time I tried color. Color penetrates the hair shaft, puffing out the cuticles, enlarging the diameter of each hair. My thin, mousey brown hair turned into thick, blond locks. My boyfriend loved it, my mother hated the look, my grandmother, who spoke only Polish, gave a one-word opinion. My mother said it was the Polish word for streetwalker.

Three weeks later, I saw brown hair. Yikes – it was regrowth, time to color my hair again, then again and then again. It turns out you repeat the process until your hair looks like a bale of straw.

Back in the ’60s when I was a beautician, going to a salon wasn’t always a pleasant experience. Let’s face it, we tortured people. We set hair on brush rollers that pinched your scalp in a hundred different places. Then we put women under the dryer on high heat for 30 to 45 minutes. We backcombed or teased the hair into what looked like a rat’s nest and smoothed the top hair down over the ratted hair. Finally, we sprayed and sprayed until the customer went into a coughing fit. And after all that, we expected a good tip!

My early hairdressing days ended as they had begun – me with mousey brown hair and no closer to the secret of long, glossy tresses.

After both my children started school, I took a refresher course and re-entered the profession. However, this wasn’t a beauty school – no, I was enrolled in a college of cosmetology – things were looking up. This time no more demure Breck girl image. I was after the big prize; I wanted Farrah Fawcett hair.

The products had all changed. Dangerous chemicals like ammonia and formaldehyde were no longer used. Bleaching services weren’t requested much any more because women favored frosting or highlighting to achieve a blonde look; this is kinder to the hair. There were so many mousses, gels and spritzes that claimed to make hair thicker.

I enthusiastically tried every one of them, and lo and behold, I discovered they didn’t work.

But I did finally learn the secret to a full head of hair. Go to a wig store, as I did, and purchase one or more beautiful creations because if you weren’t born with the hair you want, you’ll have to buy the hair you want.

Alice Smith is a retiree who lives in Niagara Falls. ]]>
Wed, 25 Jun 2014 06:37:05 -0400
<![CDATA[ Sharon Green: Summer teaching has many rewards ]]>
I work in higher education and my field is developmental education. I help first-year students develop the skills necessary to succeed in college. My job includes teaching in the pre-college summer program required of students in New York State’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP).

I love my summer course (“Introduction to College Reading”) because of the hundreds of HEOP students I’ve been privileged to teach. Let me tell you about a few. One student from West Africa never attended school until age 14. After immigrating to the United States, he graduated from a Rochester high school. Now a college junior, he is thrilled to be learning and is doing well for a 22-year-old with only eight years of formal education.

Some summers ago, I taught two recovering alcoholics. They started college in their early 30s, highly motivated to change their lives. HEOP gave them that chance. After graduating, one became a successful accountant; the other, a high-level administrator at a well-known nonprofit.

Many of my former summer program students eventually earn graduate degrees, and Facebook and Linked In help me follow their progress. One student who entered college after serving in the Gulf War spent many hours working with me. Eventually he earned a master’s degree and is now a successful physical therapist. Another is pursuing his doctorate while working as a high-level administrator in a government agency that impacts youth. Other former students are respected nurses, teachers, law enforcement officers, lawyers, military personnel and social workers.

HEOP makes college a reality for economically and educationally disadvantaged students. Although these students have the ability to succeed in college, they may have attended underperforming high schools, may speak English as a second or third language or may have been out of school for a time. Some lack family support. All lack economic advantages.

HEOP’s summer program is demanding. This residential program spans about five weeks, with three courses that meet daily followed by mandatory evening study hours. The program in which I teach also includes service hours. Students begin the program right after high school graduation, and many are away from home for the first time. When the program ends, they have only a few weeks of vacation before fall semester. This summer program takes real dedication for students – and for us instructors. But it very effectively prepares students for the rigors of college.

HEOP is funded by our state tax dollars, and I believe it is money well spent. Yes, some students leave and don’t finish college. But some college is better than no college.

I’m eager to meet my new class of pre-freshmen in July and follow their progress during and after college. I’m fortunate to spend my summer playing a small part in helping capable but disadvantaged young people take that first step into higher education – and to changing their lives. ]]>
Mon, 23 Jun 2014 16:36:44 -0400
<![CDATA[ Timothy R. Allan: Mother’s generosity left lasting impression ]]>
Abruptly, clattering around a corner came a man on a home-made, caster-wheeled, plywood contraption about 6 inches high. He was legless, his limbs gone at mid-thigh. His pants were tucked under his buttocks. His bare fingers protruded from gloves cut off at the fingers. I had never seen that before.

The man’s hands, clothes, hair and face were caked with filth. His whole being reeked of the soot of factory smoke and the soiled streets that he patrolled. He grunted heavily, almost snorting, as he shoved himself along. Seeing us in his path he skidded to a stop, braking himself with the heels of his hands. Suddenly, he was at our feet gazing up at us. He said nothing. His intrusive and jarring presence was itself an eloquent plea.

Stunned, we, too, said nothing. I was disturbed, unsettled, shocked and, I think, a little frightened. Not at what the man might do – I could have stepped on him or over him with little effort – but at the horror of his condition.

With my brothers, I made an effort to sidle around the man. My parents, however, did not move. They, too, were silent. Just as my reaction bespoke what I felt, their actions said everything that was in their hearts. My mother dug into her purse and came up with a few coins.

We were far from rich. Not quite impoverished, but poor enough. The restaurant meal, though it would probably cost less than $20 to feed all of us in those days, would probably not break my mother’s meager budget. It sure would bend it, though, right up to the breaking point.

As the man saw what was happening, he raised his hand, his repulsive fingers inked with the dirt and spittle through which he dragged himself. My mother tenderly placed the coins in his hand, squeezed it gently and stepped away.

There was no ceremony, no talk. The man said nothing, not even “thanks.” He just wheeled about and rolled away.

From where I stood, behind my mother, I could only assume that their eyes met. Hers, a beaming and unusual hazel-tinted green, would have found his as their hands touched. Encouragement, strength, inspiration would have flashed between them. Sympathy but not pity would have been in her gaze. I knew that look quite well – I had seen and felt its character and power often enough.

This isn’t a sermon about Christian ethics. I hold that real faith – of any kind – has to embody the notion of self-giving love or it is not real. But what I’ve known for many years now is that what I saw in her that day, in that moment, was the essence of self-giving love.

My brothers and I were all churchgoers then. But I was the real imbiber, the Catholic schoolboy, the altar boy. Though they sent us, my parents rarely went to church and never prayed. What my mother did that long-ago day has never left me. She put a few coins into the hand of a broken and pitiful man. She touched and reassured him and let him know that he was not alone.

What I did that day was to think that her generosity probably cost me a chocolate milkshake. My mother died in 2001. There was and still is a big difference between her and me. I hope, though, that the gap has narrowed a little. ]]>
Thu, 19 Jun 2014 17:31:31 -0400
<![CDATA[ Ray Geaney: Old desk revives wonderful memories ]]>
As a husband, and father of four daughters, any query of me as to shade or color was offered merely, I believe, as an irrelevant and much-appreciated courtesy.

Thereafter followed intense family reviews of advertisements, store visits and sample collections. Finally, opinions were in alignment, agreement reached; harmony prevailed on pattern, color, undermatting, quality and price. A store associate informed us that prior to installation we were required to remove the furniture, in particular my desk.

My desk! I, a wordsmith who delights in conjuring up imagery, stitching words together, was aghast at the idea of uprooting my desk, disrupting my private scriptural sanctuary. I voiced passionate displeasure. Following intense negotiation, reason prevailed; it sufficed for me to remove only my desk’s drawers and their contents, making it easier to move it to and fro during the installation process. I consented – conditional capitulation on my part.

Then my work began. I opened the middle drawer, the easiest to access. Befuddlement befell me. Its bulging disorganized contents defined my methodology over the years: when published articles or clippings cluttered my desk I had an easy solution – stuff them in this drawer in case I needed to refer to them at some future time.

The future had now arrived. I commenced, one circular disposal basket on the floor, another wire “in basket,” for those items that I absolutely required, on top of my move-threatened desk. Digging further, discoveries followed. First some money: I uncovered a crisp $2 bill … nice to have but what will I do with it? Nevertheless, it goes to the in basket. Some Canadian dollar bills kept for some foray over the Rainbow Bridge. Euro notes and coins appeared, must-keep items for a future trip to my homeland, Ireland.

Further excavation revealed beautiful family photos. I glanced at one taken of my wife some 10 years ago. Age-defying! It seemed to my eyes that while I show obvious signs of wear and tear she has not changed, still displaying her great humor and charm. Other keepsakes: a clipping from an Irish newspaper praised my deceased father’s inspiring influence on generations of pupils under his tutoring as principal of his local school. That, together with a UB Newman Center church bulletin, revived memories of my dad convening the family on many an evening to say the family rosary – in our native Gaelic language – knees on hard wooden chairs, elbows upon the traditional kitchen table. A bygone era, a long-gone culture.

Today the home office project is complete, new carpet in place. A broad-leafed plant coexists with me in my oasis. Now retired, a forlorn collection of business cards relating to my previous appointments rests at desk edge. One precious card is always within sight: that of Tara, my dearly beloved daughter who departed this life too soon, a cancer victim, leaving behind two adorable preschool daughters and a melody of pleasant memories. ]]>
Fri, 20 Jun 2014 16:51:19 -0400
<![CDATA[ Joan D. Harms: Sheltered workshops provide vital support ]]>
Sometimes referred to as sheltered workshops, they provide a safe, friendly and productive place for participants to work. Those who get up every day, with difficulty, and make their way to the workshops, with difficulty, honestly love their jobs. It is their life support to the outside world, which is far too difficult for them to cope with. It is family for some who have little or no family left. And it is the place to gather with friends and colleagues. People earn a salary, which provides buying power in their community and, most importantly, gives them a feeling of positive self-worth.

Allentown recently recognized 99 employees for their milestone year of employment. Amazingly, the span of time recognized was from five to 45 years. Just imagine the courage and fortitude of these people with disabilities.

To say this was an emotional ceremony is an understatement. Stirring photos in The News captured the sense of pride and accomplishment of Allentown’s employees and their families.

The story on sheltered workshops highlighted workers intently involved in their individual job activity, and families shared commentary about the importance of these workshops in the lives of their disabled loved ones.

Agencies like Allentown Industries are in jeopardy of losing federal and state funding for workshops for people with special needs, most of whom are unable to find work elsewhere.

Allentown, the adult division of Heritage Centers, is a local non-profit organization that employs nearly 1,000 people and serves 3,000 individual vocational, service coordination, legal and advocacy programming needs.

The agency provides meaningful vocational and day services to adults and transitioning students with disabilities. These services vary according to interests and skill, while providing levels of support based on the individual’s needs. It provides supervision to nearly 400 adults who are contributing members of our workforce. And it provides on-site contract work for more than 150 local and regional companies.

Allentown’s furniture refinishing division has become Western New York’s largest and most dependable hand-refinishing business, with facilities in the Northtowns and Southtowns. Similar shops across the state employ 8,000 disabled people.

The importance of these workshops remaining open is imperative to the survival of people like my son, Bob, who was born 47 years ago. He has been employed by Allentown for 25 years and was an honoree on April 11. He has missed only a few days on the job. Bob’s job is important to him and his survival, and he looks forward to going there five days a week. It provides him with positive self-worth.

Bob and other workshop participants have come a long way. What does the future hold for them without these workshops? Will they endure the travesty of an empty room and the monotonous drone of a television set? What will happen to their positive self-worth? ]]>
Thu, 19 Jun 2014 17:31:28 -0400