The Gernatt’s of Western New York State in the 1980s and 1990s (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

Dan Gernatt, Sr. and Flavia Gernatt, 1990s

As you have likely read in a prior post to this blog, a person who was inspiring and to whom I looked up to as a role model when I was a teen and young adult was Flavia “Feggie” (Schmitt) Gernatt (now deceased).  Growing up, I lived in the same neighborhood of Seneca Heights and Taylor Hollow in Collins, New York in Western New York State as Feggie and many members of her family and extended family.  Feggie and her husband, Dan Sr., lived in Collins, right next to the main headquarters of one of their gravel and asphalt plants.

Next door to Dan Sr. and Feggie lived their son, Dan Jr., and his family.  Just a couple of doors down the road from them and across the street lives her eldest daughter, Patricia Rebmann.  The Rebmann Family has lived there for decades, having raised about 10 children.  And, in a neighboring town has lived Feggie’s and Dan’s youngest daughter, Phyllis.  Phyllis and her family have lived in Perrysburg for many years.  Many years ago, Phyllis and her family gave a cute teddy bear as a gift to my son when he was a newborn.

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

Gernatt Stallion, Sir Taurus, 1989

I got to know the Gernatt’s by living in the same neighborhood and by attending the same church, St. Joseph Church in Gowanda, New York and the Diocese of Buffalo, of the Roman Catholic faith.  I was also familiar with some of the Gernatt’s racing stallions since they were housed in my neighborhood.  While the Gernatt’s and Rebmann’s had always attended the church’s parochial school at that time, I also got to know them and was familiar with them through bus rides to and from school.  Donald Gernatt, the youngest son of Dan Jr. and Dolores “Dolly” (Stelmach) Gernatt, and my brother, were friends, striking up a friendship on those occasional bus rides that Don took to and from school (most of the time, he was driven to or from school).  Indeed, my brother’s first employer was Dan Gernatt, Jr. at one of his gravel and asphalt companies.

The older children of Dan Jr. and Dolly are Dianna (Gernatt) Saraf and Dan III.  Dan Jr. and Dolly are divorced, and Dan is married to his second wife, Roseann (Morgano) Gernatt.  As a kid, I also knew some of the younger Rebmann kids, including Dave, Barb, and Jeanne, through church as well as Girl Scouts.  Some of the older Rebmann’s continued to live in Seneca Heights after getting married and having their own families.

The Ulmer Family, 2000

The Ulmer Family, 2000

In my mid-teens, I would often attend daily mass at St. Joseph Church, and discovered that many in the Gernatt extended family did, as well.  Through church and mass, I got to know and become familiar with Dan Sr.’s and Feggie’s daughter, Phyllis Ulmer, and her family.  Phyllis and her husband, Rich (now deceased) have two adult sons, and Rich has two adult children from a prior marriage.  Phyllis and Rich have been involved in the church and school in many capacities.  I also got to know and become more familiar with Dan Sr., Feggie, and Dan Jr., as they regularly attended daily mass, as well.

I remember back to the time when I was a student at the University at Buffalo and on Spring Break that my car had broken down, and after asking Dan Sr. and Feggie to transport me to and from daily mass for a few days, they did so.  They included me as their guest in the light breakfast that followed a 6:30 AM mass during Lent at that time, and were very kind to me.  I further got to know Feggie a bit more while catching up with her and walking with her, occasionally, on walks through our neighborhood.  Feggie was a wise, intelligent, insightful, and strong woman.

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

The Gernatt and Saraf Families, 1980s

As a high school junior, a friend of mine began dating one of the Rebmann’s.  This young man was a cousin and friend to Don Gernatt, and so, I asked my friend if she would pass along to him that I was interested in seeing him, if he was available.  It was at that time in 1987 that I dated Don for a few months, until my family’s out-of-state vacation interfered with Don’s prom.  I remember him as an exceptional gentleman who treated me with kindness, appreciation, honor, respect, and dignity, in the manner that I believe that all men should treat women.  Since that time, I have found no one with whom I have been romantically involved to have met or exceeded the standard that he set for me in men.

Looking back, I wish someone had told me that most people would not be as kind or respectful of me as Don was.  Then, I would not have held my expectations so high.  While Don and his family members are multimillionaires who are very powerful and influential in New York State business and politics, and in the Roman Catholic Church, my interest in him had never been about money, but in him as a person.  Indeed, the only financial support I ever received from the Gernatt Family was through a $50 sponsorship when I participated in the Miss Teen of New York Pageant in 1987.  Further, I had always observed Don to be kind and good-hearted, even toward those who were jealous of him during our rides on the school bus.  Don is the only member of the Gernatt family and extended family with whom I have ever been romantically involved.

I suppose that when people get to a certain age, they may recall the past and certain past experiences that are always prominent in their memories.  Don and his family live in Springville, New York, while Dianna and her family live in Hamburg, New York.  And, while we have all gone on our separate paths in life now and I no longer have connections to these families, I can still recall many fond memories that I have of dating my first boyfriend, Don.

All other men whom I have dated since my first boyfriend are those who can take lessons from Don in how to treat a woman with respect, honor, dignity, and appreciation.  I am thankful that I was able to experience from him the manner in which men should treat their romantic partners.  I hope that I will have taught my own son to be as respectful of a gentleman toward women as my first boyfriend was to me.

Sources:

Michele Babcock-Nice (March 17, 2014).  Having a Love for Horses: Remembering Sir Taurus and Elitist.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on May 5, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-qi

Michele Babcock-Nice (February 3, 2012).  In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt.  Blogbymichele.WordPress.com.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://wp.me/p25c1A-3O

Michele Babcock-Nice (2014).  Photograph collection of Michele Babcock-Nice, 1971-2014.  (Photos of the Gernatt’s, Ulmer’s, and Sir Taurus from their families/owners, 1980s-1990s.)  Snellville, Georgia.

References:

Gernatt Asphalt Products, Inc. (2001).  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://www.gernatt.com/

Wikipedia (2014).   Daniel and Flavia Gernatt Family Foundation.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_and_Flavia_Gernatt_Family_Foundation

Wikipedia (2014).  Gernatt Family of Companies.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gernatt_Family_of_Companies

Wikipedia (2014).  Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo.  Retrieved on May 6, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Buffalo

Wikipedia (2014).  St. Joseph Parish, Gowanda, New York.  Retrieved on April 28, 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Joseph_Parish,_Gowanda,_New_York

In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

In Remembrance of Flavia C. Gernatt

(April 2, 1921 – November 27, 1995)

By: Michele Babcock-Nice

Flavia C. Gernatt (Undated Photo)

Psalm 23: A Psalm of David: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (The Holy Bible, 1979).

Flavia C. Gernatt was born Flavia Schmitt in Langford, New York – a small farming community near Buffalo – on April 2, 1921.  Before age 20, she was married, and founded with her husband a dairy farm in 1938.  In the 1950s, she was a partner with her husband in owning and managing the largest milking cow herd in Erie County.

Following World War II, Mrs. Gernatt’s family began to provide bank-run gravel to the community from their property.  Beginning with one truck, this endeavor grew into a large multi-company corporation that currently boasts nine sand, gravel, cement, and asphalt enterprises throughout Western New York State and Eastern Pennsylvania.  These companies are now known as the Gernatt Family of Companies, headquartered in Collins, New York.

In the 1960s, Mrs. Gernatt and her family began investing in race horses, while on a golfing vacation in North Carolina.  This investment grew into a business of breeding and racing harness race horses – mostly identified with the name “Collins” to represent the locale where Mrs. Gernatt and her family lived – in Western New York and New York State.

A couple of the most well-known of Mrs. Gernatt’s family horses were Sir Taurus – my personal favorite as a gentle, powerful stallion – as well as Elitist, a spunky and speedy stallion.  For many years, Mrs. Gernatt and her family also sponsored a horse race named for Elitist, one of the family’s champion stallions that earned $250,000 in winnings in just his first two years of racing with them about 25 years ago.

Very well-known about Mrs. Gernatt, her family, and the Gernatt Family of Companies is the financial support provided by them to the Roman Catholic Church, locally in Gowanda, New York, as well as to the Diocese of Buffalo.  In 1992, Mrs. Gernatt and her family donated a newly-constructed rectory for the family’s main local parish of St. Joseph in Gowanda.  The maintenance and upkeep of the St. Joseph campus, including the church and school, is much a reflection of the generosity of Mrs. Gernatt and her family.

Mrs. Gernatt, her family, and the Gernatt Family of Companies are also well-known for their generous financial contributions to and being benefactors of St. Joseph Church, St. Joseph School, and Roman Catholic education in the Diocese of Buffalo.  Her family members as well as dozens of extended family members have been blessed by attending a variety of Roman Catholic schools in the Buffalo and Western New York area throughout approximately the past 90 years.

Mrs. Gernatt’s husband has also been honored and recognized by receiving the highest award from the Bishop in the Diocese of Buffalo for supporting Roman Catholic education.  The powerful financial and social influence of Mrs. Gernatt and her family in Catholicism and Catholic education have been profound.

As active and supportive members of the Republican Party, Mrs. Gernatt and her family have also had a very powerful impact on law, politics, and government at the local, state, and federal levels.  Supporting government leaders in all areas of government – particuarly members of the Republican Party – are those endeavors important to Mrs. Gernatt and her family.

Many charitable organizations have also enjoyed the financial support of Mrs. Gernatt and her family through contributions directly from her family and those from a foundation created in she and her husband’s names.  Providing monies to assist organizations with feeding those who are less fortunate, as well as those that support healthcare – including the American Red Cross – and local endeavors – such as creating a helipad at the local hospital – have also been causes championed by Mrs. Gernatt and her family.

Throughout most of my life, I knew the Gernatt family and extended family; and I came to know Mrs. Gernatt only in the last eight years of her life.  An avid walker in later years, Mrs. Gernatt walked between 1.5 to 4 miles each day, nearly every day of the week.  Thus, she and I had something in common since I typically jogged the same route that she walked.

Flavia C. Gernatt (Approx. 1990s)

After having seen her walk through my neighborhood several times, I asked another community member who she was.  That individual stated to me that she was simply “Feggie.”  I thought it interesting that the person who identified her to me expected me to know who she was, particularly at my age of 16 at the time.

When I expressed to the community member that I did not know her, she was then identified to me as her son’s mother and her husband’s wife.  I then realized who she was.  Therefore, because she was so often known in the community as her son’s mother and her husband’s wife, I have purposely not identified them here to provide her the honor of focusing on and appreciating her as a person.

Therefore, it was at that time when I was 16 that I came to know Mrs. Gernatt.  Occasionally, I would walk with her throughout our neighborhood, conversing with her about daily living, our families, exercise, the weather, and other general topics.  I especially appreciated her great wisdom, insight, and spirituality in regard to people and life.  I once inquired with Mrs. Gernatt about certain questions I had in relation to my brother, and she put me at ease with her answers, which I appreciated.

An extremely intelligent woman, Mrs. Gernatt and I had an understanding about each other.  Have you ever looked at a person in the eyes and just knew that they understood you?  That is how Mrs. Gernatt and I interacted during our time walking together.

Upon inquiring with Mrs. Gernatt and her husband one Christmas holiday when I was at home from college and my vehicle needed repairs, I asked if she and her husband could give me a ride to and from daily mass at our local church.  Since I was old enough to drive, I had attended daily mass at our church for a more in-depth religious and spiritual experience, and also attended as much as possible during holidays.

Therefore, Mrs. Gernatt and her husband very kindly transported me to and from daily mass several times during that holiday season.  I also got to know them better by eating breakfast with them at church following daily mass on one morning, at which time both Mrs. Gernatt and her husband showed the utmost kindness and courtesy to me by including me in their gathering.  Feeling somewhat uncomfortable and undeserving of being a part of their group, Mrs. Gernatt conveyed confidence and authority in her inclusion of me with her, for which I am also forever grateful.

What struck me most about Mrs. Gernatt was her love for God, and her dedication and faith in our shared Catholic religion.  As a generally quiet woman who kept to herself, Mrs. Gernatt was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, successful businesswoman, devoted fellow Catholic, and honorable friend.   Mrs. Gernatt served as Eucharistic Minister in our church, and she was a member of the Power Elite of business owners and entrepreneurs in New York State.  Being a board member of her family’s highly successful, multi-million dollar corporations, as well as serving as a spiritual guide and moral compass for her family, Mrs. Gernatt always made time to give thanks and praise to God.

As the matriarch of her family, Mrs. Gernatt was also a wonderful role model for everyone, including her family, those whom she knew, members of her parish, and individuals within the community.  As a person gifted with the power to do so much good for others, Mrs. Gernatt was a person who was fully present in many endeavors to strengthen and improve the Roman Catholic Church, Catholic education, and her community.

In the days before her death, I remember the strength, dedication, and perseverance of Mrs. Gernatt in continuing – not only to attend Mass – but to walk, independently, to the altar to receive Eucharist.  I am witness to Mrs. Gernatt’s strength, faith, spirituality, character, dedication, and perseverance at a time in her life that was most difficult.  Her strong will, honorable nature, and moral and ethical direction continue to be an inspiration to me in my life.

In good times and in bad – including while battling the illness that took her life – Mrs. Gernatt continued to have her strong and unyielding faith in God that compelled and guided her to the altar to receive Communion.  As a fellow Catholic, that is profound in itself, and says multitudes about her faith, beliefs, and spirituality.

I am thankful for the opportunity I had to get to know Flavia C. Gernatt, and discover for myself that she was a “real” person – not necessarily one who was on the pedestal on which others placed her.  So often, we may feel so unlike people of enormous wealth, however this was not the case with Mrs. Gernatt.

Though my socioeconomic status was and is far at the other end of the spectrum from Mrs. Gernatt, she always made me feel as ease.  Her confidence and authority caused me to feel comfort.  Her wisdom, insight, and intelligence spoke to my soul.  In Mrs. Gernatt, if even for a short while, I found a kindred spirit.  I am grateful for that, and know she is looking down on me with those same qualities today.

Sources

“Gernatt’s Horses Plug Collins,” (Harlan C. Abbey) 1984, The Buffalo News, Buffalo, New York.

“Gowanda Area Chamber of Commerce Spirit of Gowanda” Newsletter, February 1996, Gowanda, New York.

“Obituary of Flavia Gernatt,” November 29, 1995, The Buffalo News, Buffalo, New York.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (Pictorial Directory), 2003, Gowanda, New York.

The Holy Bible (1979).  Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.

Villa Maria College, Grants Office, Recent Grants, Buffalo, New York.  Gernatt Family Foundation Grant.  From http://www.villa.edu/grants_office.html.  February 3, 2012.