On International Women’s Day, Celebrating Women (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Me with my son, February 2016

Me with my son, February 2016

Life and life experiences bring many joys and challenges, successes and failures, jubilation and pain for all of us.  Of adults, women often seem to face many more challenges than men.  There are different familial, cultural, and societal expectations of women.  Women are portrayed differently (and often less respectfully) than men throughout the media. Women can be leaders or followers or somewhere in-between.  However, women are always women, regardless of the types of experiences and lives we lead.  There is so much that women embody, and there is so much that women do and say.  More often, I encourage women to be more supportive, understanding, and helpful toward each other. One never knows exactly what another person is experiencing, and just a simple smile or word of encouragement can go a long way.  On International Women’s Day, it is the perfect day to promote awareness of all of this.

In my own life, I have experienced many joys and challenges, successes and failures, jubilation and pain.  I recall some of the happiest times of my life being when I gave birth to my son, my wedding day, and each of the days that I graduated from school, college, and university.  Additional happy times have been in celebrating happy occasions and accomplishment of my son.  Some of the most painful experiences I have had have included my divorce, being unemployed, and having financial challenges.  I am thankful for the people in my life who I am closest to  and my faith for helping and supporting me through the ups and downs of my life.  I am thankful for those, whether female or male, who have helped me to become a better, stronger, more sensitive and compassionate person.  I am thankful for all those in my life who supported my life, growth, and development, as well as my beliefs in myself, my self confidence, and my self esteem.

There is so much expected of women.  We are expected to be wives, mothers, teachers, caretakers, bosses, employees, leaders, and followers.  We are expected to carry our religious faith and convictions over to our children, and even to others’ children.  We are expected to help others, to volunteer, to give of ourselves, sometimes until there is nearly nothing else left to give.  What is there left for ourselves, at times?  This is what we have to find, and this is often the balancing act that we have to play.  How do we get our own needs met while also fulfilling (or helping to fulfill) the needs of others?  For some of us, we have it all worked out; for others, it is a lifelong journey.

Some of the most important aspects of my own life have been the support and interactions of family, friends, and/or colleagues (emotional and/or financial); religious faith; education; and career.  Supportive people in my life are sometimes few and far between, however those who are supportive are those I highly value and cherish.  My religious faith has always been there, and while I do not support everything within my faith, I know where I stand with it.  Education has always been something I have supported.  Knowledge is power, and one can never have too much knowledge.  Regarding career, I am a woman who believes that working in a career position, such as a teacher or counselor, is as much a career as remaining at home and raising one’s children.  And, there are many of us who do both of those and do them well.

Therefore, these aforestated aspects of my own life have contributed to shaping me into the woman I am today.  While I am a woman who would like more work and career opportunities in order to be more financially independent and self-sufficient for my family, I am also a woman who is thankful for the opportunities I have had to be an involved mother, role model, and guide for my son.  I am thankful for being able to be personally involved in my son’s life.  I am not a woman who regrets being unable to spend quality time with my son because I am one who has done that.  And, it is my hope that it has contributed to his welfare and benefit, and that he has and will become a better and stronger person for it, as well.

As women, we are all intertwined with each other, whether male or female, girl or boy, woman or man.  I encourage women to be more supportive, helpful, and understanding of other women.  Our society so often encourages men and women to be hard and insensitive on our way to the top.  However, I question whether what society perceives as “the top” might sometimes actually be the bottom, based on my own values and perceptions.  We must all consider who we are and how our lives and life experiences has contributed to making us into who we are.  I would like to ask that, on this International Women’s Day, we all consider and take action toward being more supportive of women, and reflecting on who we are and what has made us into who we are.  I would also like to encourage that if there is anything in those perceptions and reflections that we dislike and/or can improve – in a values context – that we do so.  If all of us do this, it will have a positive ripple effect throughout our society, one that we can definitely use.

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“Success, Sacrifice, Blessings, and Thanksgiving” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Thanksgiving Roses and Pumpkin

There are so many things for which to be thankful in our lives.  In getting older, my views of what to be thankful for have expanded, and surprisingly, have gotten somewhat modified.  I believe that some of the things for which to be thankful go hand-in-hand, such as success, sacrifice, and gratitude.  While each of these areas mean something different, they ultimately embody similar qualities for me.  Perhaps with age has come greater wisdom and insight about what it is in life for which we should truly be thankful.  It being Thanksgiving Day, it is the perfect opportunity to express and share the meanings and associations between success, sacrifice, blessings, and thanksgiving in my life.

Success, sacrifice, and thanksgiving are all connected in my life.  They each have a very special meaning in my life, and have grown stronger and more intense throughout the passing years.  Firstly, my personal meaning of success has changed throughout the years.  When I was younger – say, a college student or recent college graduate – success meant getting and maintaining a great career position, along with earning a comfortable salary and benefits.  It made me feel secure, stable, and accomplished to achieve that. 

Roses in Georgia, October 2011

Roses in Georgia, October 2011

As the years have passed – such as the past 20 years or so – success for me, personally, now means doing all I can for the benefit of my family, particularly for my son.  For me, success involves “being there” for my son as much as possible, providing him with the most and best possible quality time, and being a compassionate, sensitive, nurturing, caring, and loving mom for him.  To me, that is my greatest success – “the” greatest success – raising, caring for, loving, and being there for my son.  I invest all possible social and emotional understanding, compassion, and nurturing into my son, and I am also thankful and grateful to be able to do so on a regular and consistent basis.

So, for me, success no longer necessarily means having the best job or career position or earning the most money possible.  Although it is important to have a stable and enjoyable career, as well as to earn money in order to live and provide for my family, my highest priority and greatest success is in mothering my son.  So many jobs and career positions demand that people give their lives to their employment; I have given my life to being a mom, and being a sensitive, caring, loving, and nurturing one at that.  It is my hope that in the future, my son will remember all of the time, compassion, care, love, and nurturing that was invested into him, and invest that back into his own future family, as well as to others with whom he comes into contact.

Success also involves doing what I can for my son, my family, myself, and others.  Sometimes that also involves sacrifice – sacrificing my own selfish needs or desires for the benefit of others.  As the years have passed, I have realized that I truly do not need everything that I think I do.  And, when I look around, I see that I, indeed, have more than I need, materially.  It has helped me to refrain from satisfying a compulsive impulse to buy something that I don’t really need by telling myself that I have everything already and that I don’t need it. 

It also helps to remember that my main priority is in providing an outstanding education to my son, and that is where the money must go.  Thus, a wonderful education for my son is the top priority of sacrifice for me to him.  I strongly believe that such an excellent education is the best course of action for him, considering all other circumstances.  Of course, there are also expenses for maintaining good health, well-being, and extracurricular activities, as well as for having a vehicle and driving it, however my son’s schooling helps me maintain my focus of investment in him and in his education.  This is my gift of sacrifice to and investment into him.

Sacrificing and giving to others is also important to me.  When I can, I drive my parents to where they need and/or desire to go.  For one thing, this helps save on gasoline, though it also provides company, comraderie, companionship, and fellowship, not only for me, but also for my son.  I do what I can to give back to my family for all the good that they have done for and provided to me, even in the little things that others may think are insignificant, such as buying some groceries, taking packages to be mailed at the post office, or taking items to the trash pick-up or recycling center.  That stated, I know I could never in my entire life return to my parents all that they have provided in support and assistance to me, and for that, I am also extremely thankful and blessed.

Sacrificing also means giving back to the community, serving others, and helping those who are in need.  I regularly do that as a volunteer in many capacities, including at two churches as a lector and lay minister, as a writer for a church newsletter, donating food and clothing for those in need, volunteering as a spiritual leader at my son’s school in activities that assist local families in need, assisting as a parent helper for school activities, organizing food for and delivering it to local families in need during the holiday season, volunteering my time, talents, and efforts in Cub Scouts whenever possible, and giving of my time by volunteering at the local religious-affiliated thrift store.  Though my desired, intended, and enjoyed career path in teaching has not proceeded as planned, I am rewarded by being able to give of my time and talents to help and assist others – and, in turn, it is also spiritually, socially, mentally, and emotionally fulfilling for me.

So, what I am most thankful for are God, my son, my family, my friends, and the good, competent, caring professionals who are in my life.  Without God, I would be nowhere.  With God, I have, maintain, and develop my strong faith, even when things are not going well.  I believe that there is a reason for everything, even though I may not know or understand what those reasons are.  I also believe that God has our lives mapped out for us, and knows everything that will happen in our lives long before it happens and prior to us even making a choice on what to do. 

Thanksgiving Pumpkins

Thanksgiving Pumpkins

I try my best to be thankful to God everyday and for everthing, both good and bad, because I believe there are learning experiences in everything.  Of course, it is extremely difficult and challenging to be faced with bad, trying, or traumatic situations, though with God as my strength, I know that goodness, love, and mercy will prevail in some way.  With God, for whom I am thankful, I am blessed with the hope and faith that He will guide and show me the best way in which for me to travel.

Thanksgiving is also important in association with my son.  I am thankful for my son because he provides me with the greatest meaning in my life, he gives me the strength and fortitude that I need to live and enjoy each day, he fulfills that place within my soul that has the innate need to mother, nurture, care for, and love him.  I am thankful for my son because I often believe that he is my reason for being, for living, and for sharing and enjoying the most in life that is possible.  I am so moved and thankful to God for my son; he is my heart.

My family are also those for whom I am thankful.  Without my family – my parents in particular – I would not be where I am today.  When I was in need, it was my parents who were there for me and my son.  My parents have been that strong, stable, unyielding rock of strength and persistence throughout my life, showing me that nothing is too great to overcome, that nothing is too great to bear, that nothing is too severe to integrate positively into my life in some way.  Having been married now for nearly 50 years, my parents are wonderful role models for me, and for them, I am extremely thankful and indebted.

I have a few wonderful, close friends, and for them, I am also very thankful.  One is lucky and blessed in their lifetime to find, acquire, and maintain friendships with those who are kindred spirits, sharing similar values, beliefs, and backgrounds, and I am blessed and thankful to have found such friends as these.  Typically, I gravitate toward friends who are slightly older than me because I believe that they are more mature, experienced in the world and in their lives, and can also be wonderful mentors for me.  In fact, there have been a couple of colleagues in my life who have also become wonderful friends, particularly for those reasons.  It is such a blessing to be able to share an understanding, flexibility, and sensitivity with friends who hold similar outlooks, philosophies, and perspectives, and I am thankful for those people in my life.

Also of great importance in my life are those professionals who have been helpful and supportive of me and my family, and who have made our lives easier and more enjoyable.  For these folks, I am extremely thankful and grateful, and for some, I will also never be able to fully express or show my gratitude if it takes me the rest of my life.  Currently, a few of these people in particular include my attorney, a school superintendent, and physicians and healthcare professionals who doctor and/or otherwise assist me and my son.  In the past, such professionals have also included college professors, instructors, mentors, and coaches; and professional peers and colleagues.

Of course, I am also thankful for nature, the environment, animals, flowers, plants, food to eat, shelter, safety, freedom and democracy, diversity, and different peoples, cultures, religions, languages, and customs.  I am also thankful for opportunities, growth, development, life experiences, and being able to live my life.  I am thankful to travel freely and to where I choose.  I am thankful for having sight, hearing, touch, taste, intelligence, honesty, persistence, and a whole host of other qualities and characteristics.  I am also thankful for being female – being a woman, for with that has come pregnancy and giving birth to my son, and enjoying experiences and intimacies that are understood only by women.  Even so with all of these things for which I am thankful, I am most thankful for people and God.

My son and children, in general, are those people in my life for whom I am most thankful because they bring so much joy, happiness, innocence, and fulfillment into my life.  Had I an enjoyable, stable, and loving relationship with a partner, I would also find great fulfillment in sharing such thankfulness and love with him, as well.  I know, however, that a relationship of that nature is in God’s hands, and if such a relationship never presents itself, then I will know and accept that it was not meant to be, however discouraging and disappointing, perhaps it would be for the best.  My love and compassion for children, children’s rights, and children’s welfare would also be high priorities for me to share with an intimate partner, as I am sure he would find similar enjoyment and fulfillment in this, as well.

Westward View of North Carolina Toward Tennessee from Cherokee, North Carolina, October 2010

Westward View of North Carolina Toward Tennessee from Cherokee, North Carolina, October 2010

While this post will end up being published and dated in the day following Thanksgiving this year, it was on my agenda to accomplish on Thanksgiving Day, though other things came up that needed attention.  I hope that you who are reading my article will be able to reflect upon what it is that you are thankful for, and perhaps, also find some correlations between success, sacrifice, gratitude, and blessings in your life. 

Sometimes, we just need to stop and smell the roses, or – before you know it – those roses are gone and we are left wondering what happened.  I took a few moments this evening to cut some roses from the backyard garden and to smell and enjoy them.  Please also take time to be thankful and share all wonderful things on this Thanksgiving.  Take time to “smell the roses;” enjoy all that is good; share with family, friends, and loved ones; and be thankful for all that our wonderful Creator has bestowed upon us.  Give extra hugs and more quality time to your children and family.  Take a moment to appreciate everything, and not take it for granted.  Enjoy it now – it doesn’t last forever!

“Money Talks: The Decisions of Wealthy School Benefactors may not be in Everyone’s Best Interests” By Michele Babcock-Nice

Money Talks: The Decisions of Wealthy School Benefactors may not be in Everyone’s Best Interests

By: Michele Babcock-Nice

April 10, 2012

There has always been the age-old issue of money being the decision-maker when it comes to wealth, power, influence, and issues. More than one person and friend has advised me that one person cannot change the system, that one person cannot change others’ corrupt and/or unethical practices.

As a person who visualizes a situation and wants to improve it or make it better in some way, I have realized as I have gotten older that – unless I am also extremely wealthy and had money that could talk – my voice is often just a lone whisper in the wilderness. However, I do have a voice, and I enjoy expressing myself in the desire to be heard.

So, while I may not be able to open others’ eyes to unethical, immoral, and/or incorrect practices, I can remain a role model and leader for positive change, for speaking out about the truth that others don’t see – or refuse to see, and for my gift of natural insight into myself and others. It is important for us, as such role models, to express our views and perspectives so that others may be offered alternate snapshots of the world around us.

Also I have gotten older, I have also realized that in sometimes being unable to influence and/or convince others of a better, or more moral, ethical, or correct way, one may be forced to walk away from a situation. I may be wrong, but I believe that sometimes, there is no helping a situation. There may be too many people who share the same beliefs, and those beliefs may be the majority view, whether or not the majority upholds moral, just, fair, and ethical standards.

In education, particularly in schools in which wealthy benefactors have enormous power and influence, those benefactors may or may not have the best interests of the school and/or students in mind. In fact, if such benefactors are leaders of a large and powerful family and/or extended family – such as those comprising of 100s or even 1,000s of members – it is those benefactors whose influence and power will be most felt, whether good or not.

This is why it is of advantage to students, parents, educators, community members, and others to consider every side of a viewpoint or situation. Just because money talks does not necessarily mean that it is a good thing. It may only be a good thing for those wealthy benefactors of a school of which their children and/or relatives attend. They may view things on a completely different level than the common, average, ordinary person since their wealth, status, power, and influence may be so far-reaching. This, then, is not necessarily good for the common person because his or her needs and issues may not be adequately recognized, addressed, or attended to.

In particular, in deciding on a school at which to send your children, and/or choosing a school at which to work in any capacity, one must do as much research as possible and consider all sides of any issue. Of course, there are going to be good and bad things to consider about anyplace, though one must pay particular attention to those issues that have caused conflict and/or that are controversial, as well as the manner in which they were handled. If serious or controversial issues are silenced, and/or if honest, competent employees are falsely disgraced or bullied, our eyes must be opened to the truth that others try to prevent us from seeing and understanding.

As someone who tries to think positively about everything and see the best in others, it is sometimes a rude and painful awakening to realize that not everyone has the best interests of others in mind. Particularly in the situation of those who are extremely wealthy and whose money talks, people must be aware that such individuals may have their own agenda and may be acting in their own self-interests, which may not be the best for everyone. Whether in the area of education or any other profession, it is important to be knowledgeable and aware of these situations.

Author’s Note: Also posted on Twitter and LinkedIn under “People Against Retaliation and Bullying,” April 10, 2012.

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.

Personal Tribute to Dr. Phillip Santa Maria (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Personal Tribute to Dr. Phillip Santa Maria,

Former Associate Vice President for Student Affairs

and Dean of Students

at the State University of New York College at Buffalo

(March 10, 1943 – June 29, 2005)

By: Michele Babcock-Nice

 

Dr. Santa Maria

Dr. Santa Maria and I in 2000 at Buffalo State College

Having recently learned of the death of a wonderful college administrator, colleague, professor, leader, musician, Christian, mentor, and friend, Dr. Phillip Santa Maria, I have been moved to write this tribute to him.  Sadly, not having previously known of his passing shows how out-of-touch I have been about people and activities at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, my alma mater.  I recently sought to reconnect with Dr. Santa Maria through LinkedIn, and was informed by another administrator at the college of his passing. 

Dr. Santa Maria was Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the State University of New York College at Buffalo – or Buffalo State College – in Buffalo, New York.  I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Dr. Santa Maria through my studies in the Master’s Degree Program in College Student Personnel Administration, offered at the college.  Attending the college and earning my degree in 1997, I again returned there in 1999-2000 to earn my secondary social studies teaching certificate. 

Throughout both periods of my attendance at Buffalo State College, I met and got to know Dr. Santa Maria on a professional level.  During the time that I was studying for my graduate degree, I was interested in completing an internship with Dr. Santa Maria, though he already had one or two interns working with him at the time.  

Returning to the college, later, to earn my teaching certification, I was determined to make myself known to Dr. Santa Maria.  His wonderful secretary, colleague, and friend, Nancy Terreri, initially arranged a time in which he and I could meet.  He and I, then, mutually decided upon a way in which we could work together – through collaborating on the “Issues of Interest” Series, a collection of articles that I wrote through interviews with him for the college newspaper, The Record.  

As I sit here and type this, I cannot help but cry in remembering Dr. Santa Maria.  In everything that he did, “Dr. Phil,” as some of us jokingly called him, exemplified the utmost and highest possible professionalism.  Dr. Santa Maria was that rare and unique person whom one meets and knows in his or her life who makes a positive difference in everything that he does.  He was a man of the greatest humility, ethics, and morals; highest intelligence, competence, and standards; and most outstanding dignity, integrity, and respect.  

Dr. Santa Maria led by example.  He was a man, leader, and role model who was open to people of all backgrounds, religions, races, ethnicities, and religions.  Dr. Santa Maria was the professional of all professionals.  Anyone whom Dr. Santa Maria met and with whom he interacted, he touched their lives in profound and wonderful ways.  The talents and skills of Dr. Santa Maria went beyond his office and boundaries of the college. 

Dr. Santa Maria was a well-known Russian historian, had visited Russia, and led educational tours of Russia.  He was a professor in the College Student Personnel Program, and taught classes in the program when called upon.  He was a guitarist in his band that played classical guitar music throughout Western New York and in Canada.  I was privileged to hear him play guitar with his band on two occasions, and brought my family to hear him play, as well.  

Dr. Santa Maria was always interested in the progress of the college and activities of the students.  I was a senator in the United Students Government at the college, and Dr. Santa Maria and I would sit and discuss some of the contemplations, plans, and activities of the group. 

Beginning as a writer and columnist for the college newspaper, The Record, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with many hours of his time over the course of one year, in interviews about issues that were of interest to students and others at the college.  I, then, fashioned those interviews into articles for the newspaper, calling them the “Issues of Interest” Series, a title mutually decided upon by both of us. As Dr. Santa Maria and I collaborated for the “Issues of Interest” Series, we got to know and trust each other more. 

When something came up and I had a couple of questions about sensitive issues at the newspaper office, I called him for his advice and guidance.  Dr. Santa Maria also placed much trust and confidence in me, as well, in inviting me to sit on the Student Judicial Appeal Board and hear cases of fellow students.  

This wonderful college leader further elevated me by inviting me to participate in the Faculty and Staff Committee on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse as a student representative.  In regard to this Committee, Dr. Santa Maria was the Chairperson, and desired to spread awareness about the seriousness of alcohol and drug misuse and abuse on college campuses throughout the country. 

I can still hear Dr. Santa Maria now with his 1999 statement to me, “Students have certain freedoms, but with those freedoms come responsibilities.”  Dr. Santa Maria always desired for students to be good and intelligent citizens who were responsible for their actions. 

Yet again, Dr. Santa Maria continued his trust and confidence in me by inviting me to the annual dinner of the Buffalo Council on World Affairs, as one of a few student representatives of the college.  There, my horizons were expanded more still by hearing the speaker address the audience about important world social issues, as well as those affecting our local area. 

As a member of the student government, I was also one of a few college student representatives to attend SUNY Day in Albany – an opportunity for college student leaders to visit the state’s capital and speak with state government representatives.  It was there that I met several state government leaders, including the Hon. Sam Hoyt, New York State Assembly Member for Buffalo, and was invited by him to intern in his office.  I believe that it may have been due to the professional reputation that Dr. Santa Maria had provided me in developing that led to yet another wonderful experience in interning with Assembly Member Hoyt. 

On one occasion while meeting with Dr. Santa Maria in his office for an interview, he was conducting a conference call with University Police Lieutenant Sam Lunetta, giving me the privilege of introducing me to him and listening to their conversation about campus safety.  Dr. Santa Maria and Lieutenant Lunetta regularly communicated with each other about happenings on campus related to public safety. 

Lieutenant Lunetta performed his work remarkably, which I shared with Dr. Santa Maria.  Dr. Santa Maria asked me if there was anything that I thought could be improved regarding campus safety.  As I was unable to think of anything, I responded to him that I believed they had all the bases covered.  In encouraging everyone on campus to be safe, using the Blue Light system, having parking lot bussing to the main part of campus, and a visible presence of public safety officers on campus, Dr. Santa Maria and Lieutenant Lunetta did their best to make sure that everyone on campus was safe at all times.  

Through Dr. Santa Maria’s introduction to me of Lieutenant Lunetta, I also interviewed him for a newspaper article on student drinking and thoughts about potential parental notification regarding it.  Dr. Santa Maria also encouraged me to meet and interview many other administrators, leaders, professors, and students at the college for the “Issues of Interest” Series, as well as to report on the “Great Decisions” Lecture Series on campus, which I did. 

Working with Dr. Santa Maria on this basis expanded my horizons and provided me with a broader knowledge of issues affecting college campuses. As a person of high expectations, ethics, morals, standards, and values, Dr. Santa Maria brought out the best in everyone.  This was no different with me – he brought out the best in me.  The more I interacted with him, the more I had the desire to excel and succeed, and to please him, professionally. 

The professionalism, integrity, and energy with which Dr. Santa Maria continually worked and led his life were a huge inspiration for me. Dr. Santa Maria had that gentle, caring, sensitive, and soft-spoken way about him that reached my heart and my soul.  It was as if he reached in and provided comfort and peace to my heart.  Talking with him, seeking his advice, and receiving his professional and personal guidance brought me a profound sense of calmness and trust in him.  We always conducted ourselves professionally and respectfully toward each other, and this provided the foundation for our trust and confidence in each other. 

On occasion, Dr. Santa Maria and I discussed personal issues that presented concerns to us.  I remember asking him what his thoughts were about whether or not I should move out-of-state to accept employment in teaching.  I shared with him that I was afraid to do so; he told me not to be afraid.  And, in telling me that, he had a way of comforting me that convinced me that everything would be okay.  

At one time, Dr. Santa Maria shared with me that he had considered taking work in a warmer part of the country, namely Florida, because he had just been there for a professional conference.  I stated to him that everyone at the college needed him, and I asked him what everyone would do without him.  He accepted that, though I am not sure that is the answer he was looking for.  

Dr. Santa Maria silently managed his career stresses every day, working extremely long hours, arriving very early and sometimes, going without lunch and dinner in order to complete his work.  He handled his professional stress with so much humility and acceptance.  He was a man who loved what he did, professionally, and was the best at it. 

He was also a man, who, in my observations, was deserving of more credit and respect for his work from his superiors, though he would never breathe a word about it.  I once accompanied Dr. Santa Maria to a board meeting of higher level administrators, and observed him sit quietly while others spoke.  It was then that I noticed that his work and accomplishments should have been more appropriately recognized by his superiors. 

Dr. Santa Maria was an excellent listener, as well as an outstanding communicator.  I personally wished that he was able to serve in a position of even higher leadership at the college as his professionalism and sensitivity would have reached even further than it already has. It was at this particular board meeting that Dr. Santa Maria introduced me to several college leaders, some of whom I had already met and others whom I had not.  There, he introduced me to Vice President for Student Affairs Hal Payne and International Student Affairs Director Jean-Francois Gounard, and some others.  I was also re-introduced to President Muriel Moore, whom I had previously known as a student at the University of Buffalo.  

Yet, again, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with another opportunity to network, and build and develop my professional experiences and reputation.  Dr. Santa Maria’s introduction of me to Dr. Gounard provided another professional friendship that developed while I was a student at Buffalo State College.  Dr. Gounard invited me to his offices, gave me a tour of them, and explained what services were provided there.  

I shared with Dr. Gounard that I had studied abroad in Krakow, Poland through the University at Buffalo, and had independently traveled throughout Eastern and Western Europe, the British Isles, and Canada.  Dr. Gounard invited me to write an article for the International Student Affairs newsletter about my travels, which I did, while also providing an accompanying photograph.  Dr. Gounard further invited me to attend a professional luncheon that welcomed to Buffalo a fellow Frenchman, Phillip Jenkinson, who spoke there and who was very successful in business.  Thus, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with an experience of developing a positive relationship with another of his trusted colleagues. 

Dr. Santa Maria, being a person who was open to meeting, and networking and communicating with everyone, also allowed me to introduce him to a successful business leader and entrepreneur whom I knew from my hometown.  This business leader – now semi-retired – was the head of a successful sand, gravel, and asphalt company that has nine large business enterprises throughout Western New York and Eastern Pennsylvania.  Providing leading professionals with an opportunity to connect was important to me, as well as to Dr. Santa Maria, since one of my main interests in college administration is in career development. 

On another note, Dr. Santa Maria was an avid walker, and would walk late in the evenings after returning home from work, as he shared with me.  I was always happy that he was able to relieve some of his work stresses through exercise and other activities that he enjoyed, such as playing his guitar.  He and I had something in common in relation to these activities since I also enjoy walking and jogging, as well as having played piano and clarinet.  It is important for people to have recreational and creative outlets. 

I could reflect upon some of Dr. Santa Maria’s life, though I only became aware of so much more of what he did in his life following his death.  Dr. Santa Maria was a person who was so focused on his work and the current events occurring in his life that the past was not something that we often discussed.  Dr. Santa Maria once shared with me that he worked the night shift at the Bethlehem Steel Plant in Lackawanna, New York while he was attending college.  He was proud that he worked his way through college with employment in the steel industry.  He and I also spoke of our families, and he shared with me about his daughter and son, as well as their studies and hopes for the future. 

The best way to remember Dr. Santa Maria in tribute is to recall and reflect upon the person whom he was.  Dr. Santa Maria is the epitome of a man – a professional, a leader, a fellow Catholic and Christian, and a true gentleman.  He is the type of man that all men should aspire to be.  He was a true reflection of a man among men. As the tear stains have now dried upon my face, though my eyes are welling up again, I remember Dr. Santa Maria and the man whom he was. 

Dr. Santa Maria was and is a man whose spirit touched the lives of so many people in such wonderful ways.  My tribute and description here pale in comparison to the person whom he was.  I am so honored, privileged, and blessed to have known Dr. Phillip Santa Maria, to have him as a colleague, friend, and mentor.  One would be truly blessed to have met Dr. Santa Maria or even one like him throughout their entire lives.  He continues to serve as a role model and inspiration to me, professionally and spiritually.  

Dr. Santa Maria, as a professional, I hold you in the very highest regard.  As a friend, I will always love, honor, and respect you, in the most moral, ethical, and appropriate ways.  Thank you for the time that you spent with me, guiding me and shaping me through your wisdom, intelligence, and leadership.  Thank you for sharing your life and experiences with me.  Thank you for your friendship, trust, and confidence.  I am so sad that I was not aware of, nor informed of your illness or passing until now, though I will always remember you and honor your spirit.  Let us remember better times.  Until we meet again…                                         

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Please consider making a financial contribution to the Dr. Phillip Santa Maria Memorial Fund through the Buffalo State College Foundation.  Monies contributed in this fund are awarded as scholarships to outstanding students at Buffalo State College.