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Community leader draws on her immigrant story to strengthen Western New York
Story by Irene Liguori,with photo by Douglas Levere, BA '89
UB degree EdM ’01; Favorite quote from a restaurant wall “Success is the point in the road where preparation meets opportunity”; Memory of leaving Cuba at age 8 Just before boarding the plane, she slung a favorite doll over one shoulder—a signal to those secretly watching from afar that no one in the family was to be detained; National service Vice president of the National Conference for Community and Justice, and board member of the National Association of Commissions for Women
The New York Times in 1999 called her “an immaculately turned-out woman.”
The striking beauty, polished wardrobe and inspiring accomplishments of Clotilde Perez-Bode Dedecker invite comparisons to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis—a woman so frequently noted for her taste and poise that it sometimes eclipsed her equally impressive intellectual acumen.
Dedecker, a warm and seemingly tireless Cuban exile, has paved a career path that has included leading the 193,000- member Association of Junior Leagues International, service on national boards and the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, and shepherding the U.S. Committee for the United Nations International Year of the Volunteer celebration in 2000.
Today, as president and CEO of the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo (CFGB), Dedecker devotes herself to making Western New York a stronger, more inclusive place to live. She also has found time to serve on key community boards and collaborated to launch the Family Justice Center of Erie County for victims of domestic violence.
Dedecker says she owes much of her drive and passion to her parents. “‘Grow where you are planted.’ My parents very much have lived that philosophy,” she says. Three years after seeking permission to come to the United States, the Perez-Bode family was ordered to leave Cuba two days after Christmas 1967. On December 29, they boarded a plane, each of them allowed to carry only a meager bag of personal items.
From almost that moment on, the University at Buffalo became a recurring theme in Dedecker’s life: first helping her father revalidate his dentistry degree, next as the setting in which Dedecker received her 2001 master’s degree in education and today as a key partner assisting the foundation she now runs.
CFGB hired Dedecker in 2005 as vice president to increase the impact of its $185 million in assets and more than 800 endowed and non-endowed charitable funds. She wants to make concrete changes to help Buffalo thrive once again as it did in its heyday a century ago.
In 2007, Dedecker announced a five-year strategy to address some of the most serious challenges facing Western New York, while simultaneously building on the area’s strengths as a center for arts, history, architecture and natural resources.
One year later, Read to Succeed Buffalo—a school-readiness program designed to help reverse the dismal reality that 50 percent of Buffalo’s preschoolers are at risk for academic failure—is one early initiative already showing promising results.
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An Academy Award-winning actor, a singer-songwriter and a Pulitzer Prize winner headline UB's Distinguished Speakers Series.
The reopening of barriers between the U.S. and Cuba offers new opportunities, but it's not without risk, says UB's Henry Louis Taylor Jr.