Published January 8, 2015
Freezing temperatures and chilling winds did not deter members of the UB and broader Western New York communities from honoring the life of Buffalo legend Millard Fillmore.
The crowd gathered yesterday in Forest Lawn Cemetery to celebrate the birthday and legacy of Fillmore, 13th president of the United States and UB’s first chancellor.
The outdoor ceremony marked Fillmore’s 215th birthday and the 50th year that UB has organized the annual event.
The city of Buffalo also recognized Fillmore yesterday, with Mayor Byron Brown proclaiming Jan. 7, 2015 as Millard Fillmore Day.
It’s difficult to find a cultural, civic or community organization that Fillmore, a proud Buffalonian, was not involved in. He assisted in framing the charter that transformed Buffalo from a village into a city and helped establish UB — serving as the university’s chancellor from 1846 until his death in 1874. And as a congressman, Fillmore secured funds to enlarge the Buffalo Harbor and expand the Erie Canal.
The list doesn’t stop there. Fillmore helped found what is now Buffalo General Medical Center, the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy – now the Albright-Knox Art Gallery — the local chapter of the ASPCA, the Buffalo Historical Society – now the Buffalo History Museum — the county library system, the local school system and the fire department.
His impact reached national proportions when he served as vice president under Zachary Taylor from 1849-50, and then as president from 1850-53.
Representatives of those local organizations touched by Fillmore returned to his gravesite yesterday to pay their respects at the annual commemoration of his birthday on Jan. 7, 1800. Among them were representatives of the law firm Hodgson Russ LLP, The Buffalo Club and, of course, UB.
As part of the ceremony, they gave short tributes to Fillmore and placed a ribbon or pin on a wreath at his grave. Provost Charles F. Zukoski represented UB.
“President Millard Fillmore started the university to become the pride and ornament of the city, imagining that no great city can be without a great university,” said Zukoski. “We believe we still are the pride and ornament of the city, and try to fulfill his legacy.
“It’s very fitting that we are also celebrating this year moving the medical school back to the core of the city, which is how Millard Fillmore started the university.”
The White House and Forest Lawn presented wreaths as well. Col. Kevin Rogers, inspector general of the 107th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard based at the Niagara Falls Air Base, placed the White House wreath on behalf of President Obama.
In consideration of numbing fingers and toes, William Regan, UB special events coordinator and the celebration’s host, moved the memorial address by Town of Amherst historian Robert Goller to the warmth of the Margaret L. Wendt Archive and Resource Center in the cemetery.
But before concluding the outdoor portion of the ceremony, the
gathering stood for the playing of “Taps” by
undergraduate student Matthew Caputy.
During his commemorative address, Goller discussed Fillmore’s early life and impact on East Aurora, where Fillmore’s home still stands.
“While Fillmore’s presidency was relatively short, he was probably one of the most effective at using the power of the post-presidency to lend support to important efforts,” said Goller. “The word ‘retirement’ certainly didn’t describe Millard Fillmore after he left the White House, and we have a much better community because of it.”
Following Goller’s address, a reception sponsored by Forest Lawn and The Buffalo Club was held in the Wendt Center. Guests enjoyed coffee and baked goods, and could view an exhibit on Fillmore’s history.
The tradition of honoring Fillmore dates back to 1937. Until 1965, the commemoration was organized by the city of Buffalo and the Buffalo Board of Education. Planning for the celebration shifted to UB in 1966.