Published March 5, 2015
On one of those Buffalo February mornings when the car thermometer drops every mile of travel, Dick Sebian is already on the case. He stands with his blue apron and nametag at the delivery dock of the St. Vincent de Paul Society dining room at 1298 Main St. in Buffalo, preparing for the 200 or so people arriving in a few hours for their Lenten lunch.
Sebian, a retired supervisor of grounds for UB and World War II veteran, is a St. Vincent de Paul fixture. He has been a volunteer who has helped serve food and raise morale among the people coming to the St. Vincent de Paul dining room in need of a meal since he retired in 1987. And he’s done it three days a week for all but two of the past 28 years.
Sebian is a particularly affable and charming example of how the UB community enriches the community at large, even many years after retirement. One more pertinent detail: Sebian is 90.
For Sebian (he says his name is pronounced like three letters: C, B and N), his calling at this time in his life is as straightforward as it is satisfying. Every Monday, Tuesday and Friday, he greets the crowd of clients — men, women and children — waiting in the hallway outside of the dining hall. Every time, whether there are 10 or 300 people, he says a little impromptu prayer there “asking the Good Lord to bless this food.” Then they say the “Our Father.”
“Then we come in,” Sebian says.
Once inside, Sebian hands out dishes with food and silverware to the workers bringing lunches to the people sitting at tables. Sometimes he’ll hand out fruit or salads. Sometimes he’ll help arrange the bags of bread on the pantry shelves. All the time, he’s “shooting the breeze” with the people coming to lunch. Many are like his friends, Sebian says. He recognizes their familiar faces. And if he doesn’t know all their names, they know his, thanks to his St. Vincent de Paul nametag.
“It’s a time-filler,” Sebian says. “I feel really happy to be able to come down here. It’s a good feeling when they recognize me.”
That answer to why he travels 14 miles from his home on Transit Road in Williamsville three mornings a week for all these years is vintage “CBN.” It has the sincerity and wisdom of someone who still easily recalls the brutality of World War II combat in Europe, but who can appreciate the satisfaction of simple joys.
Sebian was grounds supervisor on the South Campus from 1953 to his retirement in 1987. He supervised construction of six parking lots and the expansion of two others. He says he got that responsibility because he was the only one with a college degree at the time, another testament to the virtue of higher education.
Sebian will easily tell about the many times he has felt someone or something from above looking out for him. It happened in his combat experiences in Europe. (“They were too numerous to mention,” he says.) There was the time his 6-year-old son narrowly missed getting hit by a car while he changed a tire on the way to a trailer park in Pennsylvania during a family vacation. They include this past summer when he was a passenger in a car on Main Street on his way to visit his son in Akron when the car went through a ditch and ran up the other side of the road to avoid an accident, leaving Sebian and the driver shaken.
So when asked to explain his reward for all the years of service at St. Vincent de Paul, Sebian’s answer is equally straightforward and clear.
“Up above,” Sebian says, looking toward the ceiling, thanking “the Blessed Mother.” Then he laughs.
That combination of few words and faithful deeds is all that is needed to make those around him take notice and remember him.
“One of the things that impressed me about Dick was the fact that all the clients who were coming in for their warm meal on that very cold morning knew his name, and he knew theirs,” says Arlene F. Kaukus, director of UB’s Career Services, who met Sebian at St. Vincent de Paul. “Dick exudes a caring spirit that draws people to him. He is the ‘real deal.’
“His dedication to his volunteer role is inspiring. It was also clear that volunteering brings him joy. What a great example of a UB retiree continuing to give back to the community and touching people’s lives.”
That same unassuming dedication and cheerfulness have impressed the administrators at St. Vincent de Paul.
“He’s a huge help,” says Katy Brace, the St. Vincent de Paul dining room manager. “He’s very good with everyone. A lot of the clients know him. He’s almost too reliable. He’s 90 years old. I tell him he shouldn’t be driving in the snow if there are four inches or more, and he should slow down. But he won’t.”
Sebian is hardly without options when it comes to finding a meaningful way to spend his time. He has five children (three girls and a boy), 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, with another on the way. He wife died 10 years ago.
Despite the other demands on his time, Sebian says he intends to continue his three-day-a-week routine at St. Vincent de Paul as long as he can. This is no time to rest on his laurels.
“I get as much pleasure serving the people,” he says, “as some of them enjoy the meals.”