Campus News

Donors’ generosity recognized at UB’s anatomical gift ceremony

Families of donors to the Anatomical Gift Progam gathered to honor their generosity.

Families of donors to the Anatomical Gift Progam gathered to honor their loved ones' generosity. Photos: Douglas Levere

By ELLEN GOLDBAUM

Published July 8, 2021

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“Nothing can take away the loss of a loved one, but by these incredible acts of generosity, your loved ones have given a little more meaning to our lives. ”
John Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Peter A. Nickerson PhD Professor and Chair
Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences

More than 400 friends and family members of individuals who donated their bodies to furthering medical science at UB gathered on July 1 to collectively honor their generosity.

A couple honors their loved one.

A couple attends the ceremony honoring their loved one.  

The ceremony, which took place in Skinnersville Cemetery on the North Campus, recognizes those whose donations are a critical part of the education of students at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB and the university’s other health sciences schools.

This year’s ceremony honored the memory of more than 200 donors whose ashes were interred in a communal grave at the cemetery.

“We are here today to honor the amazing generosity your loved ones have bestowed on all of us,” said John Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Peter A. Nickerson PhD Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School.

UB Monsignor Patrick Kelleher gives the closing prayer.

UB Monsignor Patrick Kelleher gives the closing prayer before the release of the butterflies.

“Nothing can take away the loss of a loved one,” he said, “but by these incredible acts of generosity, your loved ones have given a little more meaning to our lives.”

And in some families, that generosity has become a cherished tradition. At the ceremony, more than a dozen members of one family gathered to remember their parents — or grandparents — both of whom were donors. That act has now been passed on to the next generation; the couple’s five adult children have signed up to be donors to UB’s program, too.

The most direct benefits of that generosity, of course, go to the students who study gross anatomy, whether they are enrolled in the Jacobs School, the School of Dental Medicine, the School of Nursing or the School of Public Health and Health Professions.

A little girl watches as a butterfly is released.

A little girl watches as a butterfly is released.  

The students see the donors as their teachers who taught them throughout the entire 16 weeks of an often grueling semester.

Families gather at the gravesite.

Ray Dannenhoffer (left, in coat and tie), director of the Anatomical Gift Program and senior associate dean for support services in the Jacobs School, speaks with the families. 

“They taught us in silence, with their generosity, selflessness and commitment to medical education,” said Nicole Gorski, who addressed the gathering with Andrea Alfonsi, both Jacobs School students in the Class of 2024.

Ray Dannenhoffer, director of the Anatomical Gift Program and senior associate dean for support services in the Jacobs School, said that for the students, the donors are, in a real sense, their first patients. “They carry the memory of that gift with them for their whole careers,” he said.

Family members take roses to place on gravesites.

Family members take roses to place on the gravesite.

He added that in the end, it is all of society that ultimately benefits because of the intense and profound educational experience that the donors make possible for the health care providers of tomorrow.

Tomaszewski concluded: “The world is a better place because of the generosity of your loved ones.”   

UB’s Anatomical Gift Program holds the non-denominational ceremony every 18 to 24 months so that families can commemorate loved ones whose ashes were interred in a communal grave; other families choose to have the ashes of their loved one returned to them or buried in a service that they arrange.

Roses in a basket near an inscribed marker.

The ashes of more than 200 donors were interred in a communal grave at Skinnersville Cemetery.

UB Monsignor Patrick Kelleher gave the opening and closing prayers. The service concluded with the release of dozens of butterflies and a short reception.