John T. Ko­ciela, re­tired county of­fi­cial, phi­lan­thropist

The Buffalo News - - OBITUARIES - June 6, 1946 – Feb. 27, 2019 By Dale An­der­son NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

John Ko­ciela had a high-pro­file po­si­tion as di­rec­tor of en­vi­ron­men­tal health in the Erie County Health De­part­ment, but he was more cel­e­brated for what he did out­side the of­fice.

For many years, he and his wife, Carol, a re­tired bank ex­ec­u­tive, have been lead­ing sup­port­ers of Buf­falo’s ar­chi­tec­tural and cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Among other things, their phi­lan­thropy has re­stored paint­ings at the Burch­field Penney Art Cen­ter and ren­o­vated the Palm Dome at the Buf­falo & Erie County Botan­i­cal Gar­dens.

The Buf­falo His­tory Mu­seum rec­og­nized their gen­eros­ity in 2016 by pre­sent­ing them jointly with its pres­ti­gious Red Jacket Award. At first he didn’t think he was wor­thy.

“He wanted to turn it down,” his wife said, “but we con­vinced him he had to ac­cept it.”

He died Feb. 27 in Mil­lard Fill­more Sub­ur­ban Hos­pi­tal, Amherst, af­ter a brief ill­ness. He was 72.

Born in Syra­cuse, the old­est of four chil­dren, John Thaddeus Ko­ciela earned a de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing in 1968 from the Univer­sity at Buf­falo.

At UB, he met Carol V. Schwartz on a blind date and they were mar­ried af­ter she grad­u­ated in 1969. He joined the Erie County Health De­part­ment and she be­gan a ca­reer with Marine Mid­land Bank.

Mr. Ko­ciela served for more than 20 years as di­rec­tor of en­vi­ron­men­tal health, over­see­ing con­cerns such as san­i­tary in­spec­tions in restau­rants, wa­ter qual­ity test­ing at pub­lic beaches and the erad­i­ca­tion of mos­qui­toes bear­ing the West Nile virus. He re­tired about 10 years ago.

A love of ar­chi­tec­ture led him to be­come a do­cent at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Dar­win Martin House, where he led tours for four decades.

“A friend of his, Ja­son Aronoff, got peo­ple to­gether to give tours while it was still owned by UB,” his wife, Carol, said. “He gave 60 to 70 tours this past year. He was get­ting calls con­stantly. He would al­ways go if he had noth­ing press­ing.”

“He was con­tent to qui­etly lead by ex­am­ple,” said Mary Roberts, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Martin House. “He in­flu­enced so many peo­ple. He re­ally was an in­di­vid­ual of many tal­ents and pas­sions and com­mit­ments.”

The Ko­cielas shared a love of gar­den­ing and were Botan­i­cal Gar­dens board mem­bers.

A 2009 Buf­falo News fea­ture ar­ti­cle noted that their Eg­gertsville home has “a front yard gar­den that causes walk­ers to stop and take no­tice. This is just the pre­lude to a back yard that is as good as many pub­lic gar­dens.”

Mr. Ko­ciela also raised or­chids and was record­ing sec­re­tary for the Ni­a­gara Fron­tier Orchid So­ci­ety, which is nam­ing an an­nual award in his honor. He joined the group in car­ing for the orchid col­lec­tion at the Botan­i­cal Gar­dens ev­ery Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Both also served on the board of the Univer­sity at Buf­falo Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion and he was a board mem­ber of the UB En­gi­neer­ing and Ap­plied Sciences Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion.

He worked with en­gi­neer­ing alumni to name a build­ing at UB in honor of Greg Jarvis, one of the as­tro­nauts who died in the 1986 Space Shut­tle Chal­lenger disas­ter. Mr. Ko­ciela was a class­mate of Jarvis at UB and they con­tin­ued as friends long af­ter grad­u­a­tion.

Mrs. Ko­ciela said she and her hus­band be­gan col­lect­ing art in the 1980s and “soon re­al­ized we had to nar­row the fo­cus, so we did Western NewYorkart.Afriend­o­fours­got us in­volved in the Col­lec­tors Club at the Burch­field Penney and we got in­vited to join the board there.”

Their sup­port has pro­vided for more than seven dozen ac­qui­si­tions for the Burch­field Penney col­lec­tion and sup­ported the con­ser­va­tion of more than two dozen paint­ings by Art Deco artist Alexan­der O. Levy that were found in a derelict build­ing.

At the Burch­field Penney, they cre­ated an an­nual grant to sup­port lo­cal artists and es­tab­lished a fund to bring school field trips to the mu­seum. In 2014, they were in­ducted into the mu­seum’s Peter­son So­ci­ety, which rec­og­nizes lead­ing donors, and they re­ceived its Esprit de Corps Award.

Mr. Ko­ciela was a for­mer mem­ber of the Big Wheels Bi­cy­cle Club, com­pleted many 100-mile rides and took trips across the state. Also a ten­nis player, he served on the board of the Buf­falo Rac­quet Club.

In ad­di­tion to his wife, sur­vivors in­clude two broth­ers, Thaddeus and Joseph; and a sis­ter, Mary Anne Clary.

A gath­er­ing of his friends will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Sun­day, in the Burch­field Penney Art Cen­ter, 1300 Elm­wood Ave.

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