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Norma Higgs

Sometimes things jog your memory and lead you to a new path. This is what happened recently, when I was watering my garden and noticed my side yard daisies were ready to burst into bloom. They take a bit longer as there is not as much sun to encourage them.

I suddenly remembered that Bernie Stack gave me these daisies when I first decided to rip out my grass and fill my yard with perennials. I was working at Supreme Court at the time and co-worker and law clerk to Justice Jackie Koshian, Marty Violante offered to roto-till for me. I mentioned this to Bernie one day while he was at Court and he said I have lots of daisies and I will bring you some. A man of his word, he showed up with a box filled with a bunch of beautiful daisies which I immediately planted in my new space. Watching them start to bloom, I decided to call Bernie to write about this thought and some other interesting stories about him.

Bernie was born to Emmett and Genevieve Stack at the old Mount St. Mary’s Hospital on 6th Street on July 28, 1931. His father was a city firefighter and Bernie, like many of our generation, had stay-at-home moms. He lived at 2637 Porter Road with his two brothers Gerald and Kevin and they later moved to something larger on Whitney Avenue. Bernie graduated from Niagara Falls High in 1949 and went on to Niagara University for three years followed by his admission to the School of Law at the University of Buffalo. Bernie graduated in 1955, immediately passed the bar exam and was admitted to practice law in New York state in November of that year.

He married Anmarie D’Amico an art teacher in the local school system and was soon drafted into the Army for two years. When they returned from his service life at Fort Bragg, N.C. and the Third Army HQ in Atlanta, Ga., they moved in with her parents on the 2900 block of Cleveland Avenue for a short time to get settled. Bernie has always been a gregarious person and he knew everyone on the block. He spoke German pretty well and always conversed with a German woman who lived nearby. When he admired her garden, she gave him a bunch of daisies that grew from cuttings she had brought with her from Germany. These daisies have moved with Bernie throughout his years and are the same ones that he passed along to me. They are extremely hearty and never droop and grow quite tall.

Bernie and Anmarie purchased their first home in the 1800 block of Weston Avenue and he admitted he went to my dad’s barber shop nearby but split his time between him and Joe Chile’s shop. After a short time as an assistant to Judge John V. Hogan and Jerauld A. Wattengel, he set up a local law practice with partner Sam Tavano near Cleveland Avenue on 18th Street, where he recalled the Grobengeiser Brothers, whom we both agreed, sort of ruled the neighborhood. Everyone loved them and their small efficient grocery store which filled all our needs. Sam and Bernie parted amicably after approximately 20 years and Sam went on to a long career as Niagara County attorney and later headed the legal aid office. Bernie became a sole practitioner and finally settled on Main Street in the Massaro Building where he still practices law today. Many of the city firefighters were his clients giving him a good start.

The Stacks, who now had three children, moved to the DeVeaux area and when Anmarie passed away in the mid-1980s, Bernie was devastated. During a lonely period of grieving, while he was shopping at Slipko’s on Main Street one day, he was introduced by a mutual friend to Barbara Przylucki. After a period of friendship and companionship, a romance developed and they married. Barbara brought along her three children and they have been one family since Sept. 20, 1986, with 10 grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Bernie plays the accordion and many remember him and his lively group at the Ancient Order of Hibernians annual St. Patrick’s Day event at the old Armory on Main Street. He is also a member of the Knights of Columbus and has held both local and state offices in both organizations. In 2007 he started attending NU basketball games and noticed the absence of the “Niagara fight song” that was popular during his student days. He wrote to the University President, Father Joseph Lavesque who appreciated his concern for the lack of camaraderie and tradition at the sporting events and reinstituted the “fight” song at each game.

Bernie has made several trips abroad to Italy and Ireland where he spent time in Listowel in County Kerry where the name “Stack” originated from the nearby Stack Mountains. He and Barbara stay closer to home now.

Dom Iannuzzi summed up his recollection of Bernie for me when I told him he was my topic, as “a guy with a spring in his step, a smile on his face, a pencil behind his ear and a confident attitude”. Could not have said it better myself. Bernard Emmett Stack will celebrate his 80th birthday on July 28. All the best Bernie — may you continue to bring sunshine to others just like my daisies, for many years to come.

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