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Images courtesy of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce
Images courtesy of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce

Grand Island Chamber of Commerce to recognize Citizen of the Year awardees

Sat, Oct 8th 2022 07:00 am

The Grand Island Chamber of Commerce will honor the following at the 55th annual Grand Island Citizen of the Year Awards Dinner, set for 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13, at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Niagara Falls, 401 Buffalo Ave. Organizers said, “The Chamber’s Citizen of the Year Awards are presented annually to businesses and individuals whose contributions have truly made Grand Island a better place to live, work and play. We're excited to announce this year's recipients below. Please join us in celebrating their hard work, dedication and passion!”

For more information, or for tickets, visit http://gichamber.org/.

•Business: The Grand Island Fun Center

The Grand Island Fun Center boasts five attractions that are well-loved by all visitors. Its go-karting track is the longest in Western New York. In addition, it’s the only track that is under lighting. It provides two-seater go-karts for younger children to enjoy. It also maintains the No. 1-ranked mini-golf course in Western New York.

An interesting fact about the mini-golf course is that it features Grand Island and Western New York landmarks, which are built into the layout. One of the holes, No. 16, is in the shape of Grand Island, surrounded by the Niagara River that leads straight to Niagara Falls.

The Fun Center also features six batting cage stalls, all with updated equipment. It is the only outdoor laser-tag arena in all Western New York (installed in 2016), and was updated with new equipment this year.

The Grand Island Fun Center was founded in the mid-1990s as the Island Fun Center. Through its history of bringing smiles and cheer to the Island, the property was purchased by David Glian Sr. and his son, David Glian Jr., in 2013, when it was renamed the Grand Island Fun Center. The father and son duo operated the business together for three years, until 2016, when Glian Jr. bought the remaining partnership from his father. He runs the business, together with a team of hard-working individuals.

The current owner is a lifelong entrepreneur who started his first business, a pen repair company, when he was in the fourth grade. He ran multiple successful businesses before taking over the Grand Island Fun Center. Glian Jr. was named one of WNY’s “30 under 30” leaders in 2022 by Buffalo Business First.

Major renovations on this course were recently completed. The arcade was completely renovated over the last year, with the latest and greatest arcade games for people of all ages to enjoy.

In addition to all the attractions, the Grand Island Fun Center offers a snack bar known as the “Pit Stop,” which serves everyone’s favorite foods, drinks and snacks. The Fun Center hosts birthday parties, group events, corporate events, and anything in between throughout the year. Over the last 10 years, more than $750,000 was reinvested into the business to offer a better experience for customers.

According to the Grand Island Fun Center, “Putting money back into our community by using local contractors and vendors for our projects is something that we pride ourselves on.”

The Grand Island Fun Center currently employs 35 local students and has employed hundreds of Islanders throughout the years, providing many their first job opportunity right in their hometown. On average, employees stay at the Fun Center for four years, only leaving when they complete college.

By taking part in multiple community initiatives, the Fun Center has acted as a leader on Grand Island and within the Western New York community. The Fun Center has partnered with many local organizations and fundraisers, such as the Miracle League of WNY, Kiwanis Club of Grand Island, Make-A-Wish of WNY, Compeer Buffalo, Grand Island Little League and FeedMore WNY.

The Grand Island Fun Center is approaching its 30th anniversary and is excited for the next 30 years of providing safe family fun for the local community, as well as being able to give back in as many ways as possible.

•Civic Organization: Neighbors Foundation

The Neighbors Foundation was created in 1972 to aid Grand Islanders in need. The leaders of the Rotary Club founded it in coordination with the Zonta Club and Grand Island Central School District. The Neighbors Foundation received its 501(c)(3) charitable status in 1974. Three years later, St. Stephen R.C. Church offered space to the Neighbors Foundation. The organization has been there ever since. At the church, the Neighbors Foundation established a food pantry, from which it provides nonperishable food items to residents.

From its start, the Neighbors Foundation has been an all-volunteer organization. All the donations the organization receives go directly to support its mission to provide confidential food assistance to Islanders.

The Grand Island Neighbors Foundation gratefully receives generous food and monetary donations from civic and religious organizations, businesses and individuals. It also receives support from the Grand Island Central School district in collecting nonperishable food donations. In addition, the schools provide students to assist in sorting and organizing nonperishable food donations. This makes the annual holiday distribution possible.

An additional support for the Neighbors Foundation is the Grand Island Letter Carriers through the Stamp Out Hunger Food drive, which takes pace in May of each year, when the letter carriers collect nonperishable food donations from residents across Grand Island.

According to the Neighbors Foundation, “We are grateful for the recognition from the Chamber of Commerce, but certainly understand and emphasize that this award is shared by all our Grand Island neighbors, who have selflessly and generously provided resources to the foundation over the last 50 years. We look forward to working with our loving, caring and sharing Island community over the next 50-plus years to ensure we always fulfill our motto of ‘Neighbors Helping Neighbors.’ ”

The foundation encourages anyone in need to call 716-775-7998 for confidential assistance. For more information on the Neighbors Foundation, to donate or to volunteer, visit www.gineighbors.org.

•Community Service: Robert “Butch” Meyer

Robert “Butch” Meyer moved to Grand Island with his family when he was 6 years old. His parents had built a house on Love Road. He attended Island schools before studying at Bishop Duffy High School in Niagara Falls.

As a senior, he joined the Grand Island Fire Co., where he continues to serve as a volunteer. So far, he has served for 57 years. Upon graduation from high school, Meyer joined the U.S. Air Force, where he served for four years.

After leaving the military, he returned to active status in the GIFC. His duties at the firehall included serving as master mechanic, lieutenant, captain and three years as assistant chef. He also served on the board of directors for nine years.

In addition to his volunteer work in the fire company, Meyer held a job delivering, installing and repairing commercial restaurant equipment for MSN Inc., AID, Buffalo Hotel Supply and Buffalo Expert Service Technicians Inc.

Meyer has been a member of the benevolent association since 2009. He retired from his day Job two years ago. Of his transition to full-time volunteer work, he said, “Now I am able to go to many emergency calls for the fire company. Last year, I made 1,121 calls, and, this year, I have surpassed last year’s calls per date. Our call volume keeps going up every year.”

Meyer married Julie Diefenback in 1977. The couple is the parents of two sons, one of whom is currently first aid captain with GIFC.

•Service to Youth Sports: Michael Kwiatkowski

Born and raised in South Buffalo, Michael Kwiatkowski is a graduate of Canisius High School and of Niagara University, where he earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in education. His parents, Patrick and Mary Jean, taught him the importance of giving back to the community, as well as the importance of being a hard-working and dedicated member of the community. While working on his master’s degree, Kwiatkowski met his wife, Kelly, a resident of Grand Island. The couple married in 2007 and began to build their family in South Buffalo. In the spring of 2012, they moved to Grand Island.

Kwiatkowski began his work with youth sports as a coach for his younger brother, Matthew, and a few of his childhood friends in the old St. Ambrose Little League in South Buffalo. This experience led him to choose education as his life’s work. He then began working with the Canisius High School’s summer program. He has served in various roles with that program for more than 27 years. Additionally, he spent this past summer as director of the program.

In 2004, the Buffalo Public Schools hired Kwiatkowski as an elementary school teacher. Without the family-first and hard-working values his parents taught him, he would not have spent the past 19-plus years at the same school, Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy. He has taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades. As a teacher, he has enjoyed many seasons of giving back and coaching the volleyball, basketball, cross country and outdoor track programs.

In 2007, he received a call from his father, asking him to help run the bowling program at Canisius High School as the junior varsity coach. He spent 12 years in this position before becoming the head coach for the varsity program, taking over the position from his father, who was a Hall of Fame coach. Three years after helping his dad win his last championship, Michael won his first championship as head coach of the varsity bowling program this past March, just as his dad had previously done, by coming back and upsetting the regular season champion at that time.

Kwiatkowski is a proud father to three children: Carson, Mackenna and Jackson, who all have their own personalities and make their parents proud every day. He tries to coach each of their teams in baseball, softball and bowling.

In 2017, Kwiatkowski wanted to get more involved with the Grand Island Little League and to make some changes within the programs. It was during this time that he created the Junior Viking Academy. JVA was designed to provide more instruction to the youngest players, which went beyond just playing games. He spent two years leading the JVA and then became the vice president of baseball. In that role, Kwiatkowski helped create “Strikeout Kancer Day at the Ballpark,” as well as helping the board to maneuver through the challenges of the COVID-19 years. This past season, Kwiatkowski took over as president of the Little League. He led the league through important steps to enhance the program for future ballplayers through the spring training sessions and sandlot program. Kwiatkowski is looking forward to continuing this role, as well as making Grand Island’s Little League a staple of the community.

In 2019, Kwiatkowski was asked to become the Saturday morning youth bowling coach at Mallwitz Island Lanes. For the past three years, Art, Mary, Mike and Kelly have given him the opportunity to continue to give back to the youth in the community. They opened the doors and made him feel a part of the family, and continued to let him share all the bowling knowledge his parents and brothers gave him every Saturday morning while growing up.

In addition to all this, Kwiatkowski still finds spare time to give to the “Ride for Roswell,” where he is a nine-time extra-mile club rider, who has ridden more than 300 miles. He also helps the raising charge with his family, as they created the Pat Kwiatkowski Memorial Scholarship in 2020 in honor of his father and Hall of Fame coach/mentor. This scholarship helps a bowler attending Canisius High School to further their education.

Kwiatkowski will continue to work hard for the youth and community in Western New York in all aspects he is involved in. He credits many amazing people with his success, as well as with this award. Without his family, his friends, the family at the alleys and the people in Grand Island Little League, he could not have been as successful with his contributions to the youth in sports. Kwiatkowski said, “Always surround yourself with good people, and anything is possible.”

•Lifetime Achievement: Jon Roth

Jon Roth has been a fixture on Grand Island since August of 1973, when he accepted a position at Sidway Elementary School as a physical education teacher. Since then, Roth has worked as a teacher, coach and athletic director. This school year marks his 50th year working for the Grand Island Central School District.

Roth graduated from Tonawanda High School in 1967 and was enshrined in the Tonawanda Hall of Fame in 2002. Upon graduation from high school, Roth was offered a professional baseball contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which he declined. He accepted a scholarship to play baseball at Syracuse University, but in late July, due to budget issues, Syracuse dropped the program. He then enrolled at Niagara County Community College, where he was honored as an All-Region III All-Star in basketball and baseball. At NCCC, he met his future wife, Jean Pino.

In 1969, Roth transferred to the University at Buffalo and was drafted in the seventh round by the Washington Senators. Unfortunately, it was at the height of the Vietnam War, and Jon’s draft status was One-A. Because of that, he decided to commit to the 107th U.S. Air Force reserves. In 1972, he returned to UB, finished his Bachelor of Science in physical education, and completed his collegiate baseball career.

During the spring of 1973, former MLB pitching great Sal Maglie offered Roth a contract and a spot on the Pittsburgh Pirates Double-A affiliate. Roth declined the offer, choosing instead to continue teaching. At that time, Roth earned his master’s degree in education at Niagara University.

Over his legendary career, Roth coached football (as Gene Masters’ assistant), basketball and tennis for Grand Island. He won more than 200 basketball games and 150 girls’ tennis matches. In addition to teaching and coaching for Grand Island, Roth also found time to coach baseball at NCCC from 1974-81. In 1992, he entered the Western New York Softball Hall of Fame, and, in 1993, he was inducted into the NCCC Athletic Hall of Fame as an athlete and a coach. In 1998, he was inducted into the WNY Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jon and Jean raised two children: Jeff and Julie. Both played multiple sports at Grand Island High School, as well as competing in Division I tennis together at Xavier University. Julie was a beloved elementary school teacher, who coached basketball and tennis at Grand Island. She passed away at the young age of 40 after a battle with cancer. Julie and her husband, Jimmy, have four boys: Jonathan, Jayden, Jameson and Jaxson. Jeff currently serves as the athletic director and assistant principal at Wilson Central Schools. He and his wife, Andrea, have two young children: Addison and Jayce. Jean and Jon enjoy being involved with their grandchildren, and feel blessed to have them deeply woven into their lives.

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