Tonawanda News

October 16, 2012

Family of pacemaker inventor bringing philanthropic group to North Tonawanda

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

— A section of North Tonawanda’s waterfront will soon be transformed into new office space for a multi-million-dollar philanthropic organization. 

The East Hill Foundation, run by the family of Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker, will shift its offices from Akron and Williamsville to a single locale along River Road. 

On Monday, members of the foundation and politicians met inside a building that has served as the Island Street Boatyard for some years. 

With a distinct hole already dug out in the center of the building and the standard gold-colored shovels in place, the ground-breaking officially launched the venture, which is set for completion by January. 

And when it is finished, officials say the project will represent another step forward for North Tonawanda’s ever more ambitious development goals.

Ami Greatbatch, vice president of East Hill, said it has been a dream of hers to bring the organization to the shores of the city where she grew up. 

While the foundation is involved with a plethora of worthy causes, the initial plan is to offer organizations the opportunity to learn grant-writing initiatives, which Greatbatch said will leave them with the tools to reign in their own funding rather than simply relying on a one-time donation, making the foundation “a catalyst for change.” 

“It will teach them to fish rather than give them fish to eat,” Greatbatch said.  

The idea has been in the works for several years while planners say they had to circumvent zoning laws and other bureaucratic processes. Now that’s those hurdles are nearing an end, construction to revamp the future office building is next, before staff members take their positions inside the finished product. 

The foundation will also become more accessible to a variety of organizations, most notably including the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, which has already been allowed access to the property for tours of the waterfront. 

But in addition to that, East Hill will also be putting a focus on the Tonawandas in large part due to its closer proximity and the family’s connection to the community. 

Kenneth J. Dulian, 34, who is Greatbatch’s son and the project manager for the sustainable funding initiative, graduated from North Tonawanda High School in 1997. 

He will be a key figure in the foundation’s community outreach efforts and has a slate of plans including environmental initiatives, a focus on the waterfront and a direct connection to the many not-for-profits serving the region — all ideas he sees as being important to the next generation of philanthropists. 

Dulian said giving non-profits the ability to better conduct their funding initiatives has proven to bring in three times the resources that one-time donations typically would, which is part of the reason it will be a central focus of the foundation. 

The foundation, which has been in existence for more than 25 years, has already dabbled with the concept, with plans to expand it next year. 

Dulian said plans are also in the works to use the property, which includes a towering life-sized lighthouse, for special events and other gatherings. 

“We look forward to bringing that to the community,” he said. 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.