Tonawanda News

May 24, 2013

ADAMCZYK: She wished she could live in a place like this

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The Kenmore Village Improvement Society, it with the intentionally Victorian and ironic name, threw itself a birthday party last weekend under a big tent in Mang Park. Few members of government attended, but nonetheless it felt as though all the individuals of practical significance in that little jewel of a community were present.

They celebrated the fifth anniversary of an enterprise I initially doubted. Ink spilled by this newspaper back then, under my name, suggested the last thing we needed was another layer of government, an organized group of do-gooders with definite ideas of how Kenmore should look, feel and be run. I think I tossed in the term “vigilante.”

An early brochure of the KVIS included helpful hints on being a good neighbor, with suggestions about lawn care and the volume of outdoor music. I was not interested in another nag to tell me what I was doing wrong.

What I was did wrong was doubt the civic-mindedness of this group. 

“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead famously said, and this bunch personifies that spirit.

Who are they? They could better tell you than I, but they’re the ones who present “Kenmore Kate” on Groundhog Day, put the plywood candy canes on the light poles of the business district in December, run decorating contests for homes and shops, make that gazebo south of the Village Green look welcoming, organize parties for real estate brokers who fill those vacant storefronts, run the remarkable summer children’s concerts on the lawn of Kenmore Middle School and about three dozen other things.

All on donations and volunteer time and labor, without government involvement and under no one’s purview but their own. The KVIS is free to join, incidentally.

(I should point out an honoree at the weekend’s event was Kenmore’s village historian, namely me, for whatever research I provided to help get the Municipal Building, our art deco treasure, on a list of historic buildings).

So we ate, drank, congratulated each other, heard speeches, raffled off goods from Kenmore merchants and danced on a dinky dance floor to the music of several members of Babik and that Kenmore diamond Brian Bauer (aka “Dr. Jazz”), clarinetist, musical scholar, Studebaker driver, occasional sideman to Bonnie Raitt and Leon Redbone and a guy who sorta fell out of the Forties.

Every lodge, American Legion Post, Little League baseball team and graduating class pulls an event like this, but this was the local cream, all under one tent. Scholars, dirty hands people, young idealists, those wizened by experience, they who work all day and then ask what they can do to help, and do it — it did my battered ego some good to think I belonged here.

Stringing up holiday lights and putting on the occasional show may not seem like a lot, until one tries to do it, with volunteer goods and labor. It seems like not a lot because, as I wrote five years ago, Kenmore the Village does not seem to require a lot of improvement.

Yet there are communities, past the first ring of the suburbs, which desperately need this sort of thing because the cause of civic improvement is typically left to government. And there are communities south of Kenmore Avenue who need it even more desperately but cannot get it together, give up before they start or wonder if anyone would answer the call.

Running a non-government, non-profit organization has its problems. Starting one from Square One is even tougher. The KVIS thrives because a good place seeks to make itself a better place.

Back to the party, a tent full of people who actually think civic improvement is their job. One speaker movingly told of how she grew up, elsewhere, wishing she could live in a place like this, and now she does, and she does more than simply reside here. She’s an active member of the Kenmore Village Improvement Society. 

As has been done since the 1930s, a Memorial Day parade will take place on Delaware Avenue. Yes, the parade has a martial inflection to it, but it is an opportunity for all those aforementioned non-governmental organizations to strut their stuff, the Zonta women, the historical society, the kid baseball teams, the Irish dancers, the schools and their bands, the churches, the garden club — and the KVIS. Give the KVIS an extra acknowledgement as they roll past, a shout-out for putting some sparkle on the excellence of this little village.

Ed Adamczyk is a Kenmore resident whose column appears Fridays in the Tonawanda News. Contact him at