By Alvin J. Oberst, PE, CSI Member Emeritus

About the author:

Since the Western New York Chapter was chartered and for 45 years Alvin J. Oberst has demonstrated, continuously, a spirit of dedication to the Construction Specification Institute, at the Chapter, Region, and Institute level. In 1976, he received the highest award conferred by the Chapter, the “DAVID BOB MEMORIAL AWARD.” On July 1, 1991, the Institute advanced his membership status to “MEMBER EMERITUS.” On October 24, 1992, he received the Northeast Region’s highest award, represented by certificate and medal, the “DISTINGUISHED SERVICE AWARD,” at the Northeast Region Conference held in Boston, MA. Oberst is a graduate Architect from the College of Architecture, University of Michigan, 1942 and a Licensed Professional Engineer in New York State. He was a Co-founder of Duchscherer Oberst Design PC, Architects & Engineers, in 1951.


It is unfortunate a member of the Chapter was never appointed to the Office of Historian, or to act as a guardian of a depository for documents relating to the history of the Chapter. The History of Buffalo/Western New York Chapter CSI is based upon the memory of the author and documents such as Institute and Chapter rosters and newsletters saved by the author.

History 1958-2003:

In the beginning, it was a warm and pleasant day in the Summer of 1956, when two architects, Irwin Klein and Frederick C. Backus, and a paint manufacturer representative, David Bob, decided it was time to organize a local chapter of the CSI. Almost two years later in February 1958, the Institute awarded a Charter to the Buffalo/WNY Chapter. The Buffalo Chapter was one of 23 Chapters at the time, and the second Chapter in New York State, the Metropolitan Chapter, New York City, being the first chapter. Irwin Klein was elected President, Fred Backus elected Secretary, and Dave Bob elected Treasurer for two fiscal years 1957 and 1958 (CSI fiscal year is June 30-July1). When Fred Backus was elected President, July 1, 1958 Dave Bob not only continued on as Treasurer but also as Secretary. The Chapter was incorporated in 1966.

Dave Bob was more than just the Secretary/Treasurer, he was a one member band for increasing membership in the CSI and the Chapter. He was out in the field and had a foot in the door of every Architectural and Engineering office. Even though he was a paint representative, when he called on an Architect, Engineer, or Specifier he didn’t talk about paint, he talked about becoming a member of CSI. He was the Chapter Secretary/Treasurer and member recruiter until his death in 1966. The David Bob Memorial Award was established to perpetuate the memory of David Bob, who for so many years served his Chapter as Secretary/Treasurer and through his untiring efforts and devotion to his Chapter inspired so many others.

The Chapter held dinner meetings on the 1st Thursday of every month in a private dining room in theFairfax Hotel on Delaware Avenue in downtown Buffalo. The CSI was ten years in the making of a Master Set of Specifications and the purpose of the Chapter meetings was to discuss, write, and submit specifications to the Institute for publication. The first writing of a specification were called Pink Sheets which were submitted to all the other chapters for review. After reviewing, the Pink Sheets were rewritten, again reviewed, and finally submitted to the Institute to be published as Green Sheets. The Chapter did contribute Green Sheets to the Master Set of Specifications, the earliest being various phases of Dry-Wall Construction, Chaired by MacGregor Wilson (President FY 69-70) of National Gypsum Company. As Technical Chairman in 1965, Alvin Oberst submitted “Field Testing of Concrete” to the Institute for publication as a Green Sheet. In 1975, when Karl Bader of Gordon Jones Associates was Technical Chairman, three TAS (Technical Aid Series) documents were developed and published by the Institute. Other activities of the Technical Chairmen included reviewing Pink Sheets and TAS Documents.The Chapter Newsletter, “The Scope,” was first published in 1966 with MacGregor Wilson as Editor. When Wilson became Chapter President, (FY 67-68), Richard M. Glazier, also of National Gypsum Company, served as Editor until his death in January 1975 shortly after retiring in 1974. Glazier was also the Business Manager for “The Scope” and the October 1973 issue contained 31 calling card ads at $25. In a Memoriam, Wilson wrote that Glazier was associated with building for nearly all his life, and the most enduring thing he built was the heartfelt esteem of everyone along the way, at home, at church, in the community, and certainly, in our chapter. Robert Bensman, Robert W. Pierce of DeSpirit Mosaic & Marble Co., and Richard R. Bennett of Celotex Corp., served as Editors for two year periods. Henry J. Kwapisz of Milstein, Wittek, Davis, & Assoc., Architects, was Editor from 1982 until he resigned in 1989 due to illness. Kwapisz died March 30, 1993 at age 57. Nancy Delo, a non member served as interim Editor in 1990 until Arthur Chatterton of DeSerio-Abate Engineers PC became Editor from September 1990 until he resigned December 1993. In January 1994, Alvin J. Oberst became the ninth Editor and present producer of “The Scope.” On October 26, 1996 at the Northeast Region Conference in Hartford, Connecticut, Oberst was presented with the “MOST IMPROVED NEWSLETTER AWARD” by the Region.

Very few members have served in the most prestigious office of Treasurer. Following Dave Bob’s death in 1966, Robert B. Devine, Sales Rep. For Wasco Skydomes, not only served as Treasurer but also Awards Chairman until his death in 1981. In 1982, Kent Burzynski, Devine’s nephew and also a Wasco Skydomes Salesman was elected Treasurer. He has served continuously as Treasurer, except for two years, FY 85 and 86, when he was Chapter Secretary and Thomas P. Tallman (President FY 88-89) of Riefler Concrete Products, Inc. was Treasurer. Most Chapter Secretaries served two years except James L. Grucella of Thermal Foams, Inc. who became acting Secretary November 1993, official Secretary January 1994 and served until elected President, July 1, 2002.

The Chapter held their meetings at the Fairfax Hotel for at least 10 years or longer. The author’s archives reveals that the June 1, 1972 meeting was held at the Charter House, prior to becoming the Ramada Inn, on Transit Road at Thruway Interchange 49. The meetings at the Charter House were well attended, averaging 40 members. It was a good location with plenty of parking. An Industry Member always sponsored the Social Hour. Cost of the dinner was $5.00. Chapter membership numbered 110, 46 Professional Members and 64 Industry Members. This Hotel was the Chapter meeting place until 1990 when the Ramada Inn made some changes in their Restaurant Facilities and the Chapter made other arrangements. Meeting locations were changed on a monthly basis until September 1992 when the meetings were held at Fanny’s Restaurant until April 1997. Presently the Chapter does not have a permanent meeting place location.

When Alvin J. Oberst was elected President in 1972 (FY 73-74) and as Vice President (FY 72) some new programs blossomed such as the annual Golf Outing, annual joint meeting with the SWAC (Specification Writers Association of Canada), annual Christmas Dinner Dance, and 15 year Membership Awards. The first golf outing was held July 11, 1972 at the Lancaster Country Club with 96 golfers and 130 members and guests for dinner. The cost was $10.00 for golf and $8.00 for dinner including beer and Hors d’oeuvres. It was a combined affair of CSI, AIA, and PC (Producers Council.) In 1975 the CSI contributed a revolving trophy to be awarded to the lowest gross scores of five members of CSI, AIA, or PC. Naturally, the CSI was awarded the trophy the first year. Following his Presidency, Oberst continued to Chair the golf outing with William Bradley of Bradley Roofing at the Lancaster Golf Club, ending in July 1984. The CSI, AIA, PC golf trio disbanded leaving the Chapter without a golf outing until July 1990 when Richard E. Krug of Krug’s Glazing Service Inc. chaired a Chapter golf outing at the South Shore Golf Club. For the next 5 years Krug chaired golf outings at Brierwood Country Club which ended July 1995. The green fees were $75 and the dinner cost $35. With high costs, competition from other organizations, and gradual lack of interest, the Chapter Golf Outings finally came to a close.

The first annual joint meeting with Specification Writers Association of Canada was October 5, 1972 when 31 Chapter members boarded a chartered bus (with beer on board) in the Central Park Plaza and traveled to Toronto to tour “Burlington Mills,” followed by cocktails and dinner. Only cost, $5.00 for bus transportation. In 1973, the Chapter hosted the CSC with a tour of Rich Stadium with a record attendance of 120. The service, dinner, and cocktails were superb at the Charter House. Bob Thalman, Vice President of public relations for the Buffalo Bills was the speaker. In 1974 there was a tour of Carling O’Keefe Brewery, a tour of the Falconer Glass Works in 1975, and a tour of the Toronto CN Tower in1976. The Crystal Ball remains dark for the conclusion of the SWAC joint meetings, but in 1990 the Construction Specifications Canada (formerly SWAC) initiated the resurrection of the joint Buffalo/Toronto meetings by hosting a tour of the Arriscraft Corp. plant in Cambridge, Ontario on October 2, 1990. On January 7, 1992, Buffalo hosted Toronto with a tour of the DuPont Corian plant. On November 10, 1992 a full bus load of our members toured two plants in Toronto, the Maxi-Mix Plant and IKO Industries Plant, followed by cocktails and dinner at the Devil’s Pulpit Golf and Country Club. This was followed by tours of Birdair Inc. (Buffalo-January 11, 1994), Canada Brick (Toronto- November 1, 1994), AFDG Glass Plant (Toronto-October 6, 1996). The final meeting hosted by Buffalo was a Technical Program meeting, no tour. The Chapter had less than 10 attendees hosted by CSC on November 3, 1998 at the DoFasco, Inc. Steel Mill, and on November 7, 2000 at the Atlas Roofing Company. A lack of interest of our members plus the cost of hosting 50 CSC members brought a close to the joint meetings of the 20th Century.

The 70’s were a time for Dinner Dances. The first Chapter Christmas Dinner Dance in December 1972 at the Charter House had a record attendance of 117 members and guests. The cocktails and surf and turf dinner were superb. All this plus dancing to the tunes of the Harry Miller Orchestra was only $18.00 per couple. To celebrate the third Christmas Dinner Dance in 1974, it was held jointly with the AIA. It was a gala occasion through the efforts of Arthur Davis of Milstein, Wittek, Davis, & Associates who was the AIA President, and a Chapter Committee of Alvin Oberst, Robert Devine and Peter Hanssel. The highlight of the evening was the first annual presentation to President Pete Hanssel of a $500 check for the CSI Scholarship Fund by George Scranton of Thruway Builders Supplies Corp. The combined CSI-AIA Christmas Dinner Dances continued on through 1976.

In 1973, the Institute Dues was $25.00 and the Chapter dues was $10.00. Also the Institute was celebrating its 25th Anniversary in Washington, and the Chapter was celebrating its 17th Anniversary with cocktails, dinner and a special program for $7.00 at the Charter House on June 7, 1973. Special guests were in attendance: Harry Bez, President of Metropolitan Chapter, Kevin Jones, President of Syracuse Chapter, Iain McKay, President of SWAC, and Region II Director Edwin Weed who installed the FY-74 Officers, and presented Chapter Certificates of Appreciation to Arthur West, William Bradley and Howard Berry. Awards Chairman Robert Devine presented 15 Year Membership Certificates to: Harvey Anderson, James DeSerio, Edwin Hauck, James Kideney, Alvin Oberst, Howard Phillips, Roland Schmit, Andrew Stilwell, And Charlie Thiele. Richard Crandall (President FY 65-66) presented The David Bob Memorial award to James DeSerio for his contributions to the advancement of specifications through his work on committees, as Region II Director, and Vice President of the Institute. As a momentous gift, everyone received an accurate replica copy of an old specification document for construction work as prepared by a local architectural firm in 1898.

For almost a decade in the 70’s, there was the “Old Guard” numbering about a dozen members and their wives who fancied attending Institute Conventions and bringing back the “Man-Mile Trophy.” This trophy was awarded at the Convention to the Chapter with the most man-miles by multiplying the number of members and wives by the distance traveled in miles. The “Old Guard” consisted of the Cohens, Devines, Ferraros, Glaziers, Murrays, Novellis, Obersts, Pattersons, Pratts, Schwabs, Steeles, Wilsons, Hanssel and the McCabe sisters. Except for Minneapolis in 1972, the Chapter brought back every “Man-Mile Trophy” from Denver (1970), Annaheim (1971), Washington (1973), New Orleans (1975), and Philadelphia (1976). The “Old Guard” also fancied attending Region Conferences and the most memorable one being the Region II Conference at the Bear Mountain Inn, Bear Mountain, NY, April 26-28, 1974, hosted by the Metropolitan Chapter. This was the first conference when “The Journal” was introduced to offset expenses instead of Table-Top displays and contributor signs. Registration was $35 and the spouse program $15. The cost of the rooms were $10-$12.50 per person for a double and $15-$20 for a single. The Inn was comprised of lodges. The Metropolitan Chapter, the registration, dining, banquet, and sessions were housed in the Overlook Lodge. The other chapters were housed in four lodges with walls of field stone, a huge stone fireplace dominated the vaulted lounge off of which were six bedrooms with private baths. It was a very warm, friendly, and enjoyable setting for a conference.

The Chapter recognizes its members for their service and dedication to the Chapter by presenting awards. The first award being the David Bob Memorial Award (the highest award) presented in 1966 to Frederick Backus, Architect. The first Certificate of Appreciation Award was presented on June 1, 1972 to Clayton E. Steele, Secretary; Richard M. Glazier, Editor; Robert C. Patterson, P.E.; and Donald t. Hawkins. The continuous 15 Year Membership Award was first presented in 1973, the 25 Year Membership Award (Silver) first presented in 1983, and the 30 Year Membership Award first presented in 1988. The first Specification Award was first presented in 1983. One special award ever presented was the Merit Award to Robert Devine in 1982. The special Henry Cohen Award for contribution to the Henry Cohen Memorial Scholarship Fund was awarded to Thruway Builders Supply in 1981, 82, 83, 84, 85, and 86; to Sullivan Sales and Dover elevator in 1983 and 84. The Special Organizational Certificate of Appreciation Award was presented to National Gypsum in 1968, Thruway Builders Supply in 1974, Cannon Design in 1979, Robert B. Devine Co. and Rapid Ray’s Inc. in 1983, and Professional Program Management Inc. in 1984.

The Chapter always enjoys a party, so in the mid 80’s the idea of ending the fiscal year with a June picnic became an annual event at various Erie County parks. The spouses were invited for a steak cookout accompanied with many picnic delicacies plus wine and keg beer. In addition to having a good time, the main program was the presentation of awards and installation of officers. Then in the 90’s, Philip Lechner (President FY 92-93) as Picnic Chairman made a commissary change. Instead of the Chapter Committee preparing the food as was done for the previous picnics, beginning in 1992 a caterer took over preparing the steaks and serving a buffet for the picnic at the Ellicott Creek Park “Casino.” The picnics were held at the “Casino” for the years 1993, 94, and 95, followed by picnics at Como Park in 1996, 97, 98, and the final picnic in 1999.

In 1972 the Rochester Chapter, under the Chairmanship of David Moss, initiated the “Rochester C.S.I. Night,” a show of architectural products displayed on “Table Tops” by manufacturer’s representatives. This became an annual event at the Mapledale Party House in Rochester to which the Buffalo Chapter was always invited for a $3.00 registration fee which included a sit down dinner. In 1988, Richard Baer, President FY 86-87, invited David Moss to Buffalo to aid the Chapter in initiating the first “CSI Nite Product Show” at the Hearthstone Manor, 333 Dick Road, Depew, NY. To increase the attendance of Architects, seminars were held during the morning and afternoon of the show. The show being a financial success was continued on an annual basis with Richard Baer as Chairman until 1990 when Baer and Frank Guido were Co-Chairman. However, the 1990 and 1991 shows were managed by Professional Program Management, Inc. (PPM), renamed “Construction and Building Products Show,” and held at the Buffalo Convention Center for two days. The June 30-31, 1991 show had two seminars, 183 booths, 142 Companies participating, and 2927 attendees. The March 25-26, 1992 and March 23-24, 1993 shows managed by PPM were held at the Agri-Center, Erie County Fairgrounds, Hamburg, NY. In 1994, the Chapter returned to managing its own shows. Renamed, “SpecTech 94,” the November 15, 1994 Product Show was Chaired by Richard W. Rollison of Rollison Sales and held at the Hearthstone Manor. To attract more attendees, The Construction Exchange held a luncheon with a program of general interest during the show. There was no admission charge and free food and beverages were available from 4 to 6 PM at stations on the exhibit floor. The product shows continued to be held at the Hearthstone Manor. The “SpecTech 95” was Chaired by Edward N. Mader, Mader Construction Corp., November 2, 1995; “SpecTech 96,” “SpecTech 97,” and “SpecTech 98” were all Chaired by Vincent R. Bernard, Kideney Architects. “SpecTech 99” scheduled for October 13, 1999 and Chaired by Bernard was cancelled which ended an era of Architectural Product shows. In 2002 the Buffalo Chapter AIA, hosted the AIA Region Convention on October 11-12, 2002 at the Hyatt Regency, Buffalo. In conjunction with the AIA, the Chapter held a successful two day special Architectural Product Show, “SpecTech 2002,” Chaired by Bernard.

Long remembered will be the rare Northeast Region Conferences hosted by the Chapter in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. Because of the “Falls” being one of the wonders of the world, the Conference was held in Niagara Falls, NY on October 5-6, 1979 during the Presidency of Henry Kwapisz. Henry Cohen was Conference Coordinator and assisted by the Steering Committee of Floyd Caldwell (President FY 77-78), Peter Hanssel, and Kwapisz. The second Northeast Region Conference hosted in Buffalo, which is still talked about in the Region as one of the most enjoyable, entertaining, and enlightening conference attended, was held October 14-17, 1993 at the Buffalo Hilton on the waterfront. The theme of the conference during the Presidency of Michael Grabek, Blue Ox Roofing Company, was “World Games/World Class” with Vincent Bernard as Chairman. The memorable part of the conference was a fantastic cruise and cocktail party from 6:00 to 9:00 PM on Friday Night aboard the Niagara Clipper, a rarity at a conference. As the Chapter enters the 21st Century, history will record the Chapter’s hosting its third Northeast Region Conference at the Buffalo Hyatt, September 25-28, 2003 under the leadership of President and Conference Chairman, James L. Grucella, Thermal Foams Inc.

Through the years, the Chapter has been guided by stalwart leaders serving a minimum of two years as Presidents except as follows: Elaine Laudisio (FY 85) served less than one year. Richard Baer served part of Laudisio’s year plus two full years (FY 86-87). Peter Hanssel, Lester B. O’Donnell, and Vincent R. Bernard served four years; Hanssel (FY 67-68, 75-76), O’donnell (FY 83-84, 98-99) and Bernard (FY 90-91, 01-02). In addition to the Presidents cited in the history of the Chapter, there are other worthy Presidents to be recognized, namely: Ralph Kay, Specification Writer (FY 61-62), Peter Verkon, Architect (FY 63-64), John Everitt, Architect (FY 81-82), and Susan Beyler, Mfr. Representative (FY 96-97).

To the members who are familiar with the above condensed version of 45 years of the history of the Buffalo-Western New York Chapter, the chapter welcomes any factual correction, addition, or omission. Please contact us by way of the 
Contact page.