by Joseph RADDER
In the almost two hours we spent with Phil Haberstro in his downtown office, we found
it difficult to get him to talk about himself. Instead, he was much more interested in
talking about the many fine people who have influenced his life...his family, friends,
priests, nuns, teachers, football coaches and fellow community builders.
His roots run deep in Buffalo. His great grandfather, Philip L. Haberstro I, was a
brewer and civic leader. A picture of the old German-American Brewery at Main and High
Streets (formerly the family brewery) on Phils office wall is proof of his pride in
family. His great great grandfather, Joseph, was Sheriff of Erie County in the 1860s and a
City Councilman. Phils family is honored that Joseph Haberstros picture is one
of several former sheriffs on the present sheriffs wall.
Born in Buffalo, Phil grew up in the Town of Tonawanda where he had a Buffalo News
paper route, was a Boy Scout and YMCA Youth leader.
Phil at 1 year old in February 1949.
Phil about age 7 studying at St. John the Baptist grade school.
Phils father and mother, William J. and Janet M. Haberstro were dyed-in-the-wool
Buffalonians as well. His dad was a paratrooper during World War II, and worked for many
years in shipping and receiving and later as a Peace Bridge employee. Phil inherits his
tenacity from his father, who was a member of championship football teams at Bennett High
School and, later, a professional boxer.
Phils Dad, William J. Haberstro - Sgt. Paratrooper WWII.
His mother, Janet, is an active community volunteer. Phil speaks of her lovingly when
he tells of taking her to visit Our Lady of Victory Basilica this past Mothers Day.
He has two brothersJames, a health care executive and Greg, a Sergeant in the New
York State Police.
All three Haberstro boys graduated from Cardinal OHara High School. Phil was a
member of OHaras first graduating class.
Phils family - Top row: Greg, Phil,
Jim and, Ian (Jims son).
He was an avid football player at OHara under Coach Iron Mike Turner,
who along with OHaras Franciscan Fathers, played a major role in helping Phil
establish his high principles and value standards.
Phil #48 and coach Larry Bodie in the Geminis days.
We won the Smith Division championship in our first year of varsity play without
any seniors on the team and then we repeated the next year.
The priests and nuns and teachers at St. John the Baptist Church and School in
Kenmore were important influences as well. He fondly remembers Monsignor Klauder for
his spiritual influence.
The Ken-Ton YMCA was the place the Haberstro boys gained an appreciation for physical
fitness and athletics. Later on, Phil would become a member of the Ken-Ton Y board and
co-chair of its Partner with Youth campaign.
Phil carried his enthusiasm for football with him to Brockport College, where he became
captain of the football team in his junior year. Later, he played line backer for the
Buffalo Geminis, who were rated the #1 semi-pro team in the U.S. in 1977 after a 28 game
winning streak. Phil captained the defense.
Phil during his days as an employee at Brockport Colleges Student Union.
It was through the Geminis that he developed his lifetime friendship with Larry Bodie.
Every holiday for the past 27 years we go shopping together for our families
Christmas presents. We have a great time.
In 1980, Phil came back home from working at Brockport College and was teaching
raquetball at the Ken-Ton YMCA. It was there that he met a tall, attractive blonde
lifeguard, Bonnie Zimmerman. After a 3-year courtship, they were married. Phil
praises Bonnies leadership as president of the Western New York Region of the State
Physical Education Association, as vice president of the union at her school and as a
former swimming coach for the Buffalo Kidney Foundations Transplant
Phil with his brothers Jim and Greg on his wedding day, 1983.
Bonnie and Phil went to Europe several times with the Transplant Olympic teams. In
1981, Mike Billoni did a major story on Bonnie for the Courier-Express, when she was one
of only three women in the United States to be the athletic trainer for a mens
football team in a professional league.
In the early 80s, Phil was program director at the Buffalo Athletic Club, and in
1983 he went out on his own in a new business...corporate fitness consulting. This
involved setting up work-site programs for employees of several major companies in the
In 1988 he helped bring the National Association for Work-Site Health Promotion
Conference to Buffalo and later was elected president of the associations northeast
region. Bringing this groups convention to Buffalo led to Phils involvement
with and eventual chairmanship of the Buffalo Ambassadors, the civic group that works with
the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau to bring conventions to Buffalo. Phil
was a prime mover in the community effort that was instrumental in gaining a lifetime
designation for Greater Buffalo as an All-America City.
Alforna Evans, John Weeb, Ginny Hons, Phil and Mayor Masiello at the All-America City press conference in 1996.
In 1987, Phil Haberstro founded the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo and Western
New York. From 1989 to 1994, he was also co-owner of the Buffalo Recreation Center.
He is very passionate about the Institutes mission to improve the quality of life
in the city and region. To help achieve that, he and his colleagues at the Wellness
Institute have developed a portfolio of civic, health, environmental and economic
Its essential for business, government, nonprofit and civic groups to work
together. It is fundamental to our region becoming a Healthy Community,
Phil said, and hes most optimistic that this is happening.
This past spring he was nominated by his colleagues to receive the Axelrod Community
Health Award, just one of the many leadership awards he has received since his high school
days. Plaques and citations fill one entire wall of his office.
Indeed, Phil Haberstro, now as he always has, gives much of himself to the community.
Presently he is involved in a variety of activities, including those mentioned earlier and
the New York State Physical Activity Coalition, the United Way Access and Wellness program
and the Buffalo Niagara Partnerships Not for Profit Council.
Phil, the Stanley Cup, Scotty Bowman and Bonnie.
In the past he has served in a broad range of capacities such as the Mayors
Advisory Commission to the Office of Senior Services, the Brockport College Alumni Board
of Directors, the Governors Council on Lifetime Health, Fitness and Sport and as the
chair of the Erie County Tobacco-Free Coalition. Phil has even tested politics as a
candidate for Supervisor of the Town of Tonawanda.
Few citizens have quietly achieved as much for Greater Buffalo as Phil Haberstro since
his founding of The Wellness Institute. In a letter from Dr. Gary Brice, assistant vice
president for Community Health and Wellness for Kaleida Health and chair of the Community
Task Force of the Health Association of New York State, Dr. Brice said, Phil
Haberstro is an outstanding grassroots Healthy Community advocate who
exemplifies the qualities needed by a public health leader...Commitment, Strength,
Dedication and Passion for the Cause.
Few are more passionate about our region being a healthy community than
Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.
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