August 1998

J. Milton "Zeke" Zeckhauser


by Joseph H. Radder

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88 and still growing...that’s J. Milton “Zeke” Zeckhauser, known most recently for leading the Grassroots Gardens movement to replace inner city blight with vegetable and flower gardens.

Zeckhauser started growing very early in life.

He grew from Private to Major in the Eleventh Air Force Command. While serving in Alaska, he grew a flower garden, despite a climate that would discourage most people. He was determined to add beauty and cheer to the bleak air base at Elmendorf Field and he did just that.

He grew from stock boy to vice president of the Western New York division of Kobacker Stores and he capped a second career in investment banking as vice president of Prudential Securities. His old friend Edward Kavinoky used to joke that “Zeke went from stock boy to stock boy.”

Another close friend, Louis Berger, told Prime Time “Zeke Zeckhauser is a remarkable man. He was an exceptional merchant, a very successful stockbroker and a superb athlete. Zeke Zeckhauser is one of the most charitable, compassionate, giving men I know.”
Few people know Zeke Zeckhauser better than Lou Berger. Their relationship dates back to the early ‘30s when Zeckhauser was Berger’s camp counselor. At the time, Zeke was a student at Ohio State University, where he was a varsity football player and heavyweight boxing champion.

“Zeke came to Buffalo in the mid-thirties,” Berger said. “He was part of the Kobacker family of Toledo, Ohio. He came here to work in one of their Buffalo stores.”

Soon after that Zeckhauser, Berger and Berger’s brother Maxon became fast friends. In the early forties they enlisted in the armed forces together and the three served through World War II in far-flung parts of the world.

Speaking of Zeckhauser’s work for Grassroots Gardens, Berger told Prime Time this little anecdote. “Recently we had dinner together with our wives. After dinner, Zeke couldn’t wait to show us one of the beautiful gardens he had helped establish in the near east side.”

There are 170 Grassroots Gardens planted on 15 different sites throughout the city. These are not only flower gardens for beautification, but vegetable gardens which supply nutrition to diets that are often lacking.
One of Zeke Zeckhauser’s staunchest supporters is his wife, Amy.

“Most of all,” Mrs. Zeckhauser said, “these gardens encourage the psychological factor...the pride and satisfaction of growing a garden.”
In 1994 Mayor Masiello appointed J. Milton Zeckhauser as Coordinator of Community Gardens. There are over 3,000 deserted lots in the inner city which attract dumping and become hazardous eyesores. It’s a big order, but friends say “Don’t underestimate Zeke Zeckhauser. If there’s a way to fill every one of those lots with beautiful flowers and nutritious vegetables, Zeke Zeckhauser will find it.”

Milton Zeckhauser’s list of other community contributions is too long to include here in its entirety. However, notable examples include chairman of the United Negro College Fund, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra fund drive, the Jewish Federation and the United Way. He was also president of the Broadway-Fillmore Association, the Main Street Association and the Westwood Country Club.

The term “Forever Young and Active” fits Zeke Zeckhauser as well as it fits anyone. Each decade has meant a new chapter of activity for him for over 70 years.

“Zeke still puts in at least 25 hours a week most weeks during the year,” Mrs. Zeckhauser said. “During the season he’s busy checking garden sites and toting plants, seeds and equipment to the various sites. During the off-season he’s busy doing public relations work, raising funds for Grassroots and handling paperwork.”

J. Milton Zeckhauser may be 88...but he’s still growing.



Joseph H. Radder, a frequent contributor to Living Prime Time, is author of a new book, Young Jesus, the Missing Years. For more information, phone 1-888-280-7715 or visit www.istbooks.com

 

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