April 2002

Herbert F. Darling -
Outdoorsman with a Goal

by Joseph RADDER

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It has been said that, “where there are mountains there are chestnuts”. And where there are chestnuts is where you’ll find Herbert F. Darling. As president of the American Chestnut Foundation he is dedicated to the organization’s goal to bring back the American chestnut tree. “I have had a long and rewarding relationship with the American Chestnut Foundation,” Darling says. “It goes along with my love of the outdoors.”

He is quick to point out the difference between the American chestnut and the common horse chestnut, found in so many parts of Western New York. The American chestnut is a fast-growing tree, prized for its abundant tasty nuts and for lumber that once vied with oak as America’s favorite hardwood. “The horse chestnut is really a buckeye,” Darling said. “Its nuts are not edible and it is different from the American chestnut in many ways.”

Unfortunately, the American chestnut proved tragically susceptible to the deadly chestnut blight, which was found early in the 20th century on Oriental chestnut trees, which were planted in New York City. In 1983, a group of prominent scientists established the American Chestnut Foundation that has but one goal...to put the American chestnut, once king of the eastern forests, back on its throne.

Darling, who loves the woods as an avid hunter and fisherman, was attracted early to this cause and has been an active member ever since.

A natural tie-in with his love of nature and the outdoors is his activity with the Buffalo Museum of Science and Tifft Farm. He was instrumental in the forming of the Tifft Farm and bringing the Tifft Nature Preserve under the wing of the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Herbert F. Darling was president of the Buffalo Museum of Science from 1975 through 1978 and from 1985 through 1990. He was chairman of the board of managers from 1990 through 1992. He is still active on the board, following his re-election after a mandatory year off.

Darling was born in Pittsburgh in 1933 into the construction business. His father was a construction executive in Columbus, Ohio when his company obtained a large contract in Buffalo. In 1936 the elder Darling purchased the company and moved it to Buffalo, where he saw more opportunity. Herbert F. Darling Sr. died in 1964 and the management of the company became Herbert Jr.’s responsibility. Later his son Buck and son-in-law Tom Weaver would join him in the business. Herb’s mother, a native of Sussex New Jersey passed away recently.

When we asked about vivid childhood memories, he quickly recalled the snowstorm of 1936. Although only 3 years old at the time, and new to Buffalo, the storm made quite an impression on him.
He missed the blizzard of ‘77. As luck would have it he flew out of Buffalo on a business trip the morning the storm hit. “Really, we’ve had only five major snowstorms in my lifetime,” he said. “In 1936, 1945, 1977 and in 2000 at Thanksgiving and this year at Christmastime.”

Darling attended elementary and high school in Amherst, graduating from Amherst Central High School in 1951. At Amherst, where he was on the soccer team, he first became interested in hunting and fishing. “I would strap a shotgun on the handlebars of my bike,” he said, “and go hunting behind the old Four Winds Nursery in Eggertsville.” To this day, hunting is his first love. Duck hunting with his yellow lab, Vicky, is a favorite pastime.

At Dartmouth College he majored in architecture and developed a skill that would serve him well in later years in the construction business. “Jane and I designed our home,” he said, “as well as our weekend retreat in the Zoar Valley.”

Two years after graduating from college, Herb married Jane Keese of Darien, Connecticut. They have three children...Herbert F. Darling III (“We call him Buck”) also a principal in the Herbert F. Darling Company. Daughter Kathryn Weaver is a nurse. Her husband, Tom, is in the family business. Daughter Karen Kraatz is in education for handicapped children and her husband, Steve, is a claims analyst at Fidelis Care. All are living in the Amherst area.

There are eight grandchildren. “It’s wonderful to have them all here in Buffalo, enjoying weekends in the Zoar Valley where they love to sled in the wintertime and plant American chestnuts on Arbor Day in the spring.

Darling has had more than his share of experience with fire. As a Lieutenant JG in the Navy from 1955 to 1957, there was a severe fire aboard his ship off Rhode Island. “We lost five men,” he said, “before we were rescued by a Coast Guard cutter and towed to Boston.”

In 1991 the Darling Company building in Williamsville was the site of a serious fire on a Friday afternoon. “It burned our entire shop and back offices,” he said. “We were out of business. But by Monday morning, thanks to friends in the community, our company people and their families, we had moved into a temporary building and were up and running.”

“That’s typical of the spirit of our organization,” he said. “It’s truly a family company. All of our people are like part of the family.”

Yet the Herbert F. Darling Company is no small operation. Major heavy construction projects they have been involved in are the Kensington Expressway and Buffalo’s light rail rapid transit system. “we are very proud of the fact that, although our work is often very dangerous, HFD Inc. has an excellent safety record.” Herb’s goal is to never lose a life on his watch.

We don’t have room to list all of Herbert F. Darling Jr.’s achievements, presidencies and board memberships. In addition to these he has received eight major awards.

Above all, is his philosophy...”First and foremost you must be honest. You have to face up to problems and take care of them immediately. Be proud of everything you do.” It’s obvious he has passed this philosophy along to his family and his extended family at the Herbert F. Darling Company.

Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.


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