In the space of eight months in 1989, Jeff, Kevin and Adrian Myers’ world was turned upside down.
The three brothers lost their mother, Mary, in February after a battle with cancer. Then, one morning in October, Kevin and Jeff – students at Livonia High School – woke up late for school to the feverish barking of the dog their father, Bud, had bought for his wife to keep her company after her diagnosis.
The pair came down the stairs to investigate the barking and discovered their father, dead of a heart attack.
“I had so many different emotions, it didn’t seem real,” wrote Jeff, the youngest Myers brother, in an email Tuesday. “Everyone felt sorry for me, but I didn’t want them to, but at the same time I felt sorry for myself. I kept most of my feelings to myself, as it wasn’t easy to talk about because all I had were questions, a lot of which started with ‘why?’”
“That was a hard thing to swallow,” added Adrian, the oldest Myers brother who was a freshman at Nazareth College when his parents died. “It was a pretty ugly time for me. Sometimes, people just aren’t mentally able to handle that – I was a mess for a long time.”
The back-to-back tragedies left the three brothers orphaned, with no immediate family in the area, a mortgage on their home and no savings or life insurance policy fall back on.
“We had all the other bills that go along running a house (too),” said Kevin Myers. “The grocery bill alone was scary.”
A Livonia faculty member moved into the Myers’ Livonia Center home so that Kevin and Jeff wouldn’t have to go into foster care.
“Kevin was a senior and I believe Jeff was in his junior year, so it was like a 2-1/2-year period of time,” said Adrian.
Recognizing too that the brothers would need financial help to get them through high school, a group of Livonia community members, among them Mike Haugh, then principal of the high school, and Richard Wesley, then a New York Supreme Court Judge, came together and decided to do something about it.
Wesley used his legal expertise to set up the Myers Memorial Foundation, a non-profit created to get the brothers through high school, college and on their way toward successful lives and careers.
“That’s what it was for – it was literally for those three guys,” said Steve Girolmo, a retired Livonia teacher who currently serves as the foundation’s director. “The beauty of it was they did raise some money and had enough to take care of the kids so that at the time when we were done with the boys, there was some money left over.”
It was in 1991 when Jeff Myers graduated from high school that the foundation’s mission started to shift, evolving from its original purpose of sustaining the three Myers brothers to one of serving as a safety net for Livonia families in desperate need of a helping hand.
Keeping it going
Girolmo serves as a first point of contact for people in the community in need of financial help. He receives applications, reviews them and puts them to the foundation’s 18-member board of directors, which makes the final decision on whether to offer financial assistance.
The board maintains a strict adherence to its bylaws and only offers help if a situation meets a specific list of parameters. In order for a family to receive financial help, a child has to be enrolled in or have graduated from the Livonia school district and be attending a post-secondary education institution. Families who are given aid have to have suffered the loss of one or both parents or be facing extreme financial hardship.
“It can’t just be ‘hey, I lost my job,’” said Girolmo. “I’m really sorry, but that’s not in our bylaws. It can’t be everybody that has hard times because believe me, there’s a lot of folks that have hard times, so we have very specific guidelines in our bylaws for a reason. If we didn’t, we’d be out of money in a year.”
Need tends to vary year by year, said Girolmo. There have been years when the foundation spent $50,000 or $60,000 helping children and families. But there have also been years when it’s spent less than $10,000.
“We’ve had months go by where there’s been one application and it hasn’t been a big deal,” said Girolmo. “But there have also been times when, in the space of three months, we’ve had 10 applications that would cost us quite a bit of money.”
Between 2006 and 2016, the foundation donated more than $134,000 to over 60 families. Amounts ranged from a couple hundred dollars to several thousand, depending on the severity of the recipients’ situation.
“Let’s say a parent is paralyzed, falls from a roof and is paralyzed – I mean the costs associated with that are astronomical. It could be in the tens, more than tens of thousands of dollars,” said Girolmo. “But we’ve also bought refrigerators for people, we’ve paid medical bills for people, we’ve covered rent, mortgages, food, we’ve taken care of groceries, fixed a vehicle, things like that.”
The foundation has endured, in large part, because of Livonia faculty and staff who sign up for automatic payroll deductions to be taken out of their paychecks that are then deposited in the foundation’s account.
“They don’t have to, they can do anything. They can hand me a $10 bill or they can take a dollar out of their paycheck – $2, $5, $20, whatever,” Girolmo said. “The school district has allowed us to do that – they’ve continued to do the accounting for us, let it come out of the paycheck, they send it to the bank and we get the money.”
Back in the day, said Girolmo, “probably a third to a little more” than a third of Livonia faculty and staff made regular contributions to the foundation out of their paychecks.
“Now, a lot of people have retired, so each year we get a little bit less (in terms of the number) of people who contribute,” he said.
But while the number of regular contributors has fallen somewhat, there are still more than 100 Livonia staff members who make regular contributions out of their paychecks every pay period, said Chris Genthner, who sits on the foundation’s board.
“We receive several thousand dollars a year from Livonia staff members,” said Genthner, who teaches history at Livonia. “This has been our most consistent form of funding since the inception of the foundation.”
Genthner said the different communities that make up the school district have always been very generous and that faculty and staff have bought into the idea that Livonia takes care of its own.
“Teachers and staff recognize that our financial assistance helps students and their families get through some of the most challenging times of their lives,” he said. “A family crisis impacts the children in the family directly or indirectly and this can certainly have an impact on their education. The sooner we can help, the sooner our students who are affected can focus on being kids.”
Ray Maxwell, who also teaches history at Livonia, has been giving regularly since the foundation’s inception.
“It’s not a lot, just $10 a paycheck,” said Maxwell, whose soccer team used to donate the proceeds of its goal-a-thon fundraiser to the foundation. “We discovered it was illegal, though. But we actually contributed quite a bit of money the two years we did it to the Myers Foundation (in) 2010 and 2015 – we raised about $8,000 maybe, total.”
While the three Myers brothers weren’t soccer players – “They were all basketball and football guys,” – Maxwell, who had all three as students, didn’t hold that against them.
“They were really good people – nice guys,” he said. “They were great family – mom and dad were great people. Bud, of course, was the custodian here. Everybody liked Bud Myers and the boys just had good senses of humor, smart – they did very well.”
It’s been 28 years since Maxwell first started giving to the foundation, but the thought of ceasing his regular contributions has never really crossed his mind.
“It’s just something we do – we were fans of the Myers and the family and we know the money goes to a good cause,” he said. “The fact that it stays here, goes to Livonia families is, I think, what encourages people to donate to it.”
The foundation also enjoys the continued support of local charitable groups – “Kiwanis have helped, the Methodist women have helped… the Lions, Rotary, you name it. In fact, probably all of the service organizations have contributed to us at one time or another,” said Girolmo – as well as a handful of annual fundraisers that benefit the foundation to the tune of several thousands of dollars each year.
One such fundraiser is the Frostbite Ice Fishing Derby, first put on by Ted Decker of Lakeville four years ago.
Decker, a 1994 Livonia graduate, knew the Myers brothers, though he was a few years behind them in school.
“A buddy of mine that helps me with the tournament, Seth Bagley, thought that would be a good one, keep it local,” said Decker, owner of Ted’s Tackle at 5772 Big Tree Rd. in Lakeville.
The derby has grown exponentially since its inception, when it drew a respectable 167 anglers to Conesus Lake. This past February however, 525 anglers participated in the two-day derby which, along with an accompanying raffle, raised more than $8,340. Half went to the Myers Foundation and half went to Honor Flight Rochester, an organization that provides all expense paid trips to Washington D.C. for United States Armed Forces veterans.
Decker is hopeful the event will continue to grow in future years so more money can be raised for the foundation and other worthy causes.
“Just from our tournament this year, right off the bat, the money went and helped two families,” he said. “It’s pretty humbling.”
And all those regular benefactors are not to mention the countless others who volunteer their time for the foundation or make an occasional donation when they’re able to afford it, said Kevin Myers.
“There are people in our Livonia community everyday who give of themselves,” he said. “There are volunteers who work on the board, those who assist with fundraising, those who sporadically donate and people who donate a percentage of annual salary. The foundation and its (work) are much bigger than our family. We continue to be humbled by having our family name tied to the great and ongoing work of the foundation.”
A powerful legacy
The Myers brothers have come a long way over the past three decades. Adrian lives in Hamlin with his family, Jeff works in finance in Connecticut and Kevin lives in Australia with his family and works for a broadband service provider.
But had Livonia not rallied around him and his brothers back in ’89, when their world was crashing down around them, Adrian isn’t sure “everybody would have been as good or well off as they are today.”
“To have a community like Livonia come in and know you’re in trouble and be willing to go and help you and make you feel OK, like there are people out her that actually care what happens – you don’t get that everywhere,” he said. “It’s pretty spectacular.”
“These amazing people gave me a shot at life,” added Jeff Myers. “They didn’t know how this was going to go when they sat down to figure this out for me and my brothers, but what they ended up doing was incredible. They gave me a chance. Not only that, they are hope for other families in the community. It is unbelievable what they did and continue to do.”
For Girolmo, the course the foundation has taken from its inception to the present day is a testament to the Livonia community. Instead of letting the foundation fizzle after its original purpose had run its course, the community continued in its support, providing the means to continue helping those who need it most.
“If we had done nothing else than help the Myers, it would have been totally successful,” said Girolmo. “Instead, it’s kept going and for the last 28 years now, we’ve been able to help families and children of families in our community… survive and thrive in difficult situations.”
Anyone can donate to the Myers Memorial Foundation. Those wishing to donate can write a check and mail it to PO Box 431, Livonia, NY 14487.
Source: After 28 years, Livonia’s Myers Memorial Foundation continues to change lives