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Catholic Life Features

Friends and family join to pay tribute to the spirit of ‘good guy’ Phil Haberstro


Doug Hartmayer, Cardinal O’Hara Class of ’66, MC’s and afternoon celebration of the the life of former schoolmate Phil Haberstro. Haberstro dedicated his life to the health of Buffalo and its citizens.

Over 100 people paid tribute to Phil Haberstro by walking the footpath that he helped create. Haberstro, a ’65 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School, devoted his life to the health and wellness of Western New York’s citizens and the region itself. His recent death sparked his family to create the Spirit of Phil Haberstro Memorial Walk. The inaugural walk took place June 26 on the Rails-to-Trails pathway behind the Tonawanda school. Proceeds will benefit O’Hara and the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, which he founded.

It was like old home week, as several of Haberstro’s friends and family members, many from Cardinal O’Hara’s first graduating class, came together to memorialize the man who Hawks football teammate Doug Hartmayer called an “honest to goodness good guy.”

“Anyone who knew him, anyone who worked with him, he made you feel as though you were the most important person in the room, like you were the only one in the room. That was the kind of person he was. He was the real deal,” said Hartmayer, who served as MC for the event. 

His wife of 37 years, Bonnie Zimmerman, recalled how Haberstro would meticulously dissect football films on dates with her. So, excited with the ideas of health and physical fitness, Haberstro quit his job six months before their wedding to start the Wellness Institute, a public benefit organization with the mission of creating healthy communities. 

“Phil was a master at networking and helping people get their visions started and moving, and he enjoyed watching other people enjoy their success. Phil was passionate beyond comprehension about the Wellness Institute, Brockport Football, Rugby, his beloved Cardinal O’Hara, and his family,” Zimmerman said.

A workaholic who often spent 12-hour days in the office, counts the Wellness Institute, bringing the All-America City designation to Buffalo, the Rails to Trails program, and shutting down Tonawanda Coke and leveling its smokestacks as his greatest accomplishments.

Although the three Haberstro brothers did not always see eye to eye, they always patched up any differences they had with a hug. 

Greg Haberstro speaks about his relationship with his brother Phil. Friends and family of Phil Haberstro gathered at Cardinal O’Hara for the a Spirit of Phil celebration on June 26.

“Phil was not a guy who was bias or prejudice in any way, shape or form,” said his brother Jim. “His looking at communities in terms of socio-economic status was not an issue for Phil. He just wanted everybody to have healthy lifestyles, healthy communities, environments that nature and grow. That’s what he took to the Wellness Institute. That was the macro vision of brotherhood. We were all important to each other.”

His youngest brother, Greg, saw his brother’s actions and behavior as a way to a acquire what he called social capital.

“He taught everybody he worked with about social capital, how to build relationships with people and how those relationships will pay you back,” Greg Haberstro explained. “Time and time again we would have discussions about family issues, work issues, his projects, my projects, he’d say, ‘Build yourself some social capitol in these organizations you’re working with and it will come to help you.’ To this day, I have four children and I say the same to them. Don’t be afraid to walk across the room to introduce yourself to someone. Be a volunteer. Go volunteer for this program. Go volunteer foe that program. I did and it always paid a benefit.”

The O’Hara gym was filled with photos, newspaper clippings and jerseys belong to Haberstro. And, true to his health-conscience spirt, an ample supply of water and apples were available for the guests. A second walk is scheduled June 25, 2022.


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