Dedicated 2017 season ‘to the spirit and memory of Col. Patrick J. Cunningham;’ celebrated 40th anniversary of USS Little Rock and USS The Sullivans arrival
Buffalo, N.Y. – March 25, 2017 – The Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park kicked off its 2017 season this morning with an Opening Day Ceremony. The Naval Park, a defining component of Buffalo’s waterfront since 1979 and a key part of its recent resurgence, is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the arrival of its first two ships, the USS Little Rock and USS The Sullivans, in 1977.
The ceremony began with a dedication of the 2017 season to the “spirit and memory of Col. Patrick J. Cunningham,” the Naval Park’s Executive Director since 1993, who passed away yesterday. Park officials also introduced their new Executive Director, Captain Brian W. Roche, a 36-year Coast Guard veteran who was appointed during its Thursday board meeting.
Officials also posthumously honored three servicemen who were instrumental in the delivery of the Little Rock and the Sullivans to Buffalo: Michael Bertini, Thomas Heilig and Leonard Sniadecki. Their families received Recognition Award Certificates from Naval Park Board Chairman Donald A. Alessi.
The ceremony included a ribbon-cutting ceremony by local dignitaries; the National Anthem performed by The Buffalo Dolls, the popular local swing-style vocal group; a brief history of the park; music by Union Volunteers Fife & Drum Corps, and representation from the Naval Park docents, U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps – The Sullivans Division, and the Greater Niagara Frontier Council Boy Scout Honor Guard.
“It is with very mixed emotions that we kick off our season today,” said Chairman Alessi. “We are excited to begin it by honoring the memories of these three fine servicemen, who played such pivotal roles in bringing us these two iconic vessels. We’re proud to continue to provide military and naval history right here on the Buffalo Waterfront. It is going to be a great season.”
However, attendees were saddened by the loss of Colonel Cunningham, who will be remembered for his tireless efforts at building the park into the wonderful attraction it is today.
“Colonel Cunningham was instrumental in moving the park from its former site underneath the Skyway to this beautiful location we enjoy today,” Chairman Alessi continued. “He spent a career in service and sacrifice to his country — and he continued that commitment throughout his retirement. His vision turned our Naval Park — the largest inland park in the U.S. — into the crown jewel we enjoy on our waterfront today.”
In addition, attendees were excited to meet and hear from Captain Roche, who Colonel Cunningham fully endorsed as his successor.
“Captain Roche served for 36 years in the U.S. Coast Guard,” Chairman Alessi concluded. “He is an accomplished leader and dynamic planner with broad experience in fiscal management, operational execution, human resources and risk management. He has been in Buffalo since 2013, so he’s no stranger to Western New York. He has a strong vision for our Naval Park, and we’re excited to support him in making this resource even more valuable to our veterans and our community.”
“It is truly an honor to be appointed as the Executive Director of the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park,” said Captain Roche. “The Naval Park is one of Buffalo’s true, unique treasures that the park staff and I feel privileged to be a part of. The Park has new exhibits to see and more to come in the future, and I hope every family takes a trip to Canalside to experience our park this year.”
The Naval Park has many large-scale events happening this season including its annual Party in the Park fundraiser on Aug. 22. This popular event is hosted right on the deck of the USS Little Rock and raises money to support all aspects of the Park, which receives less than three percent of its funding from government entities. Then, in late September, Buffalo hopes to be the site of a national first when it welcomes the newly constructed USS Little Rock LCS-9, which is tentatively scheduled to be officially commissioned into service. This would be the first time in U.S. Navy history that a new ship is commissioned alongside her original namesake.