Unknown Stories of WNY: The Man Behind The Oishei Foundation

Unknown stories of Western New York introduces you to the man behind the name John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.

BUFFALO, NY - John R. Oishei was born in 1886 and grew up on Buffalo's west side. He went to Central High, but never graduated, quitting to help in his father's law practice. But it was a part-time job as an usher at the Star Theater at Pearl and Mohawk Streets that paved the way to John's passion. He worked his way up, in a variety of theaters, eventually managing the legendary Tek Theater. He even tried his hand as a playwright, but while he found his passion in the arts, it was an accident that led him into a new business.

Oishei's life and fortunes changed as he was driving up Delaware Avenue during a rainstorm in 1916. As he was approaching Virginia Street, he hit a bicyclist.  A bicyclist he never saw. It was then that Oishei vowed to never let that happen again, by producing a better windshield wiper.

He sought out the best technology available and in 1917, created the first automobile wiper blades and grew the idea into Trico Products.

The John R. Oishei Foundation Chairman Jim Wadsworth says that from the very beginning, the Trico founder was a strong Buffalo backer, even standing up for his hometown when Henry Ford tried to pressure him into moving.

"He said I want you to move your factory to Detroit so you are close to the Ford plant.  He (Oishei) said  'No, I'm a Buffalonian, I'm going to keep my factory in Buffalo'.  So Ford said 'Okay, I'm not buying windshield wipers from you'. A year later he was back buying windshield wipers because he couldn't get any good ones from anyone else."

Trico grew into Buffalo's largest private employer. Oishei's focus was always on improving conditions in his hometown. In 1940, he established the Julia R. and Estelle L. Foundation, named after his wife and daughter. The foundation would eventually be renamed the John R. Oishei Foundation, but from it's start the Foundation concentrated its support to hospitals and schools in the Buffalo area with the balance being directed to cultural and social services needs.

That is why they made an initial award to help with the establishment of the medical campus itself, and then gave a separate $10 million gift to support the new Children's Hospital that will, come Friday, bear his name.
 

© 2017 WGRZ-TV


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