BUFFALO, N.Y. — An award for Meteorologists is being renamed in honor of the first African-American woman to receive a degree in meteorology, who got her start right here on Channel 2.
Starting in 2022, the Award for Broadcast Meteorologist of the Year from the American Meteorological Society is being renamed in honor of June Bacon-Bercey. She was also the first formally-trained female TV meteorologist.
Bacon-Bercey was known for her hard work as a ground-breaking meteorologist.
She was the first black woman to earn a degree in meteorology from the University of Kansas in 1954. She went on to earn her Masters at UCLA and later worked at the Atomic Energy Commission and the National Weather Service.
In 1972 Bacon-Bercey was awarded the American Meteorological Society's "seal of approval" for excellence in television weathercasting — the first woman and the first African American ever to achieve that distinction.
Her daughter, Dail St. Claire shared some of her favorite stories about her mom with 2 On Your Side's Pete Gallivan for CommUNITY.
Dail said one of the greatest lessons she learned from her was the importance of preparedness.
"Being prepared for opportunities is part of the reason she worked as hard as she did," St. Claire said.
As a testament to her work ethic, St. Claire recalled one story from the great black out of '65.
Her mom was working in the Weather Service's Manhattan offices. Subways were down, so she had no choice to walk to work from her home in Queens, then back home to check on the kids and then back to work. St. Claire says that was just how she was, dedicated on so many levels.
"As I watched her trajectory at the Atomic Energy Commission, at the National Weather Service, I watched her go to school at night to study journalism, she said she prepared for this opportunity and when the opportunity came at [WGRZ], it was an opportunity as a reporter, not as a meteorologist on the air."
She made her mark as a reporter, covering the Attica Prison uprising of '71, which was her first national television exposure.
However, meteorology was her true passion and she finally got her big break in 1971, with one of the craziest events in Buffalo broadcasting history.
The main weather anchor for 2 On Your Side at the time, Frank Benny, robbed a bank to feed a gambling addiction. Although Benny was found to be not guilty due to temporary insanity brought on by extreme stress, management needed to find someone to take the reigns of the weather department.
"They knew that my mom had worked to be a television meteorologist and had not gotten the opportunity yet, but she was certainly prepared to raise her hand and negotiate, which is what she did for that position," St. Claire said.
After four years at NBC, she spent the next decade and a half working for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.