Remembering Caroline Hassett Buerk ’59

By | March 18, 2022

Caroline Hassett Buerk ’59, an alum and the longest-serving trustee in the university’s history, passed away March 11.

Buerk (right), as a Rosary Hill College junior, with New York Governor (and eventual Vice President of the United States) Nelson Rockefeller (left) and U.S. Senator Kenneth Keating (center), 1958

“The mention of her name calls to mind her warm personality, her sense of humor and her quiet-spoken manner,” reads an entry about Buerk (then Caroline Ernst) in the 1958 Summit Daemen’s yearbook until the early 2010’s – continuing: “Caroline is best known to the freshman as a helpful ‘big sister’ and class advisor. The seniors and sophomores know her as a cooperative and loyal representative on [Student Government Association (SGA)] council. To the juniors she is a tireless worker.”

Buerk joined Daemen’s Board of Trustees in 1976 and became chair in 2003 and served in that capacity until 2013. In all, she served 42 years as a trustee. 

Buerk co-chaired Anthologies: The Campaign for Daemen, an $11.5 million capital campaign, the to-then-greatest fund-raising venture in the institution’s history. The lion’s share helped fund construction of the Research and Information Commons in 2008, with the rest going to Daemen’s endowment to generate funds for student scholarships. 

She also chaired the Daemen College 50th Anniversary Committee in 1997.

“She was really instrumental in helping lead the college into the future,” President Gary Olson told The Buffalo News. “She was a tremendous advocate for the college and a dear friend to the Sisters of St. Francis [who founded Daemen],” he said, adding, “The [university] saw substantial growth and momentum during her long tenure as a trustee.”

An active participant in student government at Daemen (then Rosary Hill College), Buerk – the newly-elected SGA president at the time– told the student newspaper The Ascent in early May 1958, “The physical growth of Rosary Hill College must be accompanied by internal growth. That will be the growth of the students and their council. This will be our aim next year, and I’m sure, the aim in the years to come.”

The intimate setting of Rosary Hill and accessibility of faculty were key benefits that helped shape her future, she said. After graduating from the institution with a history degree in 1959, Buerk studied law.

As an attorney, Buerk was a partner in the firm of Phillips, Lytle, Hitchcock, Blain & Huber. Buerk was also a member of the New York State Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, the American Bar Association; and the Erie County Bar Association. 

“The best part of my college experience was that it was a small school, but a good school, and I think at that point in my development it was the right place for me. I got the instruction and the closeness to my professors that I needed at that time. One of the steadfast benefits of small institutions was the opportunity to get to know professors well, plus a faculty committed to personalizing education,” she told Daemen Today in 2004.

A lifelong Western New Yorker, Buerk’s service in the community affected the lives of many. She has served as president of the Buffalo Chapter of Zonta International, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County; chair of the former Health Care Coalition, and the Women’s Suburban Division of the United Way of Buffalo; and the co-chair of the Committee on Programming in Correctional Institutions, Junior League of Buffalo.