Photo by Derek Gee, Buffalo News

All movements need leaders, and in the early days of the National Association for Olmsted Parks (now Olmsted Network), Joan Bozer was on the front lines. The cause? Protecting Olmsted parks and landscapes. In the early 1980s, in city after city, OImsted parks and places were suffering.  

In many cities, these landscapes were viewed as antiquities. But at a gathering of parks enthusiasts in Buffalo in 1980, a group of committed individuals threw down the gauntlet:  Olmsted parks and landscapes are urban necessities. And so the NAOP was born, then and now the only national organization dedicated exclusively to protecting and preserving Olmsted parks, places and principles.   

Joan Bozer was there – serving as a charter member, a national president and committed trustee and then as a founder and recognized “matriarch” of the local conservancy, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy in 1982.  

Last week, Joan died at the age of 94.  However, her eloquent and powerful advocacy for the preservation of extraordinary historic buildings and landscapes lives on. Now, over 40 years later, both the Conservancy and the Olmsted Network remain vigorous proponents of stewardship, advocacy and education on behalf of Olmsted’s irreplaceable parks and landscapes.  

We agree with our friend and scholar Dr. Frank Kowsky: “The Buffalo community owes Joan a great debt of gratitude for all she did on behalf of the Olmsted parks and for many other worthy causes.” 

In tribute to her, we are pleased to reproduce a profile published before her death in Olmsted’s Elmwood: The Rise, Decline and Renewal of Buffalo’s Parkway Neighborhood – A Model for America’s Cities (2022), by Clinton Brown and Ramona Pando Whitaker.  

Excerpt from page 90 of Olmsted’s Elmwood: The Rise, Decline and Renewal of Buffalo’s Parkway Neighborhood – A Model for America’s Cities:

A modern-day version of the nineteenth-century Buffalo business-leader cohort, Joan Bozer is a change-maker, a self-declared gadfly who has made a practice of shining light on slighted issues. Founding the Buffalo Friends of Olmsted was just one of her numerous accomplishments. She was also a founder of the National Association for Olmsted Parks (now the Olmsted Network).  

In 1976 she was elected to the Erie County Legislature, a position she held for eighteen years before retiring. She was described as a “principled … lawmaker who could be counted on to take the long view.” Retiring for Joan meant pursuing full tilt her other passions.  One of the most fervent of those was protection of the environment through elimination of air pollution and the use of sustainable energy. All three of her major activities, she felt, related to those goals. She founded the Western New York Sustainable Energy Association to promote the use of solar and wind power. As president of the Buffalo Chapter of the League of Women Voters, she advocated against urban sprawl as increasing the need for roads and automobile traffic, and she chaired the government relations committee of the Citizens Regional Transit Corporation, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing automobile traffic through metro rail expansion.  

Joan Kendig Bozer was born in Pelham, Westchester County, New York, was educated there and in Massachusetts, and later earned a bachelor’s degree in history and government from SUNY’s Empire State College. Like her father, Thomas Hart Kendig, who mentored her, Joan saw foreign markets as offering the best growth opportunities and so founded the International Trade Council here. The organization’s annual award is named for her father. She served as president of the Junior League of Buffalo, chair of the then National Conference of Christians and Jews, and proved her preservation bona fides by leading drives that resulted in legislation to save the historic Old Post Office building and convert it to the downtown campus of Erie Community College. Her most recent efforts pushed for installation of the Buffalo Heritage Carousel, Inc.’s solar powered 1924 DeAngelis Carousel at Canalside, Buffalo’s reconstructed terminus of the Erie Canal.

Thank you, Joan.  

With love,

The Olmsted Network