2019 Philanthropists of the Year: Michael Toner & Paulette Crooke
Paulette M. Crooke and Michael Toner, United Way’s 2019 Philanthropist of the Year honorees, will tell you that they are living proof of Western New York’s welcoming attitude towards newcomers. They first moved to Buffalo in 1996 when Paulette was transferred as part of her 40-year career with HSBC Bank. They were struck by how quickly the community and its organizations welcomed and embraced people from other communities who were willing to roll up their sleeves and pitch in where things needed to be done.
Paulette and Michael have both been long time supporters of the United Way. They were among the inaugural donors to United Way’s legacy fund. Paulette served as the United Way campaign chair in 2008, 2016 and 2017. She was honored as Volunteer of the Year in 2009. She is also the founding chairperson of United Way’s Women United giving community. Paulette currently serves on United Way’s Advisory Council. Previously, she served as a board member and was a member of the executive committee. She began her association with United Way as a member of the Human Resources committee. In her career at HSBC she was the bank’s Buffalo United Way campaign chair. In New York, she served as the bank’s Volunteer Committee co-chair and in Watertown, NY she was a board member of the United Way of Jefferson County.
In addition to the United Way, Paulette and Michael are supporters and volunteers for other community and church organizations. Paulette is the immediate past president of the Western New York Foundation and continues to serve on its board of directors. She has served on the board of the Buffalo Zoo and is currently a member of the Zoological Society of Buffalo Foundation Board of Directors. At the Botanical Gardens of Buffalo and Erie County she is a member of the Board of Directors and serves on its Finance Committee. Paulette is also beginning her third term on the board of directors at Artpark, serving on the Finance and Human Relations committees. While she is pursuing her retirement passion of watercolor painting, Paulette is also the treasurer of the Williamsville Art Society.
When Paulette’s career brought them to WNY (the first time), Michael decided to leave his full time position as a public relations executive with Lockheed Martin in Syracuse. He began a freelance media production business that would also allow him the flexibility to be the at-home parent to their then-six-year-old son, Ian. This quickly thrust him into some volunteer work at St. Gregory the Great where Ian was attending school. Among other things, he was the lighting designer and electrician for the first plays performed in St. Greg’s new Parish Center. He also contributed media productions for multiple St. Greg’s Great Auctions.
Both Michael and Paulette have been active in the Catholic Church for much of their lives. They have both served on committees and as ministry coordinators in parishes in Central and Western New York. Michael was parish council president and church dedication chairperson for a parish near Syracuse in which they were founding members. Michael’s interest in Church reform led him to be a founder of the Western New York Chapter of Call To Action, a national organization calling for reform in the Church.
Paulette and Michael are both very involved in the Newman Center at the University at Buffalo’s Amherst campus. Paulette is a member of the Finance Committee and both of them serve as co-chairs of the Center’s annual Catholic Charities appeal. Michael answered Monsignor J. Patrick Keleher’s (Father Pat) call to chair the Center’s “Upon This Rock” campaign. In past years, he also served on the Center’s annual chicken barbeque executive committee.
Ian, the couple’s only child, is currently a graduate student at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications, following five years as a public relations executive in Denver. Continuing the family tradition, he volunteered with the United Way in Denver. He graduated from the University of Virginia and Canisius High School. With the Canisius Companeros program, Ian completed several service trips to the Dominican Republic and Laredo, Texas.
In a testament to their love for and adoption of Western New York and Buffalo as their home, Paulette and Michael recently built their “last” home in Clarence. “We really haven’t found any other place we’d rather be – to paraphrase Marv Levy”, they both agreed.