Memory Lane: The 1996 Olympic Torch Run

Memory Lane: The 1996 Olympic Torch Run Image

For some of you, it might not seem far in the past, but it took place nearly 20 years ago…When the US hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, the United Way orchestrated a nationwide relay to pass the famous Olympic Torch from city to city.

The United Way was the perfect organization for the job, not just because our symbol used to be a torch back in our United Fund days but because we have such a strong presence around the country. We were able to coordinate businesses, schools, law enforcement, community members, and volunteers to artfully pass the torch all the way to Atlanta (see map below!).

Locally, people were buzzing with excitement. We formed a committee to select the “torchbearers” for Erie County, and hundreds of applications flowed into UWBEC’s office from community members who wanted to run with the flame. The selected torchbearers came from all different backgrounds: teachers, students, troopers, healthcare workers, businesspeople, not for profit employees, government workers, Buffalo Sabres, and two Seneca Nation youths, who carried the torch through the Cattaraugus Indian Reservation. Sabres hero Pat LaFontaine brought the torch to the finish line, running it right into Niagara Square just as the skies burst into rain.

Michele Magaris, who helped coordinate UWBEC’s portion of this nationwide trek, described it as an “elaborate dance.” Once everyone was put into position, the event flowed beautifully as the Olympic flame moved from hand to hand. Event coordinators Carey Anderson and Wendy Stahlka remember it fondly as well, citing it as an unforgettable collaboration between volunteers, businesses, and United Way staff. Check out our “throwback” pictures below!