Ralph C. Wilson Foundation gives $200M to Buffalo, Detroit parks

Ralph C. Wilson Jr.'s legacy lives on through the Buffalo Bills, and will soon extend to the parks and recreation possibilities in two metropolitan communities.

The Ralph C. Wilson Foundation will announce Wednesday the largest philanthropic gift ever made in Western New York: $100 million to turn Buffalo's LaSalle Park into a signature park and to develop a completed regional trail system.

The same amount will be given to Wilson's hometown of Detroit to remake a riverfront park and connect trails in Southeast Michigan.

The two gifts celebrate the late Wilson's legacy in the communities that mattered most to him, and his passion for leading an active lifestyle.

"We are proud and honored to celebrate Ralph's birthday today with a lasting gift that matches in scale the passion and pride he had for his hometown of Detroit and 'adopted' hometown of Buffalo, where he founded and owned the Buffalo Bills," said Mary Wilson, Ralph Wilson's widow and a lifetime trustee of the foundation.

"Ralph was committed to exercise, staying active and enjoying life. It would make Ralph so happy to see people of all ages enjoying these enhanced parks and trails for years to come."

The matching $100 million gifts are no coincidence: They're both being announced on what would have been Wilson's 100th birthday.

"Mary Wilson said it needs to be $100 million in both regions," said David O. Egner, the foundation's CEO. "She thought both were important to Mr. Wilson, and on his birthday we should make a statement of this size and caliber."

As part of the agreement, both parks -- with the expectation of city government approval -- are expected to be renamed Ralph C. Wilson Centennial Park.

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