A man whose influence on his people spans five decades was brought to his final resting place Friday in Silver Creek, hours after hundreds packed a funeral home in Angola to pay their final respects. Barry Snyder was remembered as a man with a vision for the people of the Seneca Nation, and one who was passionate about protecting its sovereignty.
Snyder, who was elected five times to serve as Seneca Nation president and also led Seneca Gaming, died October 1 at the age of 79.
At least 300, perhaps 400 people gathered inside the Addison Funeral Home on North Main Street in Angola for Barry Snyder's memorial service. Every room inside, in addition to the one where Snyder's remains lay resting, was filled with guests and some remained standing in the hallway.
Outside, a fleet of motorcycles and police patrol cars, the latter representing numerous area police agencies and the Seneca Nation's Marshals, waited to lead an eventual procession to Silver Creek.
Waiting in a Seneca Nation vehicle nearby was Chuck Nephew, who knew Snyder as far back as childhood. He explained they attended school together and played baseball together on the reservation. When it came time for military service, Nephew enlisted in the US Air Force while Snyder joined the Army.
He remembers Snyder before he became a self-made millionaire.
"He's a good role model for a lot of the young kids right now," Nephew said. "He came up from nothing and built himself up to a millionaire. Everybody can follow his example by seeing it's possible."
He opened a business in 1983, Seneca Hawk, which sold gasoline and cigarettes and put him on his path toward his wealth. Speakers at his memorial service stated he worked to improve economic and living conditions for many of his fellow Senecas.
Friday's service opened with Christian prayer including readings from Isaiah, Psalm 42, the First Epistle of John, Psalm 23 and finally a passage from the Gospel of John. Then came tributes from numerous friends and Seneca business associates.
Maurice John, a lifelong friend of Snyder, said just as Martin Luther King, Jr. had his dream for his fellow African-Americans, Snyder had his vision for his people. It was to get them out of poverty. His desire was to make it possible to distribute $10,000 to every Seneca each year and $1,000 to every elder per month. He invested in initiatives to tackle problems facing his nation including diabetes and addiction. He also formed a scholarship to grow educational opportunities for youth.
But he also remembered for his strong will to preserve the Seneca Nation's sovereignty. John looked back to the tensions between the Seneca Nation and New York State in the 1990s, when Albany sought to enforce collection of sales tax on purchases of cigarettes by non-natives at native shops. During the dispute, there were blockades on Route 90, John recalled, but Snyder showed his leadership by "being on the front line on the dispute."
State Senator Tim Kennedy suggested to WBFO that had the current generation of lawmakers been in place back then, Snyder and the Senecas would have had more support within the Legislature. Kennedy and former Buffalo mayor Anthony Masiello were two elected officials who attended the memorial service.
"He was simply standing up for the law. He was standing up for what was right," Kennedy said upon leaving the funeral home. "He was simply doing the right thing. I love the fact that he demonstrated his strength of character, his strength as a leader, and really simply being someone that all of us can get behind, no matter who we are or where we come from. The man was a warrior in the highest regard and always putting other people in front of himself."