‘We have lost a true pillar of the community’

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 28 May 2020 at 7:56 am

Ed Fancher, who served many local organizations, dies at 54 from cancer

Photos by Tom Rivers: Ed Fancher, executive director of Community Action of Orleans & Genesee, speaks during a forum on May 15, 2015, addressing about 40 human service professionals about challenges for low-income residents in the community.

ALBION – The death on Sunday of Ed Fancher from cancer has many in Orleans County and the region reeling.

Fancher, 54, was executive director of Community Action of Orleans & Genesee the past 15 years.

He was an integral part of other service organizations including the Albion Rotary Club, the Iroquois Trail of the Boy Scouts of America, the Albion High School Alumni Foundation. Fancher was dependable, and a calming influence.

Ed was also a volunteer for Holy Family Parish and Hospice of Orleans. His wife Chris is a social worker and has been the volunteer coordinator at Hospice for many years. Her husband was often by her side.

“We have lost a pillar of the community,” said Charlie Nesbitt, a Rotarian with Fancher and former state assemblyman. Nesbitt also served on the Alumni Foundation’s board with Fancher.

“Ed took integrity to the highest level,” Nesbitt said. “When he said he would do something, it could be depended on every time. He has left a huge hole that will be difficult to fill. The great hope is that his example is taken up by others influenced by him.”

Nesbitt helped start the Leadership Orleans program. Fancher was in the first class in 2018, and welcomed the program under the Community Action umbrella.

He worked for the agency that serves low-income families for 32 years, starting as fiscal director after a four years as a U.S. Marine.

Rotary members Ed Fancher and Becky Dillenbeck prepare the ham dinners on March 17 for the annual St. Patrick’s Ham Dinner. Proceeds support projects from the Rotary Interact Club at Albion High School.

“He was a man with so much compassion for the staff and the people we serve,” said Annette Finch, director of community services for the agency since 1990 and a Community Action employee for 43 years. “He showed great leadership and was respected by all. He will be greatly missed and has left us with a desire to do our best for the community.”

The Albion FFA in recent years has delivered about 30,000 pounds of produce to Community Action in mid-December, to be distributed to local food pantries. Fancher for several years was an eager volunteer, helping to unload a flatbed trailer full of heavy boxes of apples, cabbage and other food.

He was there on Dec. 14, when the FFA set a new record with 40,000 pounds to produce to be unloaded. Fancher, weakened by cancer, had to back up from carrying boxes. He watched as the truck was unloaded and thanked the FFA students for putting so much effort into the food drive.

“I just feel general amazement at the generosity of the farming community and the students who pack the truck,” Fancher told the Orleans Hub. “On behalf of the families we serve, thank you.”

Community Action, with a mission of helping people become self sufficient, expanded its programs and services during Fancher’s tenure. It runs the Head Start program, provides emergency assistance, weatherization and energy services, the CATS transportation, and Main Street Thrift Store (which serves as an employment training center).

Two years ago it added the Leadership Orleans. The agency offers ACT – Helping Youth ACT Responsibly, which focuses on helping students to delay initial sexual encounters and make responsible decisions.

It runs a community center in Holley and helps train child care providers.

“Ed was always a gentleman, and was truly appreciative of all the staff and programs provided in both Orleans and Genesee Counties, through Community Action,” Jan Albanese, the ACT director, wrote on the Community Action website. “It is with heavy heart that we must inform community partners and friends that we have lost an integral part of Community Action this past weekend.”

Service organizations

Ed Fancher is honored as a Paul Harris Fellow, the highest award given in the Rotary Club, in this photo from Jan. 9, 2016. Fancher’s wife Christine and Don Bishop, left, also were part of the award presentation at Terry Hills Golf Course in Batavia.

Fancher was a key member of the Albion Rotary Club. He was the current club treasurer. He was a past president. He lived the Rotary motto of “Service Above Self.” He did many thankless tasks without complaint or reluctance, including setting up and tearing down the hot dog stand at the Albion Strawberry Festival. He prepared the hams for the St. Patrick’s Ham Dinner, adding a touch of brown sugar with pineapple on top.

He was treasurer of the club’s annual fishing derby, keeping track of several hundred registrants, paying out prizes and the bills, and getting up early every day of the derby to update the leaderboard.

He also was treasurer the past 12 years of the Iroquois Trail Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which serves scouts in five counties.  He joined the board at a time when his son Kyle was a Scout in Troop 164 in Albion. When Kyle aged out, his father stayed on as a volunteer with the Council.

“Ed was very committed,” said Jim McMullen, the Scout executive for the Iroquois Trail the past 14 years. “He was an integral part of our board and our operation.”

Fancher has been honored by the Scouts as a “Citizen of the Year” and also presented with a Silver Beaver Award, the highest award the local council can give to a citizen.

“It broke my heart,” McMullen said about Fancher’s death. “He was such a fighter. We have lost such a lovely person.”

Provided photo: Ed Fancher was an enthusiastic volunteer serving popcorn at Albion homecoming football games.

For 20 years Fancher was a key leader in the Albion High School Alumni Foundation, an organization that distributes nearly $100,000 in scholarships annually. Fancher was a mainstay in the organization, willing to take on any task, from handling the finances to making popcorn at the homecoming games.

“Ed embodied our motto, ‘Making a difference for a lifetime,’” said Sue Starkweather Miller, the Foundation’s vice president and a long-time friend. “This is a huge, huge loss for our community on so many levels. It just breaks my heart.”

Steve Hicks, the Alumni Foundation president, said Fancher has impacted the lives of many students and families in the community.

“Our Foundation has suffered a great loss with the passing of Ed,” Hicks said. “Not only did he serve as Vice President, President and Treasurer across nearly 20 years, but he was one of the visionaries that helped build our Foundation into what it is today.

“Ed is the gold standard for how we should treat one another, and what we should strive to be. His kindness and compassion went far beyond our organization and touched our community in more ways than I can count. His impact was most felt by those who needed it most. For decades children opened Christmas presents, families shared thanksgiving dinners, graduates bought school books and paid tuition, in no small part thanks to the time and efforts of Ed Fancher.”

Fancher graduated from Albion in 1983 and served four years as a member of the Marine One Presidential Helicopter Squadron during the Reagan administration. The Rotary Club would often sing the Marines’ Hymn at Fancher’s request.

“From the Halls of Montezuma

To the shores of Tripoli;

We fight our country’s battles

In the air, on land, and sea;

First to fight for right and freedom

And to keep our honor clean;

We are proud to claim the title

Of United States Marine.”

Fancher has three grown children and three grandchildren. He was a faithful Buffalo Bills fan, even during the drought years when the team missed the playoffs for 17 straight seasons.

Funeral services will be held privately due to public health guidelines for public gatherings as a result of COVID-19. A link (click here) to view the Mass of Christian burial will be available at 10:45 on Friday.

Memorial contributions may be made to Community Action of Orleans and Genesee, 409 E. State St., Albion NY 14411; or to Hospice of Orleans, P.O. Box 489, Albion NY 14411; or to Holy Family Parish, 106 S. Main St., Albion NY 14411; or to Albion Alumni Foundation, P.O. Box 345, Albion NY 14411.

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