The John R. Oishei Foundation, WNY’s most comprehensive private foundation, has announced the promotion of Blythe T. Merrill to Executive Vice President and of Lawrence H. Cook, II to Senior Vice President of Programs, effective immediately.
Robert D. Gioia, President of the Oishei Foundation commented, “We are so fortunate to have such strong talent at the Foundation. Both Blythe and Larry have demonstrated strong leadership and continue to guide our grantmaking in effective and innovative ways for the betterment of our community. Both of these professionals have deep knowledge, wisdom, and the capacity for building relationships that is so critical in our work, particularly as our nonprofit community struggles with the health and economic impact of the COVID pandemic.
Blythe Merrill joined the Foundation in 2004 and has most recently served as Senior Vice President for Programs. In that role, she has concentrated primarily on the Foundation’s education focus area, overseeing the Oishei High School Scholarship program and working with education-focused grantees including Say Yes to Education, Buffalo Prep, and the Bison Fund among many others. Blythe was instrumental in bringing the Say Yes program to Buffalo and currently serves on the organization’s planning committee. She also played a significant role in the development of the Buffalo Center for Arts & Technology. In addition, Blythe has led the Foundation’s work in racial equity, creating opportunities for continued learning and education on the topic, and working with the Board of Trustees to develop the Foundation’s statement of commitment, its goals, and a specific work plan to reach those goals. As Executive Vice President, Blythe will continue these activities and serve as the second-in-command to President Robert D. Gioia, overseeing Foundation operations and grantmaking.
She has a diverse background that includes many years in preservation planning, community development, and technical advising through earlier positions with Flynn Battaglia Architects, the Landmark Society of Western New York, the Steel Industry Heritage Task Force and the Mon Valley Initiative in Pittsburgh, and the Municipal Art Society in New York City. Blythe has also worked for the Preservation League of New York State, New York State Council on the Arts, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and the Howard Heinz Endowment in Pittsburgh. She is a graduate of Skidmore College and was a Loeb Fellow through the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and Environmental Studies.
Lawrence H. Cook, II has been promoted to Senior Vice President for Programs from his previous position as Vice President. In his grantmaking role, he has focused on the Foundation’s focus areas of neighborhood stabilization, self-sufficiency, and basic human needs funding. He also oversees The Mobile Safety-Net Team, an initiative of The John R. Oishei Foundation that works within communities throughout Erie and Niagara Counties to strengthen the safety net of human and social services, build coalitions among organizations, and promote data-informed decision-making.
Larry also serves as co-chair for the funder’s collaborative that supports the East Side Avenues Program, a unique public/private partnership that provides capital and organizational support to transformational projects in targeted areas along four East Side commercial corridors. In his new role, he will also take a leadership position on the WNY COVID-19 Response Fund that was collaboratively developed among area funders for immediate emergency support of local nonprofits in response to the pandemic in 2020.
Prior to joining the Foundation in 2010, Larry served as Deputy Director of the Arts Council in Buffalo & Erie County and as Director of Regrant Programs and Services. He also served as an active panelist for the New York State Council on the Arts and Erie County’s Public Benefits Oversight Committee for several years. He has served on numerous boards and panels which include the Niagara Falls Housing Authority Board, University at Buffalo’s Educational Opportunity Center Advisory Council, and KeyBank’s WNY Advisory Council. Larry is a recipient of the Director’s Award from the Community Missions of Niagara Frontier. He earned a BA in Public Communication from Buffalo State College and an Accounting & Finance Certificate from SUNY at Buffalo.
The John R. Oishei Foundation is the most comprehensive private foundation in Western New York focusing on a broad range of interrelated issues and offering philanthropic support that goes far beyond funding. Our mission is to enhance the economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership, and network building. The Foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.