Sisters Jean Gonska and Lorraine Diggs learned their family-first values from their loving parents, Mike and Laura Bysiek.

Recently the pair decided to leave a lasting legacy in memory of their parents by establishing the Mike & Laura Bysiek Memorial Fund at the Cattaraugus Region Community Foundation to support a number of nonprofit organizations in the community each year.

The fund will initially provide six annual grants to support community organizations, including $500 to Joyful Rescues to be utilized for offsetting costs associated with rescuing dogs from kill shelters and $100 each to HomeCare & Hospice, SPCA of Cattaraugus County, Olean Food Pantry, Canticle Farm and the Olean General Hospital Foundation.

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“This fund focuses on their values:  hard work, love of family, quality of life and support of community,” said Gonska.

For Gonska and Diggs, the intention behind setting up the fund was a simple one.

“More than anything, this is just about saying ‘thank you,’” Gonska said. “We miss them both dearly.”

Gonska and Diggs said their parents together epitomized hard work, love and family first.

Mike was a hard worker and was able to build, construct or fix absolutely anything.  

He worked as a machinist for 41 years at Dresser-Rand. When he was not working though, Gonska said, he always found time to be there for his top priority: his family.

“He was always present for every single childhood concert, game or event and was ‘down on the floor’ with us playing games and enjoying family fun,” Gonska said. “As we became adults, he continued to be the rock of the family, a calm, stable, loving, supporting force.”

The same dedication to family was at the center of their mother’s character, Gonska said.

“Her highest priority was always her husband and daughters,” Gonska remembered. “She was very strong and managed all aspects of the family and home.  Our mom had a way of making our family life positive, loving, fun, accepting, supportive and special with wonderful traditions and memories, including traveling near and far

Despite their modest income, Gonska remembered that her mother learned how to manage and invest money to make sure that her family could achieve a comfortable life.

Their parents made education a priority and were able to support them both in their educational pursuits. They were deeply proud when both sisters went on to become nurse leaders.

In addition to their dedication to family, Gonska and Diggs remembered their parent’s community spirit, as they actively volunteered for a number of community organizations, a value that Gonska and Diggs took up in their lives as well.

The Mike & Laura Bysiek Memorial Fund ensures that the family and community-first presence of the Bysieks will be felt in the community for years to come.

“The first thing I thought when I met with Jean and Lorraine was ‘These are the types of parents that everyone wishes they had,’” said CRCF Executive Director Karen Niemic Buchheit. “I think this is a beautiful tribute to Mike and Laura, and the Foundation is honored to play a role in preserving their legacy.”

Donations can be made to the Mike & Laura Bysiek Memorial Fund at CRCF, 301 N. Union St., Suite 203, or online at cattfoundation.org.