Donor Profile

Michael C. Lauria '80: Enriching the lives of others, in life and in death

BUFFALO, NY -  “Never better!”  That’s how Michael C. Lauria ’80 always responded anytime anyone asked how he was doing. Those two simple words speak volumes about a man who refused to take life for granted.

A career pilot, Lauria served briefly in the U.S. Air Force before becoming a commercial flight captain for United Airlines, out of Chicago.

“Our childhood home, on Shoshone Street, was on the direct landing path for the Buffalo airport,” recalls brother Jerry Lauria, MD. “Whenever a plane flew over, Mike looked up and said, ‘I’m going to fly those someday.’”

Lauria lived his dream as a pilot but it was a new business venture, in the emerging e-commerce market, that led him to explore his entrepreneurial spirit. He launched Applied Merchant Systems, a credit card processing company for small business owners.

“Back then, mom-and-pop shops could only accept payment in cash or checks because the banks weren’t interested in doing business with them,” explains Lauria’s eldest brother, Thomas Jr. “Mike saw an opportunity. He went after it and the company thrived.”

Bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, Lauria invested in several start-up businesses. Along the way, he developed an astute interest in the stock market. Specifically, Lauria developed his own strategy for trading tricky stock options. His approach yielded lucrative returns.

“What’s fascinating is that Mike had no formal finance training; he was completely self-taught,” says Professor of Finance Richard A. Wall ’78, PhD. He and Lauria became friends as undergraduates but in recent years, Lauria flew to Buffalo two times a week to audit Wall’s class and serve as an occasional guest lecturer. “I teach theory but Mike shared his practical experiences with the students and they just responded to him so well.”

Lauria’s varied professional ventures took him around the world and introduced him to an assorted cast of characters, from Brad Richdale, of infomercial fame, to musical mastermind Frank Zappa. But ‘everyday people’ are who impressed Lauria most.

“My brother thrived on meeting different people from different backgrounds and planned to one day return to his ‘favorite all time job’ – driving a cab, which he did briefly after graduating from Canisius,” says Jerry.

Lauria didn’t get that chance. He passed away in February 2013 after a brief illness. Lauria was 54.

“Mike was a forever happy individual,” recalls longtime friend Rocco Lucente ’80. “He was a deeply loving person whose devout faith in God guided him personally and professionally, and whose sensational sense of humor made everyone smile.”

Lauria’s legacy lives on through the many organizations and institutions that were important to him, during his lifetime. He bequeathed portions of his estate to the Roman Catholic order affectionately known as the Grey Nuns, who taught Lauria in elementary school, and PAWS-Chicago, which works to end the unnecessary killing of homeless animals. Lauria also left a significant, unrestricted gift to Canisius, in support of the college’s academic programs, scholarships and educational experiences.

“Mike developed an attachment to Canisius unlike that of many commuter students who, at that time, just wanted to go to class and go home,” says Lucente. “He loved Canisius, he loved the people he met through Canisius and he tried to stay connected best he could.”

Now, Lauria’s generosity will keep him connected to Canisius and its students for generations to come.