2018 Legacy Award Recipients




T.R. Laz, is a proud life-long resident of the Albany area. He received his start in business over 40 years ago thanks to funding through a Albany City Hall Arts & Employment Program. Proof that funding the Arts works! T.R. went on to photograph or videotape over 4,000 weddings and events. He is especially proud of the many charities and organizations he has worked with and donated services to, Albany Wine and Dine, Park Playhouse, The Palace Theater, Albany Barn, Albany Center Gallery, and countless others. T.R. Laz, has also worked with many of the area’s top restaurants, and, Chefs.T.R. founded USA Weddings in 1988, akin to a Chamber of Commerce for Weddings and Events professionals, serving upstate NY, featuring hundreds of the top venues, photographers, entertainers, and more. USA Weddings produces shows, events, publications and can be found at www.USAweddings.com. In addition, T.R. served in the Air Force during early 70’s, worked at Disney World, is a NY Yankees and Minnesota Vikings Fan, and, makes his home on a 67 acre farm in the Town of New Scotland.

THE HONORABLE GERALD D. JENNINGS BACKSTAGE AWARD: The Backstage Award will honors the service, accomplishments and contributions to the Albany Arts community by Gerald D. Jennings. The award is given to a venue or individual that supports the endeavors of other Arts organizations and therefore enhances the quality of life in our region. In addition, to recognize Mr. Jennings’ many years in Education, there is a scholarship or award given annually to assist a City of Albany Arts program or student focusing on performing, fine or culinary arts.



Dr. Joel Spiro, a dermatologist in Albany, New York, received his medical degree from Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Joel & Kira Spiro are very active in the Albany Arts scene and Joel has been involved in a leadership role with Albany Center Galleries since it was founded by Les Urbach in 1977. Also immersed in the culinary arts, Dr. Spiro was among a group of dedicated gourmets who in 1977 established the Albany chapter of La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, as the 50th such group in the USA. Dr. Spiro who was instrumental in forming the group, served as Bailli (President) of the Albany chapter for 19 years. This chapter iscredited with being one of the key factors in elevating the culinary arts in the Capital Region. Joel is the Chairman of the Fellows and a CIA Trustee. Kira & Joel are loyal patrons of many of our Beneficiaries and embody Karen Smith Sfara’s generosity of heart, spirit, time, talent and resources.

THE KAREN SMITH SFARA OVATION AWARD: The Ovation Award honors the memory of Founding Member Karen Smith-Sfara. Karen was a pioneer in the wine industry and paved the way for women to gain entry into this field. Karen was instrumental in bringing the Albany Chefs’ Food and Wine Festival to fruition. The only thing that outweighed her passion and professionalism was her kindness and generosity. The Ovation Award is given to a Capital Region outstanding patron or organization demonstrating a significant contribution to the Arts in the City of Albany, through dedication of time, talent, expertise and/or personal financial contribution.



Chef Joan R. Dembinski serves as a part time Pastry Chef for the Honest Weight Food Coop and and Yono’s & dp an American Brasserie. She is a native of Albany. After 50 years in the pharmaceutical industry (Sterling Winthrop Research Institute, Coromed Inc. and Omnicare Clinical Research) in both Preclinical and Clinical research, she returned to school to pursue her passion for cooking at Schenectady County Community College in 2008. She joined the culinary arts program where she graduated with an AOS degree as a Certified Culinarian. Along with being on the President’s list, she earned silver and gold medals for cooking and the Knowledge Bowl as well as being selected as the Student of the Year. She is a lifetime member of the American Culinary Federation. Her travels include Italy, France and Indonesia where she further develops her baking and cooking skills. At 80 years old she continues to learn and share in culinary events for charities as well as to work with young folks in the Chef and Child program of the American Culinary Federation and the South End Children’s Cafe. Joan has established scholarships to encourage students in the Culinary arts and sciences. Joan has boundless energy and possesses the uncanny ability to sense when a “Fairy Godmother” is needed. She springs into action and really does have a magic wand!

SPIRIT OF THE INDUSTRY AWARD: Presented with deep gratitude by our Board of Directors, this award honors the unending generosity, commitment to our community, the professionalism of our region’s chefs and restaurateurs and the sincere spirit of giving back.