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Historical Society honors former TV host for civic involvement

Former "AM Buffalo" co-host Cindy Abbott Letro lowered her public profile, but not her number of public activities, when she left the show two decades ago, having served on the boards of numerous cultural and not-for-profit entities in the Buffalo community.

The current chairwoman of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra Society board of directors was a recipient Thursday of the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society's Red Jacket Award.

Letro and John N. Walsh both were honored at an awards dinner sponsored by the Historical Society. Walsh is chairman and chief executive officer of Walsh Duffield Co., as well as the president of the Martin House Restoration Corp.

Letro said her long-standing commitment to aiding cultural institutions such as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Burchfield Penney Art Center and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site is an outgrowth of her days as a broadcaster.

"I was someone that knew how to tell stories, what were the important things to be told, so that if I have any skill in helping some of the not-for-profits in this community, it's that I see what is of value in the organization and try to focus on that and build on that and get that story out so that the general public knows about it," Letro said.

The Ohio native first came to Buffalo in 1980 to host the morning show on WKBW-TV with Brian Kahle, and turned to freelance broadcasting a decade later before finding her niche in community volunteerism.

"I started volunteering and, believe me, once you become a volunteer [and] once you become a chair of a board, it's really almost a full-time job," said Letro.

"Especially when times are economically tough, it can be all-consuming. With the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, you're dealing with 110 employees [and] you want to make sure that their jobs are secure and that the orchestra is healthy and remains an important part of the community," she continued.

The Red Jacket Award was first established by the Historical Society in 1957 to recognize "quiet, continued, unbroken devotion to civic progress." Its recipients have included artist Charles Burchfield, former University at Buffalo President William R. Greiner and BPO conductor JoAnn Falletta.

"I'm in good company, but it's awe-inspiring and humbling to be in that company because so many of those people are names that are part of the history of this community that did so much," said Letro.

The Historical Society on Thursday also bestowed its Owen B. Augspurger Award on Clarence native and Erie County Historian Douglas Kohler. The Daniel B. Niederland Award was given to the Old Fort Niagara Association.