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Leslie Zemsky

Not every former leader of an august institution would bear the title of “director of fun” while directing the revival of a long-neglected industrial section of the city.

But then Leslie Zemsky, whose hobby is producing whimsical greeting cards, calendars, sketches of food and snow globes, is not your everyday community leader.

For starters, those who know her are quick to say she is unassuming and refuses to take herself too seriously – even while helping to lead a who’s who of local nonprofit organizations. To Zemsky, her community involvement is a reflection of the active volunteering she saw at home growing up, and the opportunity to be involved in a place where she chose to put down roots.

“She’s a boon to Buffalo in all of the right ways, in that she is unpretentious, unassuming and very effective in every cause she tackles,” said Douglas Dreishpoon, chief curator emeritus at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

A Detroit native, Zemsky moved to Buffalo in 1984. She served as chairwoman of the Buffalo Fine Arts Academy, the gallery’s governing body, for a four-year term that expired in October 2013. She remains a board member, and also sits on the board of Visit Buffalo Niagara.

Zemsky’s past community involvements include being the founding chairwoman of the Arts Services Initiative; a trustee for the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Temple Beth Zion and the Nichols School; president of the board of Elmwood Franklin School; and a board member for the Maria Love Convalescent Fund.

Zemsky, the mother of three, also has chaired community fund-raisers, including the Philharmonic Ball and the Junior League Show House.

Her most recent project may yet be her most fulfilling. As director of fun, Zemsky is enlivening Larkin Square, the business and cultural hot spot created by her husband, Howard Zemsky, and dubbed Larkinville, with Food Truck Tuesdays, Larkin Wednesdays and Larkin Market Thursdays. The Larkin Square Author Series she started is at the retro-yet-modern Filling Station.

Pickleball and hula-hooping are among fun, on-site activities that were also Zemsky’s idea, and her whimsical artwork, in the form of art cards, paintings and posters, frequently adorns the site.

– Mark Sommer