Like many women whose nests have emptied, Frances Kindelan was ready for a new chapter in her life after her son graduated from college. As a longtime community activist, she wanted to continue helping others. She found the perfect place: the thrift shop at her local YWCA in Greensburg, Pa., near Pittsburgh.
When Mrs. Kindelan began volunteering there in 1970, the thrift shop was located in the basement of a storefront. Tired merchandise languished on racks and shelves. But she saw great potential. At an age when most people retire, she relished the prospect of building a business that could raise money for YWCA programs.
Kindelan completely restocked the shop twice a year. She created artful displays and made attractive signs. The enterprise became her mission and passion. Business grew, and the shop moved to larger quarters.
By the time Kindelan retired in 1994, the shop had raised $300,000 for an endowment for the YWCA. That was in addition to the money it regularly turned over to ongoing programs.
On Monday a spacious new thrift shop will open on the site of the old one. Already the two-story Victorian-style cottage is "the talk of the town," says Bonnie Lewis, executive director of the YWCA.
Kindelan didn't live to see the new shop. But Thursday evening YWCA donors and friends will honor the legacy of Kindelan and her friend Ruth Woomer, who started the shop.
"Without Fran, there wouldn't have been a thrift shop," Ms. Lewis says. "And without the thrift shop, there wouldn't be a YWCA in Greensburg."
What a loss that would have been for many people. Customers, many on meager incomes, can replenish their wardrobes, outfit their children for school, and furnish their homes with household goods from the shop.
Other beneficiaries include staff members. "There is a whole group of people who are grateful that in their retirement they could work there," says Kindelan's daughter, Nancy Kindelan, a professor at Northeastern University in Boston. "People feel they are doing something for the community."
Yet Kindelan wore her success modestly. For most of her 23 years as manager of the thrift shop, she worked as a full-time volunteer. Only in the final years of her service did she agree to collect a small salary. When Lewis wanted to elevate her title to director of the shop, Kindelan refused. "Manager is good enough," she insisted.
These days nonprofit groups have a new term for people like Kindelan - social entrepreneurs. It describes individuals who have innovative, practical ideas for solving social problems.
At a time when paychecks and titles score high as measures of worth for many people, the word "volunteer" doesn't get the credit it deserves. But as the numbers of retirees grow, so could the ranks of people like Kindelan, finding their own mission and giving of themselves to a cause they care about.
Legacies take many forms. Some are financial. Others involve passing along possessions. Still others, like Kindelan's, center on service.
As other volunteers carry on Kindelan's work, her legacy stands as testament to the power of a good idea, a steady vision, and a generous heart. Reflecting on the opening of the new shop and the efforts of all those who helped it grow and succeed, Nancy Kindelan says quietly, "It shows what a little initiative can do."