PIQUA — The Piqua Community Foundation’s first ever executive director Karen Wendeln recently retired from her position after nearly 20 years with the organization.
Wendeln began her career with PCF on Jan. 1, 2001. Prior to that, the foundation had been solely volunteer-run. Beginning with brainstorming by a focus group, the foundation was created in 1993, and fund raising was begun to establish a community grant fund to help local community organizations.
“The Piqua Community Foundation is very different than a lot of other community foundations in that sometimes they start with a big donation from somebody, but this foundation was started with nothing,” Wendeln said. “So for the first seven years, the board of directors did everything because there was no staff.”
In the year 2000, Wendeln said, the foundation had agreed to be the organization that collected donations for the Piqua Alexander Football Stadium, which involved about 500 different donors. It was then the board decided to hire a part-time, paid executive director.
“They were thinking down the road that if they wanted the foundation really to be able to expand and be able to do the things that foundations are able to do in a community, they needed to have staff,” Wendeln said.
At that time, Wendeln, who has a background in education having taught special education for a period of time, as well as classes at Edison State Community College, said she was in a good place for the opportunity. Wendeln had also been the executive director of Meals On Wheels and was involved in multiple volunteer endeavours within the community.
“This is a job that you really want somebody who — they used the term ‘jack of all trades’ — in a one-person office can basically do everything,” she said. “You have to be able to write, do public speaking, and be able to do some financial stuff. You have to balance a lot of things. Because I had done a lot of different kinds of things up to that point, I felt like it was a good fit for me.”
When Wendeln took the job, she said the foundation was overseeing about four funds. Today, the foundation oversees around 27 funds.
“It was much smaller then than what it is today,” Wendeln said. “Throughout the almost 20 years that I was there, I really had the opportunity to grow along with the foundation.”
Current board president Steve Staley said Wendeln played a significant role in the foundation’s growth.
“She took the foundation from its infancy to now what could be considered a very robust community foundation,” Staley said. “She was the face of it for a long time and was instrumental in its fantastic growth and a helped give a very positive perception to the community with her integrity.”
Staley said Wendeln had a knack for working with and helping others, including assisting local organizations in writing grant applications to submit to the foundation.
“I call her a great communicator, and very patient, because for many of these organizations, this was one of their early grant writings and she would walk them through that,” Staley said. “She’s just been amazingly passionate about her job.”
Wendeln also exercised precision when it came to her job duties, Staley said.
“Dealing with these public monies, she’s very exacting and could account for absolutely every dollar spent,” he said. “We kind of joked about this because this is a part-time position, but everybody knew Karen went well beyond that because that’s the way she is.”
Wendeln said she was able to perform her job the way she did because of the support of the foundation’s board of directors throughout the years.
“Thankfully, we’ve always had a board of directors who have been very helpful in terms of filling in the gaps in my knowledge because you never know what’s going to happen when the phone rings,” she said. “We have had attorneys, investment people, bankers, real estate people, all kinds of great people serving on the board who were always willing to take a call and help me make sure what we were doing was in the best interest of the foundation.”
Wendeln, who lives in Piqua with her husband Tony, officially retired from her position on July 31. She said she looks forward to a retirement filled with travel and plenty of visits with her three children and six grandchildren, though the COVID-19 pandemic has made that difficult so far.
“All the time that I envisioned retirement, I was looking forward to spending more time with my grandkids and traveling, neither of which I can do right now,” she said. “It’s not what we hoped, but with any luck at all, we’ll be able to do that soon and it will be great.”
Wendeln’s position has been filled by Michelle Perry. Wendeln will continue to volunteer in various roles within the Piqua community and said she will assist in the planning of The Piqua Community Foundation’s annual Cakes for a Cause fundraiser next year.