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We could all learn from Joe Kindlon
By William Carroll | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 10/5/2007 12:35 AM

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Quick read: Joseph Kindlon "lived by his motto -- 'When you have a lot as I do, you have to give something back.'"

In past columns, I have written about the modern-day founders of Benedictine University. Institutions like Benedictine were founded by great individuals with high energy, vision and a passion for what might be.

However, for an institution to become the best it can be, the "founding" is not a one-time event but an ongoing process whereby the modern day founders are no less important than the original founders.

Today, I write this column with joy and sadness -- joy that this year we welcomed more students to Benedictine than ever before; sadness upon the death of one of our 21st century founders, Joseph Kindlon.

I find Joe's death particularly hard. He was chairman of the Benedictine University board of trustees when I was selected to serve as president, and he became my friend and mentor. We seldom meet a man like him. He was a long-time friend of Benedictine University. His interest in higher education began in 1976 when he served on the president's advisory council. He became a trustee in 1978 and continued in that role until his death on Aug. 9. Whether engaged at a university board meeting, playing golf or fishing in Florida, he was an exceptional man.

He lived by his motto -- "When you have a lot as I do, you have to give something back." Joe supported many educational and health enterprises. He served on the board of Marianjoy Rehabilitation Center for many years, including a period as chairman. During the years he directed the institution's fundraising drive, from 1981 to 1983, it doubled in size. He was a member of the boards of First DuPage Bank, the DuPage Council of the Boy Scouts of America and Central DuPage Hospital. He was on the boards of the DuPage Historical Society and the DuPage Community Foundation.

Because of his gregarious nature, Joe had many connections with politicians, CEOs and people in all walks of life. He would think nothing of meeting a person for the first time and after a bit of conversation saying, "You are just the person I need for such and such a project." And most often that person joined Joe in his project. Joe and his wife, Bess, who were together for 65 years, worked hand-in-hand promoting each other's charities and encouraging friends to become active in charity work.

The Kindlons have been very generous to Benedictine University. They gave a lasting gift in the Joseph and Bess Kindlon Hall of Learning. The building houses five floors of the library and numerous classrooms and laboratories as well as university offices. It is the tallest building on campus and anchors the campus quadrangle. Joe received an honorary doctoral degree from Illinois Benedictine College (now Benedictine University) in 1986, and Bess received an honorary doctorate from Benedictine in 1999.

The son of Irish immigrants, Joe never graduated from college. Nevertheless, he became a good businessman. He worked his way from Albany, N.Y., to an assignment as a regional director for Continental Can Company in Chicago. While there, he became interested in boxes and founded Commander Packaging Inc. in Lisle. In 1965, he moved the company to Bedford Park. The company makes corrugated shipping containers. He turned Commander into a national conglomerate, and later founded Kindlon Partners, an investment and finance firm.

Joe, Bess and sons established a racing stable, the Dundalk 5 -- a name taken from his father's ancestral home in Ireland. He delighted in naming his horses after family members and friends and watching them compete at Arlington Park.

I recently spoke with Joe and Bess' youngest son, Doug, who described his father as a caring and giving man, and also a disciplinarian. Even though Joe was financially successful, he encouraged his three sons to earn their way in the world and adhere to a strong work ethic. Joe loved his family, and as it grew with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he was always happy to have them around. Sept. 29 would have been his 82nd birthday.

Doug said his mother threw a surprise 80th birthday party for Joe with the entire family present. Each of the grandchildren stood up and told Joe what he meant to them. It was an emotional time for Joe. Those same grandchildren and great-grandchildren stood with their parents in the receiving line at their grandfather's wake, greeting people who came to pay their respects to their grandfather.

Abbot Hugh Anderson, O.S.B., chancellor of the university during most of Joe's years on the board, described him as a "man without guile, always interested in you, not in Joe." Abbot Hugh had the pleasure of fishing with Joe in Florida and said he was the consummate host, always concerned that you were having a good time.

But why do I call Joe a modern-day founder of Benedictine University? I mentioned earlier that Benedictine is celebrating the largest enrollment in the history of the university. But things were not always this bright. 1997 was a particularly bleak year. The enrollment situation was grim and the campus was in desperate need of new buildings. There seemed nowhere to turn. At a particular board meeting, I entertained two proposals: one to close the place with honor, the second to vote on its future and to move ahead with a dramatic building campaign. Joe Kindlon had the energy, the passion and the vision to see then what we so clearly see now. He moved to vote on the institution's future and backed that motion with his own very generous gift that made the Joseph and Bess Kindlon Hall of Learning possible.

Because of Joe's courage, vision and support, the university is what it is today. He truly is a "founder" of Benedictine University. Joe, thank you for your support, friendship and the inspiration for us to be all we can be.