Over more than three decades at the helm of her own charity, Karole Kettering always was quick to extend her helping hand to those in need.
Sometimes it meant groceries and gifts at Christmas for needy families. Other times it meant toys and books for a child's birthday, or everyday household items for seniors.
Sometimes, she was just there to listen.
An advocate of the poor in the Western suburbs, Karole is being remembered for her work as co-founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Service Project, a Carol Stream-based nonprofit group that provides assistance to the less-fortunate in DuPage and Kane counties.
The organization announced Tuesday that Karole died June 21 after suffering a stroke six days before. She was 69.
Staff members at the nonprofit organization say they're committed to carrying on her legacy, with plans to expand their existing Carol Stream warehouse to continue to provide assistance to those who need it for years to come.
"Every time Karole saw a need where she could do something, she decided to take it on," said Floyd Kettering, her husband of 50 years who started the charity with her 34 years ago.
Working from her Wheaton home, Karole's first major charitable effort was during the Christmas season of 1979, when she organized a food drive and gift collection for 35 families in DuPage County. She got the names and addresses of families from nurses at the county's health department, then worked from her Rolodex to get in touch with those who could help provide food and gifts.
"Karole wanted to do something to help the community," said her husband, who is HSP's chief financial officer. "She wanted Christmas to be something special."
Now called the Christmas Offering, the program provides three weeks of groceries to needy families at Christmas and gifts to children younger than 16.
Three years after the Christmas program began, Karole developed the Senior Citizen Project to provide seniors in need with groceries and personal care items year-round.
The initiative formally started HSP as an organization, which has grown to include programs that provide groceries to poor families during the summer, gifts to less-fortunate children on their birthdays and school supplies in the fall.
Floyd Kettering said his wife used to tell stories about how her parents and grandparents struggled during the Great Depression, but how they were also beneficiaries of charitable efforts at the time.
"She felt it was our responsibility, if we have something, to help others who don't have it," he said.
Karole was born Oct. 3, 1943, in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood and later attended Purdue University where she met her future husband during her freshman year. She left school that year and they married, moving to Milwaukee where Floyd pursued a job in electronics.
Eventually, the couple made it back to the Chicago area.
Kristin Maxwell, the assistant executive director of HSP, said Karole always was around, talking with employees, interns and volunteers and wanting to know what was going on in their lives.
She juggled multiple projects at the same time, overseeing collection drives, fundraising efforts and overall day-to-day operations of the organization.
"I think one of the things with Karole was, she was just extremely compassionate," Maxwell said. "She was able to put herself in the shoes of other people and she wanted to give the best service possible to people.
"I think she really felt that even though you were in poverty, it doesn't mean you didn't deserve to live less of a life than anybody else."
She is survived by her husband, two children and five grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 7 p.m. July 8 at the Theosophical Society in America, 1926 N. Main St., Wheaton.