Mark Zyndorf will tell you that when he married his wife Gretchen after nearly a lifetime of bachelorhood, he found true love with one of the most exceptional women he’d ever known.
“Her stepdaughter would describe her as a cross between Martha Stewart and Mother Teresa,” he said. “And it’s true. She was a very creative person, and loved to entertain. And everything was about others – never about her.”
Gretchen’s selfless nature was inspired by a keen awareness of her blessings and a deep sensitivity to others who were less fortunate. She spent a lonely childhood on her family’s farm, and had a difficult but brief marriage to her high-school sweetheart. Gretchen then remarried happily to a successful physician but was widowed after just twelve years. She married again, this time to Mark’s best friend, Sheldon, whom she also lost to lengthy illness.
Sharing a common grief for their lost loved one, Mark and Gretchen soon were seeing each other with some frequency. “Gretchen wondered if perhaps it was too early to consider a new relationship,” said Mark, “so she consulted our rabbi. ‘Life is for the living,’ was his advice – so she took it.” Within two years, the couple wed.
As Mark’s wife, Gretchen continued her lifetime habit of helping others in ways big and small. “She enjoyed doing the behind-the-scenes work,” said Mark. “She cooked a full meal every month for a homeless shelter. She served on the board of the Sight Center – but she also read to the blind. She donated to the Humane Society‚ but she’d also clean cat boxes and cages as a volunteer.”
Gretchen was well-off in her own right before she married Mark, a successful commercial real-estate developer, so she managed her own funds. “She didn’t buy expensive clothes or a lot of stuff for herself,” said Mark. “But she couldn’t figure out where all her money was going. I said ‘Give me your checkbook and I’ll tell you.’ Then I discovered nearly all of her personal expenditures were gifts to charity.”
Photo: Gretchen and Mark Zyndorf enjoyed travelling together. Here,
they are savoring a gondola ride through the canals of Venice.
With that, they decided to establish a donor advised fund for Gretchen at GTCF. And, when they established a number of legacy funds (planned gifts) for Gretchen, they were making provisions for an eventuality in the distant future. But then, an unexpected illness changed everything.
“She didn’t drink, and took excellent care of her health,” said Mark. “But despite all that, she contracted a rare form of liver cancer,” he explained. Thanks to excellent medical treatment, Gretchen and Mark were able to enjoy almost three additional years together before she lost her battle with the disease.
Speaking of her generous spirit, Mark said, “Gretchen wanted to be sure that when she passed, her legacy would include support for the causes she held dear – the arts, animals, and people in need. Caring for the less fortunate was tremendously important to her. If ever there was an angel, she was one.”