Not many people find their life’s calling by the time they’re nine years old — but Mary Mennel was one of the lucky ones. “I’ve been involved with YMCA Storer Camps from the third grade on, starting with Camp Storer” she said. “First it was as a camper, then as a counselor. After college, I went back, and eventually was made the Summer Director for 6th and 7th graders and Director of Outdoor Education.”
But after 17 years and a management change at Storer, Mary decided it was time for a new direction. One night, she got a call from her parents with news that Mrs. Virginia Stranahan was “looking for someone to run what she was doing with her estate — so I had a parental directive to call her.”
After her first three-hour interview in the garden of Mrs. Stranahan’s Perrysburg home, Mary returned a second time with her resume. On interview number three, as Mary was thinking, “how can I get out of this?”, Mrs. Stranahan announced that she’d like Mary to be the executive director of The 577 Foundation, which Mrs. Stranahan was creating from her family estate.
Mrs. Stranahan, a victory-garden-era person who grew her own organic vegetables, had community gardens as her top priority, and their first project was to establish an indoor observation beehive. Next came pottery, inspired by Virginia’s experience hiring a professional potter to teach her own children. Today, community gardens, pottery programs, classes and events are the ongoing focus at 577, which now has five full-time staff and numerous seasonal and part-time employees.
Mrs. Stranahan provided for 577 through a field of interest fund with Toledo Community Foundation, the Secor Fund. “Each year, 577 applies for a grant to fund its activities — so TCF becomes a ‘second eye’ on our operations,” observed Mary, who is now in her 26th year as its executive director. “And Virginia was adamant that The 577 not depend on the community for funds, so her goal was for her endowed fund to provide for its operation.”
When Mary recently decided to establish a TCF Legacy Fund, it just made sense to continue what she’d been doing all her life — so her own future fund supports these two favorite causes. “The YMCA and 577 Foundation were my only two jobs, and they’re who I am today,” she said. “Staying with jobs like these for as long as I have, I can see the impact these organizations have in people’s lives. So it’s natural that I would want to continue this work into the future.”