A chapter ends at The Courtyard

Three friends who have been the heart of the resale shop to retire after three decades

Thirty-two years ago, Nancy Keenan, Sheila Botti and Kathy Ryan agreed to open a resale shop to benefit Wellness House at the request of Keenan's neighbor, Suzy Stout.

Sisters Keenan and Botti and Ryan ("like a sister") met with a number of women who were going to be involved in the shop, which would help fund Wellness House's free programs for people faced with a cancer diagnosis and their families.

"We met at Wellness House and kind of formulated a plan," Keenan said. "Shortly thereafter there was just the three of us."

They were not deterred, however, and with the help of a host of volunteers and donors and support from Hinsdale Bank and Trust, the shop has thrived, earning millions for Wellness House programs and services.

They've procured merchandise right here in Hinsdale and as far away as West Virginia and London. Under their watch, the shop has sold everything from Christmas ornaments to an oil painting worth $15,000.

This will be the final month the three work at the shop.

"I'm old," Keenan said. "We're all old."

"They're older than I am," Ryan quickly chimed in.

Keenan, 84, Botti, 83, and Ryan, 79, sat down with The Hinsdalean Monday to talk about the past three decades, the work they've done and what it has meant to them.

What were your initial expectations?

Nancy: "Absolutely none - no expectations at all, because we didn't have any idea what we were doing. You learn on the fly."

Sheila: "I think we were all excited about the fact of doing something for Wellness House when they had approached us, and we've all done lots of flea market shopping and antique shopping, and it just seemed to be a perfect fit. We had no idea that it would go on for 32 years."

Kathy: "I had a relative who had little faith in the fact that people would come in and buy other people's things. We had a lot of faith in it, because we loved shopping at flea markets and consignments shops and acquainted ourselves with them all over the country and thought about doing something like this on our own."

Where did you first get your merchandise?

Sheila: "We had a party and you had to bring something to sell."

Nancy: "Either money or a treasure. We got stuff out of our attics and our basements and off our walls. Gail Elmore was a huge (help). She lived at Fourth and Oak. She was moving to the Burr Ridge Club. Whatever she didn't take, she said we could have, which was a bonanza."

Kathy: "We went and loaded our cars and brought it over to our new spot (then on First Street)."

Why has the shop been so successful?

Sheila: "In the beginning, I remember somebody came in and they had not ever been here before. They said, 'What kind of shop is this?' We don't want to look like a resale shop."

Nancy: "We've always been pretty selective about what we take. Our display is what sells the merchandise. We work very hard on our display so it doesn't look like a thrift shop."

Kathy: "We've always had fun doing that, putting the puzzle together. A lot of these things that we can put together come in from different consigners."

Who will fill your shoes?

Nancy: "Deb Cassidy is going to be us and Jamie Ott, one of the managers now. Deb has been a volunteer. We have learned by doing and they will do the same."

Sheila: "They will do it differently, hopefully better. They're very excited."

Kathy: "They're bringing a lot of energy and a lot of enthusiasm, which is very good."

What will you do in retirement?

Nancy: "I have a design business, so I still have clients. I was just hired at Clever Girl in Western Springs. I used to work for (the owner) when it was Abigail Rose here, 35 years ago."

Kathy: "I will be in Florida. We go to Florida from January to May. I will miss it. I know I will miss it. I will probably volunteer when I come home in some capacity."

Sheila: "I'm going to volunteer when needed. My husband still works even though he is going to be 87 in December. As long as he still works, I'd like to find something to do. We definitely will miss it. We all will miss it."

How do you feel helping to raise $5 million for Wellness House?

Kathy: "Terrific. We've very proud of it. We have a lot of ownership of it because of how long ago it was started."

Sheila: "It's a lot of money. Wellness House is definitely a very worthwhile place. It does our hearts (good) when someone comes in the Courtyard and says, 'I couldn't have gotten through my diagnosis without Wellness House.' We like our volunteers to know that, too - to always keep in mind the connection to Wellness House because it's just a great feeling when people do come in and say, 'Wellness House was so wonderful.' "

Nancy: "When my grandson died six years ago, Brooks Tonn ... his siblings went to Wellness House and it was very important. I've had cancer, my son-in-law has cancer, my husband had cancer. He died a couple of years ago. It affects us all, sad to say."

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean