Shirley Lindgren, 77, who died in her beloved Bethlehem on Aug. 22, is being hailed as the ultimate community leader, much admired by the many people who worked or played with her in her many activities for the good of those who came within her reach.
"She was the voice for those who didn't have a voice," said Tom Dolusio, former superintendent of Bethlehem Area School District and Liberty High School principal. Lindgren served on the Parent Advisory Board of the BASD from 1975 to 1982. She and her husband, Ralph, who had a special needs child, were both major community advocates for years.
"Shirley was a real pioneer to make sure this group of kids got the best education they could," Dolusio said. "She got a lot done because of the way she carried herself. Instead of yelling, she'd be determined but calm and sweet and say to me, 'Tom, could we make it a little bit better?' and I always worked with her and she got her way. What she did for the students was amazing. No one else could have done what she did."
That includes co-founding the Bethlehem Special Olympics, where she served on the management team from 1976 to 2011, when she was inducted into the Pa. Special Olympics Hall of Fame.
"We were all so grateful to her for starting Special Olympics," said Ruth Gaal, who with husband Barry, has a child Michael, who has "intellectual disabilities" and loves sports.
"We joined in 1986 and had no idea how to meet his athletic needs," Gaal said. "She recruited children and families through the schools and has been our longest volunteer for 34 years.
"She did a lot of legwork to get us going," Gaal said. "When we didn't even have an office, she and Ralph opened their house for meetings. She was determined but gentle with a great sense of humor."
Louise Tusak of Bethlehem was the manager of Bethlehem Special Olympics for 16 years, and Shirley was the secretary.
"I am extremely proud of all that was accomplished," Tusak said. "Shirley could be counted on to do anything for the cause."
It seems all who ever worked with her feel that way. One such group was the Bethlehem Garden Club, where Shirley just last month participated in its very successful show at the Hotel Bethlehem. Liz Lorenz is club president, following Ralph Lindgren.
"Shirley is best described as gentle soul," Liz said. "She was a real asset to the community and is at the top of the list."
Neighbors said that Shirley was proud of her daughter, Kathy, a special needs child, who achieved so much through her parents' tutelage. Kathy met, fell in love and last year married Stephen Kucey in. Friends say this is something Shirley and Ralph never expected 30 years ago.
Through training with her parents, Kathy and Stephen and Ruth Gaal's son, Michael, have been employed for years in Lehigh University's food services department.
The heartbroken neighbors in the Bethlehem Historic Neighborhood Association organized their own special tribute. Jean Theman discovered that a Victorian tradition was to adorn doors with black draping.
"That morphed into creating black bows with boxwood attached from neighbors' gardens. We have about 55 homes displaying them. Shirley was often puttering around in her garden," Theman said. "This is our way of thanking her for all she did for an entire community."