2021 Ruth Nicholson Award – Lesa Kastler

The Ruth Nicholson Award is the highest honor presented by the Community Foundation each year and honors the volunteer who has made significant contributions to the Greenville community through volunteer work for the Community Foundation or to one of its projects, programs, or areas of emphasis.

When you meet Lesa Kastler, it’s clear she’s not interested in talking about herself from the get-go. The mother of two, now an empty nester, is a calming presence, and it makes sense her colleagues choose words like “humble” and “graceful” to describe her. But ask Lesa about the nonprofit work she’s been involved with over the last 30 years, and the quiet demeanor shifts. In fact, she has quite a lot to say.

Lesa and her husband rooted themselves in Greenville in the 1990s, when Bill’s job transferred the family to South Carolina from Texas. Bill launched into a successful career as a tax partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, while Lesa took “the road less traveled,” as she says, referencing the proverbial Robert Frost line.

Ruth Nicholson Award Winner: Lesa Kastler
Ruth Nicholson Award Winner: Lesa Kastler | Photography by Eli Warren.

“Moving here with the boys being as young as they were and my husband’s work being very demanding, I just ended up on a different pathway—being involved in nonprofits and applying my degree in a different way.”

Lesa simply began investing in what was in front of her, but her graduate and doctoral degrees in education certainly came in handy. When her four-year-old needed therapy, she volunteered with the Speech, Hearing, and Learning Center. Recognizing a community need for expanded services, she rallied a planning committee and helped launch the Center for Developmental Services, now a multifaceted cooperative meeting essential needs for young children in our community.

Following her passion for childhood intervention, she joined the advisory council for A Child’s Haven, a local nonprofit working with preschoolers with behavioral delays. Lesa chaired the organization through their capital campaign, raising $5.5 million to help build a new facility and expand their services.

She served as president of the Junior League, joined the Rose Ball committee, the Boy Scouts board for Troop 11, and the elder board at Fourth Presbyterian Church—she even became the unofficial communications director for Greenville High’s lacrosse team. Wherever Lesa touched, committees formed, groups became activated, and organizations transform for the better.

“Whenever Lesa serves on a board, within two or three years she’s going to be president,” says Kimberly Cooley, who has served with Lesa at A Child’s Haven and Junior League. “She possesses all of the leadership qualities—commitment, dedication, and grace.”

Now, Lesa’s sons are grown, and with her husband’s recent retirement, the two are transitioning into life as empty nesters. But that hasn’t dampened Lesa’s passion for her city or her heart for others. Most recently, her efforts have been focused on the Community Foundation, helping them navigate providing resources during the tumultuous events of 2020.

“Lesa’s exceptional leadership during the pandemic and stock market decline allowed us to increase our giving for food, housing, and community centers across Greenville County. Her calming presence served to keep the Community Foundation focused on our long-term strategies while responding with compassion.”
–Bob Morris, president of the Community Foundation of Greenville

“I had the good fortune of serving as the vice-chair of the Community Foundation during Lesa’s tenure as chair,” says Liz Seman, current chair of the foundation. “She did an amazing job leading our organization—especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

It’s tempting to ask Lesa to talk more about her successes and her legacy in the Upstate community. But that would be incongruous. Instead, her message is for others.

“Everyone has gifts and abilities they can contribute,” Lesa says. “There’s a role for all of us to play to achieve good outcomes for our community. It matters.”

November 1, 2021 | Abby Moore Keith, TOWN Magazine

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