Kindness Matters: Kay Abel
When you meet Kay Abel, the first thing you’ll notice is her megawatt smile. It’s a grin that’s equal parts inviting and expectant, because a genuine smile is what she’s hoping to encounter from you also. To Abel, kindness matters. That’s her motto, and it’s how she approaches all her interactions.
“There is a lot of kindness in the world,” she said. “When you can step back and really concentrate on that instead of the bad ... you will surprise yourself with how much good is out there. If you look for it and reflect on it, you will always, always find kindness.”
Abel funnels that positivity into every facet of her life – from leading employees at Abel Insurance, to interactions with clients who have been in a car accident and need her professional help, to her various philanthropic endeavors.
Abel has worked at her family’s insurance company for 31 years. Today she and her brother Mark run the company that was started by their father, the late Lester Abel in 1967. She and her brother, along with the eight employees at Abel Insurance, are focused on serving their community. Though Kay Abel is now a bona fide cheerleader for all things Kaukauna, that wasn’t always the case.
When Abel left home to attend college at UW-Madison, she had her sights set on city life.
“Kaukauna in my younger years wasn’t attractive to me at all,” she said. “When you grow older you gain an appreciation for more. And I knew, once I was living and working in Milwaukee (after college), that if I was going to make a difference it wasn’t going to be in a bigger city.”
Besides, she said, “The things I was going to Milwaukee for were coming to the Fox Cities by then: Theater, restaurants, music, arts. For a while only Milwaukee and Madison had that in our state. It’s not like that anymore.”
Her father and brother needed her help at their expanding business. And Abel decided, in her mid-20s, that it was time to go home. Her personal calling to make a difference in her community kicked into overdrive once she returned to her roots.
“When I moved back, I became so involved in so much,” she said. And as a single woman, that was fine. But then, in 2004, she met Mark Priebusch (whom her family lovingly calls Marko, so as not to confuse him with her brother Mark). “In order for my marriage to succeed, I needed to step back and scale back. I’m very fortunate that my husband is also my best friend.”
So Abel has become choosy in which organizations she volunteers for. Each charity she aligns with has a facet of education.
“I’ve always tried to have an education twist to it,” she said. She has helped start one of two charter schools in Kaukauna. She is a strong advocate for the Kaukauna Community Family of Funds, which provides grant money based on a broad spectrum of learning. She works tirelessly for the Kaukauna Alumni Foundation, which has awarded more than $324,000 in scholarships to high school students. She is active in her church, most recently helping to hire a new pastor at Immanuel United Church of Christ. She’s on the community advisory panel for St. Paul Home and Elder Services, which also works on outreach with the Thompson Center in Appleton to help keep elderly residents in their homes longer.
But the group that may be nearest and dearest to Abel’s heart is the Kaukauna Library Foundation. She aligned with the foundation four years ago – about a year before the opening of the library at its location inside the former Thilmany Mill. With the renovation process complete and the library running smoothly, Abel has shifted her focus to fundraising for an innovative project called the Interactive Learning Garden. The garden, planned to be installed between the library and the Fox River, will have various areas for children to explore and learn – from a butterfly garden to musical instruments and an open-air amphitheater. The garden, one of the first of its kind in the state, is focused on encouraging imagination and interaction with nature.
Abel is instrumental in fundraising for the garden via the Planters with a Purpose campaign, which is a silent auction event raffling holiday and themed planters, wreaths and trees (bids can be placed through Dec. 7. Visit www.kaukaunalibrary.org for more details).
The spacious, bright library has a familial tie for Abel, too. Prior to launching Abel Insurance Company, her father worked in the ink room at the mill. It’s a point of pride for her to have helped transform the space into a hallmark of community.
With all that hard work, Abel likes to approach her weekends with a heavy emphasis on relaxation. She and Priebusch dock their 35-foot boat in Sturgeon Bay through the summer and hit the lake nearly every weekend. It’s like a vacation home with ever-changing location (but constant lake views). It’s easy for Abel to be distracted by yardwork or housework or volunteering tasks at home, but on the boat she finds herself instantly able to disconnect, lose herself in a book and enjoy time with Priebusch.
“Being out on the water and seeing God’s beauty,” Abel said. “It’s just phenomenal.”
Abel and Priebusch like to entertain at their Sherwood home, and spend time tending to their lush backyard. The couple try to find a unique vacation destination each year, too. They’ve toured Australia, Venice, the Greek Islands.
Taking a slower pace hasn’t always been Abel’s forte – at least not prior to meeting Priebusch.
“I learned to slow down and enjoy life from him,” she said. “He taught me patience ... and I truly mean that in the nicest way possible. He has made me realize that it’s OK to not always have a plan. To just be in the moment. Before him, I was always going. Now I start and end my day with a motivational reading and reflection. It is important that I start and end my day with a reminder of what is important. Just as my day starts with reflection the end of my day also has reflection. I want to be a person who is grateful for what I have, and not one always wanting more.”