The Kindle name has been synonymous with giving in Cape May Court House and beyond ever since Bob Kindle, owner of the Kindle Auto Plaza, donated the use of a station wagon as the town rescue squad's first "ambulance" in the 1950s.
Bob Kindle's son, Bill, took on that philanthropic mantle when he succeeded his father as head of the dealership in 1976 and was recently honored by Ford Motor Co. as one of the biggest philanthropists in its worldwide network. And now his son, Steve Kindle, is chipping in.
"It's probably in the DNA," Bill Kindle said. "It's just ... inbred."
When Bob Kindle opened his dealership in 1957, he had the will to give but not the cash, instead donating services like the use of the station wagon. A few years later, he helped evacuate a Sea Isle City hospital during the storm of 1962. This, and other actions, earned him the name "Red Cross Bob," his son said.
As the head of a now-thriving dealership, Bill Kindle has more cash to allocate to his various causes, though he still continues the tradition of personal service. Among the endeavors closest to Kindle is his work with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine.
In 1992, he answered a call to help take a stranded seal back to its natural setting, flying the animal in his personal airplane to Race Point on the northern tip of Cape Cod. Kindle struck up a conversation with Marine Mammal Stranding Center co-director Bob Schoelkopf en route and a long association began.
Kindle has served on the organization's board of directors for many years and investigates reports of beached animals in Cape May County. Often, he'll do so in a suit and tie.
Schoelkopf said his "best-dressed volunteer" has been an asset to the organization for more than two decades.
"He's always looked after the stranding center," he said. "All our vehicles are serviced (at Kindle), he never gives us a bill for anything, replacing tires. He's a great guy."
Kindle is also a major supporter of the anti-drunk driving group, the HERO Campaign, throwing his financial support behind its annual HERO Walk and its golf tournament. He is also a volunteer pilot for Angel Flight Northeast, which facilitates the long-distance transport of medical patients for procedures.
Kindle was chosen earlier this year as one of six honorees in Ford's 2014 Salute to Dealers and invited to a ceremony with company bigwigs in January. Other recipients included a dealer from Texas who rebuilt an elementary school playground after it burnt downt and a Canadian dealer who created an automotive technician training center for local students.
Kindle Auto Plaza recently began its newest campaign, Honest Neighbors. When buying a car or taking one in for service, customers pick one of 52 charitable, civic and educational organizations serving Cape May County to receive a small portion of the proceeds. Customers can also write in the name of a charity.
This campaign was spearheaded by Service Manager Ed Boyle and Steve Kindle, who also serves as the dealership's vice president.
"I didn't want to do another ad, another car dealer ad, throwing $100 bills on hoods of cars," Steve Kindle said. "I really wanted the community to know: We're here for the community."
He said the recipient list was largely compiled from organizations that Kindle staff have joined as members. The checks will be presented to the charities in an October bash.
Despite all he does, Bill Kindle is quick to praise his employees as the inspiration for his work. This is typical of him, according to friend and Sea Isle City Mayor Len Desiderio.
Despite Kindle's success in auto sales, Desiderio said, he'd be a failure as a politician. Not for lack of acumen, though, but for an unwillingness to self-promote. And that makes him someone special.
"Bill is a treasure, he's a Cape May County treasure," Desiderio said. "He's somebody that I really, really admire, and I really am proud to say that he's a friend."
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