Mary Frances Rindfleisch, who selflessly supported the arts and her community while helping build the Ridgefield Library into a beacon of knowledge and delight, died unexpectedly on April 5. She was 63 and lived in Sherman.
Working at the Ridgefield Library for more than 20 years, she helped create programs to expand the library’s appeal to all ages.
“The Ridgefield Library is a reflection of who Mary was as a person and as a librarian,” said Brenda McKinley, the library’s director. “Her brilliance shines in every corner of our light-filled building.”
She was also an ever-present source of encouragement and volunteer leadership for community organizations as diverse as the Sherman Chamber Ensemble, the Danbury Friendly Visitor Program and the Sherman Library.
Rindfleisch was a loving partner to her husband, Joseph Keneally. She was an expert cook and a skilled seamstress who sewed her own and her sisters’ wedding gowns and numerous Halloween costumes for her nieces and nephew. She and Joe, who were married for nearly 30 years, enjoyed a succession of thoroughly spoiled cats.
Born in Long Beach, Calif., to Norval Rindfleisch, an English teacher and prize-winning writer from St. Paul, Minn., and Carol Olson, a South Dakotan who became a librarian after raising four children, Rindfleisch was one of the first women to graduate from Phillips Exeter Academy. She attained a bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in comparative literature at Wesleyan University, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Later, she earned a master’s degree in library science from Southern Connecticut State University.
Before pursuing a career in libraries, Rindfleisch brought her imagination, encouragement and sense of organization to a variety of artistic and progressive organizations. She was a company manager for both the Camden (Maine) Shakespeare Company and the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, and executive director of the National Lawyers Guild.
Rindfleisch left her imprint throughout the Ridgefield Library. An avid lover of books, she started as the adult services librarian and rose to become the library’s assistant director. She helped extend the library’s outreach, making it a place for learning, doing and enjoyment — from book discussion groups to local history contests to “maker fairs.” She played a central role in the library’s recent $25-million expansion.
Her byline appeared hundreds of times in The Ridgefield Press, in a column called “Library Lines,” where she loved to puncture the notion that libraries were just dusty bookshelves.
“Sure, we have 100,000 books and other traditional library materials available for checkout. We do scores of story times and other programs each year designed to aid in early childhood literacy skills development, and dozens of old-fashioned book discussions,” she wrote in a 2017 column. “We offer familiar reference and readers’ advisory service and now-expected technology access.
“But at the Ridgefield Library, there is always something completely unexpected on the horizon as well, all intended to bring the community together to read, discover, question, connect, and thrive.”
McKinley recalled the first time she met Rindfleisch.
“I met Mary some 27 years ago when she and I worked together at the New Fairfield Free Public Library. We immediately bonded over our mutual love of libraries, literature, music, art, and, as she reminded me not so long ago, Patrick Stewart. I will miss her wisdom, her dedication, her work ethic, her deep belief in community outreach, her excitement over cutting-edge technologies, and her incredible institutional knowledge. Mary never worked for accolades but she was our own superhero to all of her Ridgefield Library family.”
Among her wide network, Rindfleisch kept many warm friendships over the years.
“Mary was the person you would want if you were stranded on a desert island,” said Julia Lane, a close friend from high school. “She was always grounded and resourceful but could see the humor and possibilities in just about any situation. She would always bring you back to yourself in an appreciative way, as if to say, ‘You know you can do well, so do it!’ Her standards were high, but she would encourage people to go beyond their own expectations by clearing away the clutter. I will miss her support and camaraderie, but I can still rely on her voice in my ear when I doubt myself. … Thanks for that gift, dear friend.”
For more than 20 years, Rindfleisch was executive director at the Sherman Chamber Ensemble, a post whose responsibilities ranged from fund raising and publicity to hosting post-concert receptions. Eliot Bailen, a co-founder of the group, recalled Rindfleisch’s impact.
“Under Mary’s supportive and caring stewardship, SCE grew in wonderful ways, expanding its offerings, its reach and quality. Her indefatigable efforts also provided Sherman with a unique and proud musical community. She was completely selfless. We could never have thanked her enough and we are devastated that she didn’t have more time to savor her own accomplishments.”
Mary’s interests were broad, her energy immeasurable and her impact wide. To her husband, family and friends she was a source of boundless love, joy and wise counsel, and she was a devoted caregiver for her parents in their later years.
Rindfleisch died surrounded by Joe and her siblings a few days after suffering sudden cardiac arrest. But in a very real way, she lives on. She had directed in her living will that she wanted to be an organ donor. Although very few people die in such a way as to permit this procedure, Rindfleisch’s devastating loss was a life-giving gift to others unknown to her.
She is survived by her husband, Joe; her two sisters and their husbands, Julie and Kevin Granville of Sussex, N.J., and Kate and Tom McGrath of Drexel Hill, Pa.; her brother, Joe, of Cambridge, Mass; and her nieces and nephew, Nora, Jane and Peter Granville and Hannah and Sarah McGrath; and numerous beloved aunts, uncles and cousins across the country.
A celebration of life will be held at a later date. The family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Sherman Library, P.O. Box 40, Sherman CT 06784.