Cindy McClain looked out from her seat inside Ophelia’s toward the Independence Square
recently. “It’s fuller,” McClain said of the appearance of the town center compared with 1998. “Things look tidier. There are cars rather than empty streets. There are more windows full and fewer abandoned buildings.”
That “fuller” appearance has been willed by Cindy and her husband, Ken, who have spent the past 21 years helping revitalize Independence’s historic center. While two decades of entrepreneurship might not qualify as a life’s work, this year’s Women of Distinction’s Lifetime Achievement award is also a tribute to Cindy’s dedication to her church and her civic engagement since she and Ken settled in Independence 40 years ago.
“Cindy is someone who loves Independence, who took the Square from a ghost town to an active vibrant square,” said Hap Graff, the former president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce. “And she did it with kindness and huge energy. She’s a very diverse lady. She goes in a lot of different directions.”
For the past four years, McClain has served as one of three pastors at Gudgell Park Community of Christ, where her oldest daughter is likewise a pastor. She has raised six children with Ken, and they are grandparents of six. She has volunteered with civic organizations, sat on numerous boards and committed her time and talents for Independence’s Square and other organizations. She’s rolled up her sleeves and gotten her hands dirty, according to Graff. But it is the Square and the 16 businesses under the McClains’ auspices that are on public display.
It’s also a part of a running theme for her: a life of service. Even when she was a kid, she wanted to be helpful.
“I wanted to be an instrument of God,” she said.
McClain added that when she became a pastor, she felt herself changing the way she viewed things.
“I am called to see and hear with compassionate and loving senses,” she said. “Even in my role as boss or board member, I think that I have become much more willing to seek to understand before acting.”
Tom Waters, the owner of Corporate Copy Print says he “hitched up his wagon” to the wave of the McClains’ success. He moved his business to the Square several years ago.
“They were the pioneers,” he said of the team of Ken and Cindy. “The thing about Cindy is that she’s going to make a decision that’s best for the community even if it’s not the best decision for her family or her business.”
While sitting in the restaurant where she and Ken dove into the revitalization business, she contemplated the byproduct of her graphic design degree from the University of Colorado. She said it’s about creating an experience using all the senses.
“I tend to do the same thing in church. I probably overkill our services when I preach at them. But I try to hit every sense.”
Her graphic design background is evident around the Square as is her and Ken’s commitment to the Square’s revitalization.
“I remember when you could throw a bowling ball down Main Street and it wouldn’t hit anyone,” said Nina Anders who opened Scandinavia Place in 1987. Located a few doors away from Ophelia’s, Anders’ store is one of a few on the Square that predates the McClains’ endeavors.
Anders said she appreciates the McClains’ contributions to the Square’s revitalization.
“How many people can come to an area and put their time, money and vision into an area,” she said. “We’re glad they did it.”
McClain said the work on the Square is still in its infancy. She wants to continue raising awareness and promoting the downtown area. But she also noted that “revitalization” is not simply a business venture.
“I’ve spoken to women’s groups, and I’ve talked about even as human beings how we’re changing or morphing into something different and we’re always looking to be better,” she said.
“We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to know that our life had value and that revitalization of even just yourself and your physical surroundings can be so rewarding.”