BY THOMAS BURR
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
Lola Kastler would show up at the Friendly Neighborhood Senior Center every day at noon, hand over $2 for lunch and then step up to the piano. There, she would play for hours, taking requests and often drawing crowds for impromptu sing-alongs.
Her musical interludes are silent now -- Kastler died last year at age 84 -- but the memory of her visits lives on, thanks to a generous line in her will.
Kastler bequeathed to the center more than $130,000, the largest gift ever to Salt Lake County's Aging Services. And with plans to match that money with other grants, the inheritance -- accepted by the county this week -- could near $250,000.
"People don't usually leave money to government," said Scott McBeth, associate director of Aging Services. "I was totally surprised."
So were others. After taking care of her family -- she had no children -- Kastler left undisclosed amounts to Shriners Hospital, the Utah AIDS Foundation, the Humane Society of Utah and the Alzheimer's Association of Utah.
"She was one of those silent angels," said her niece, Judy Swenson. "She left money to places where she thought it would do the most good."
The senior center's share will pay for a refurbished kitchen, upgraded restrooms, a new entrance, enlarged recreational space and a memorial gazebo.
It's not unusual for Salt Lake County to receive donations, but they usually come in smaller amounts. There have been other notable exceptions: the Holladay Lions Club donated about $550,000 to the county's Holladay-Lions Fitness and Recreation Center, and the Sheriff's Office received two Humvees a few years ago.
Of course, small gifts add up. Since 1978, artwork now worth a combined $100,000 has been donated to the County Government Center, enhancing what is considered one of the largest collections of Utah artists.
For Judy Higginson, chairwoman of the County Art Collection Committee, the gifts show a softer side of what the county provides. "Government isn't just about roads and sewers; it's about quality of life," she said.
Quality of life was what drew Kastler to the senior center at 1992 S. 200 East in Salt Lake City. In 1996, her husband, Gordon, was ill. Family and friends nudged her to socialize more to bolster her own health. She started going to lunch at the center, then decided it would be more fun with music.
When Gordon -- whose investments had produced a significant fortune -- died in August 1996, the senior center provided her a respite. She later started playing at the Fairmont Park Senior Center and finally at St. Joseph Villa, where she then lived.
Three months before her death in February 2001, Kastler married 86-year-old Brigham D. Madsen. "She just thought he was the cat's meow," Swenson said.
Madsen, a former University of Utah history professor who still lives at the villa, plays tapes of her music daily. "The fact that she would leave this money is typical of her," he said.
Dan Bradshaw, who oversaw her estate, agrees.
"She was one of the nicest women I've ever met," said Bradshaw, a Bank One vice president and manager of the South Salt Lake branch. "I'm a better person for having met her."