Jumping in Feet First

By Michele Graham
Photos by ChiChi Ubiña

When she returned to Greenwich after a 12-year absence, Janie Gestal was asked by a friend to serve on the board of the Inner-City Foundation. “I jumped in feet first,” says Janie. It didn’t take long for her grown daughter, Lyle to jump in right along with her. That’s the way it is with the Gestals: embracing life and challenges together at every turn.

The Inner-City Foundation for Charity & Education (ICF) supports area organizations with financial assistance as well as food, clothing, shelter, counseling, and education for at-risk children and adults in Fairfield County. Janie notes, “ICF vets out the grant requests from the varying organizations. Our volunteer board members make on-site visits to determine the value of the requests.”

Along with helping homeless shelters and soup kitchens, ICF also provides assistance to education and immigration agencies. The list of supported organizations is long and includes the Greenwich YWCA and its domestic violence programs, New Covenant House soup kitchen, and Inspirica, a shelter for women and children in Stamford.

“We share a devotion to ICF,” says Lyle. Following in the footsteps of her mother and father, Lyle and her husband Doug have been loyal supporters of the non-profit. Together, they attend ICF’s annual dinners and mom and daughter are regulars at the annual luncheon at the Belle Haven Club. Through her friends in the area, Lyle is also introducing a new cohort of supporters to ICF.

Lyle’s time for philanthropy is limited given her full-time job. In contrast, her father, Dean, is happily retired after commuting to Salt Lake City for 12 years as co-owner of Reynolds Cycling. With their greater flexibility, Janie and Dean are members of the Order of Malta, a lay religious order whose members are committed to serving the poor and the sick. As part of the order, Janie and Dean make an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, a Catholic shrine, where they also host a large number of Malades (sick pilgrims).  “It is a fulfilling, inspiring, spiritual journey and I’m still awed by the experience after 17 pilgrimages!” says Janie. The couple also serve the homeless at New Covenant House in Stamford. 

There’s also a very playful side to the Gestals. Janie and Dean raised four daughters in Greenwich. The family moved to San Francisco for a period, but the draw of Greenwich pulled the entire family back in 2012. Janie lights up when she says, “I feel like we run a family camp in the summer with 10 adults and six children. The children run the show.  Winter is filled with skiing at our home at Mad River, Vermont. It’s exciting to see the next generation take to the sport.” 

All four daughters give Janie great, great pleasure. For a number of years, “Lyle followed the skiing,” Janie likes to say. Looking at Lyle dressed in HOBBS LONDON British inspired clothes, it’s hard to imagine that she once spent most days bundled in parkas. Living in Missoula, MT, Salt Lake City, UT and Jackson Hole, WY, Lyle had few occasions for a beautifully tailored suit, a feminine floral dress, or timeless workwear. But now as a Senior Marketing Coordinator at Sotheby’s – which follows a role in business development for a private equity firm—Lyle feels right at home in HOBBS LONDON Spring/Summer ’19 collection, inspired by the town of Hampstead in London where town and countryside meet.

With her ski wayfaring days behind her, Lyle and Doug have settled into a home in Cos Cob. “Since she and Doug bought their home, I’ve been able to pass on my love of gardening to them and give her cooking tips,” says Janie. “Lyle has shown her creative talents fixing up their 1906 home. Dean and I were happy to have Lyle and Doug live with us for a number of months while they prepared their home.  We continue to have weekly dinners, catching up on our lives.  We often ski together, though her abilities are far greater than mine!”

Pictures don’t lie. “Lyle and I love to spend time together.”