Our Founders

OurFoundersDon & Leslie Nottberg are Kansas City natives. They met at the University of Kansas more than 40 years ago - in a Human Relations class. No joke. After marrying, the couple moved to Arizona to further pursue their educations at Arizona State University. Don, planning to become a psychologist, attended grad school. Leslie completed two undergraduate degrees - in Juvenile Justice and Paralegal Law - while deciding whether to go on to law school.

A Passion for Fitness

In Phoenix, Don discovered Leslie’s culinary talents. That was the good news – and the bad. Once an enthusiastic tennis player, Don stopped working out and started enjoying Leslie’s wonderful cooking. By their first anniversary, Don had gained 50 pounds and lost his athletic form.

Unhappy, feeling overweight and out of shape, Don took up walking – then running. By the time the “Newlywed 50” had melted away, he was hooked on these increasingly popular forms of exercise. Leslie, a pack-a-day smoker, gave up cigarettes and joined Don when he walked. Soon the couple had developed a real enthusiasm for their daily workouts.

Finding the Right Fit

In the late 1970’s, Don ran across a Wall Street Journal article on the first chain of running/walking shoe specialty stores in the US. It had operated in Atlanta since 1974 with a unique business plan: “Stock a store with the best gear, then staff it with runners trained in the science of fitting shoes.” As the 1980s approached, the stores’ customers included not just seasoned athletes, but increasing numbers of beginners who, like Don & Leslie, were finding their way back to health with regular workouts – or even braving their first road races.

The article piqued the Nottberg’s interest. The chain’s franchisees were required to complete a comprehensive and intensive training program covering everything from anatomy to biomechanics to sports injuries. They were taught to find just the right shoe for a customer rather than to simply make a sale. Don & Leslie had found their fit; they purchased the franchise for Kansas City and opened a store in June 1980.

Matching People With Shoes

By 1997, the Nottbergs were operating their shoe store as an independent business with a new name and a new location: Elite Feet, in Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center, Overland Park, KS. Just one year later, they expanded their mission of matching people to shoes: they began looking for a good home for the gently worn shoes their customers were replacing. Don & Leslie founded Shoe Kansas City out of a desire to provide those less fortunate with one of life’s basic necessities – the one that had become central to their own lives. The rest is history – at least Our History

The Board

Nancy Fritz

nancy

Nancy Fritz joined the Shoe Kansas City board after convincing two important partners to join our annual drive: the Shawnee Mission School District and the National Education Association - Shawnee Mission. You might say she had the right contacts: she has been an educator in the Shawnee Mission School District since 1975 and is serving her fourth year as President of the NEA-Shawnee Mission.

Nancy grew up in the Kansas City area and has spent her 33-year career teaching in local preschools, elementary schools and high schools. She has been an active volunteer in NEA-Shawnee Mission for many years and a longtime member of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, a professional honorary society of women educators. In 2009, Nancy also served on the Shawnee Mission School District’s Five Year Planning Committee, which developed the plan under which that district currently operates.

Nancy received her BA in Education from DePauw University, Greencastle, IN, her Master of Arts in Teaching from Webster University-Kansas City and her certification as a Library Media Specialist from the University of Missouri.

 

Susan Strobel

susanSusan Hintz Strobel joins Shoe Kansas City as a seasoned veteran of shoe drives – just one of the types of service projects she managed during more than 15 years as a youth program director and civic volunteer. Owner & principal of The Resolute Writer, Susan advises small businesses and nonprofit organizations as they address communication, business and management issues.

Susan spent 12 years in municipal and corporate finance with George K. Baum & Company, a regional investment bank. She then went to work for one of her clients, serving as Vice President, Finance & Administration, of Syntro Corporation, a public company engaged in the commercialization of recombinant veterinary vaccines. She was part of the management team that guided Syntro’s sale to Mallinkrodt Group, Inc.

More recently, as a volunteer, Susan sat on the Capital Improvement Strategic Planning Committee of the Shawnee Mission School District and served as Campaign Manager for the successful candidate in a Shawnee Mission School Board at-large election. She co-organized 1st Lutheran Church’s “Applause for a Cause” benefit concert series and has acted as treasurer of four small nonprofit organizations. Susan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Duke University, Durham, NC.

The Cause

noshoesIt began with a conundrum.

In 1997, Don & Leslie Nottberg opened Elite Feet, an Overland Park, Kansas retail store, with a mission:

    "Provide each customer the best fitting, most comfortable shoe for his or her foot.”

People sought out the Nottbergs for help replacing running or walking shoes that didn’t fit properly or weren’t suited for a grueling workout. While the shoes might not be right for the Nottbergs’ customer, they were right for someone else – especially someone who couldn’t afford decent footwear.

How could these good, gently used shoes be saved
from the trash - the garage - the back of a dark closet?
How would they find their way to feet that needed them?

 Reuse – Repurpose - Recycle

In late 1998, Don & Leslie placed a large tub in the front of their store. They asked customers to donate a pair of old shoes after buying a new one. Some customers went home and came back with loafers, sandals, dress shoes, work boots and children’s sports shoes - snow boots, too - 600 pairs altogether. The Nottbergs delivered the shoes to a local organization that served people who were homeless or lived in poverty - just in time for the winter holidays.

Overwhelming Need

For 14 years, word of mouth brought in more shoes - and more requests for shoes.

  • In Years 2 & 3, Don & Leslie partnered with Soles4Souls, an international organization experienced in distributing shoes to survivors of natural disasters and victims of poverty.
  • By Year 4, City Union Mission and the local division of The Salvation Army had caught wind of the collection and were asking to distribute shoes locally.
  • Demand for gently used shoes – especially children’s shoes – grew, then skyrocketed with the onset of a recession in 2008.
  • Financial crisis brought staggering job losses, stubborn unemployment, personal bankruptcy and homelessness to many in the Kansas City metro. By 2010, five different area charities were requesting ever-larger donations.

Partners

The recession continued – and the Joplin tornado roared through. Shoe Kansas City grew to meet the ever-increasing need; in fact, it became the largest shoe collection/donation effort in the Kansas City metro area. In 2011, with the help of Saucony and Hawthorne Plaza Shopping Center, as well as new partners McCarthy Auto Group, the Shawnee Mission School District and NEA-Shawnee Mission, Shoe Kansas City collected more than 13,000 pairs of new & used shoes.

During the 13 years since that first tub appeared in the front of the store, annual contributions had multiplied more than 20 fold – nearly 27% per year! Shoe Kansas City had become much more than a little holiday shoe drive.

ShoeBarrell

A View to the Future

The local need for shoes seemed to grow as quickly as the collection. Don & Leslie knew they needed a more formal, carefully structured organization to meet it.

First they decided to simplify and strengthen distribution. Shoe Kansas City currently works closely with two local charities: City Union Mission & Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. These well-established nonprofits have the experience, skill and resources to quickly deliver thousands of shoes all across the KC metro – which is critical during the busy but brief winter holiday season.

In 2012, Don & Leslie decided to incorporate Shoe Kansas City as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation. While the Nottbergs remain at the helm, Shoe Kansas City is taking on a life of its own, guided by a board of independent directors. The new structure builds a bridge to many potential partners and supporters, particularly foundations that are permitted to fund only 501(c)(3) organizations.

Donate Your Old Kicks

We accept just about every type of shoe you might own, new or gently used, in both child or adult sizes: dress and casual shoes, heels, sandals, sports and dance shoes, work shoes – even galoshes and snow, hiking or cowboy boots!