Story by Lauren Sable Freiman | Oct 31, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

In everything she does, Sharon Kirchoff improves peoples’ lives with a smile and her gift of giving.

It’s known as the Happy Car. A familiar sight around town, the white 1972 Volkswagen convertible with a black top dutifully carries Sharon Kirchoff from one volunteer engagement to the next, helping Kirchoff spread happiness and love around Jefferson City.

 

She has to manually shift the transmission, but Kirchoff handles it easily. She was raised on a farm in the country, three miles outside of Clarksburg. Her family didn’t have running water or indoor plumbing. They didn’t have electricity until she was 10 years old. But the farm life taught her many lessons that have proven helpful throughout her 75 years — among them, how to drive a stick shift and how good it feels to do things for others.

“My grandmother lived one acre away, so I started helping her,” Kirchoff says. “Then I started going to the neighbors. I was about three or four years old, and they were elderly at the time, so I would run the sweeper for one, do dishes for another. Plus, I did things at home to stay busy. For as long as I can remember, I volunteered doing things for people, and it always made me feel good.”

Her list of volunteer work is both long and varied. She was a charter member of the Jaycees and the president of that organization for three consecutive years. She spent six years as a member of the Heart of Missouri Girl Scout Council Board of Directors and was a member of the United Way of Central Missouri’s governing body. She’s volunteered on behalf of Head Start, WIC, Missouri State Children’s Trust Fund, Jefferson City Rape and Abuse Crisis Services, Moniteau County Senior Nutritional Center, the Vitae Foundation, and countless other groups. She’s on the Senior Nutrition Council, where she serves weekly meals to disabled and homebound people around Cole County.

She’s also spent the past 18 summers volunteering for the Missouri State Fair, most recently as the coordinator of all the stands that collect money. For 21 days, from 8:30 a.m. until 9 p.m., she oversaw several shifts of volunteers selling souvenirs and food. The proceeds go into a scholarship foundation and a fund to preserve the fairgrounds for future generations. No stranger to hard work, Kirchoff found the long days fulfilling. She says she hopes her commitment means that the fair will be in operation for years to come.

“I worked myself through my first three years of high school cleaning motel rooms,” Kirchoff says. “We had to make some kind of money for extra stuff we wanted, like paper, pencils and pens for school. It gave me a good work ethic. My dad always said that you want to go beyond the call of duty. You were on time, you were dependable, and you had to be loyal.”

Her penchant for going beyond the call of duty has also earned her several honors and recognitions. She is a two-year winner of the Outstanding Jaycee Wife Award and she was recognized with the Outstanding Community Service Award by the California Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve worked with everybody and anybody,” Kirchoff says. “We are all God’s children. When you think of that, you don’t mind helping anyone. When I serve on a committee, I just wait until everyone takes their choice. When they’re done, I just take whatever is left. I don’t care what I do.”

Kirchoff has also played a key role in the development of several important organizations and resources within Jefferson City. In March 2000, Kirchoff was one of three people who started Dreams to Reality, a nonprofit boutique that helps women transitioning into the workforce by providing appropriate interview and work attire, helping them feel confident and prepared for career and employment opportunities.

“It’s grown abundantly and wouldn’t be possible without a great community to back it,” she says. “It is so wonderful to see someone come in with low self-esteem, get them dressed, and see them walk out with their heads held very high.”

Kirchoff was also one of two people who started Kingdom Klowns for Jesus, and she transforms herself into her alter ego, Happy Clown, on the organization’s behalf.

“As Baptists, we want to reach children at an early age,” says Kirchoff. “We try to instill how much Jesus loves them. We also started going to nursing homes and doing parades.”

She also says she’s been blessed to start a couple new churches, which fulfills her love of starting new things. Though she’s been instrumental in many projects and organizations, she’s quick to point out that she’s always been fortunate to work alongside other committed volunteers.

Kirchoff is committed to spreading happiness through her everyday actions. She places a Post-it note with a handwritten message on every bill she pays, every month.

“I sign my name and say have a happy day, or have a good weekend,” Kirchoff says. “I smile all the time because I’m happy, and that smile can just make someone’s day. It will definitely make a difference in your life if you do everything with the right kind of heart.”

While she’s made a living helping other people and spreading happiness, she’s learned that part of the equation includes allowing others to get pleasure out of doing things for her.

“One of the hardest things I’ve learned is to be humble,” she says. “I get pleasure out of doing things for other people, but when someone wants to do a good deed back to me, I don’t want them to. I’m learning to allow others to have that pleasure.”

As she looks forward to celebrating 57 years of marriage to her husband, Bill, in January, she says she’s thankful for the blessings in her life, including her children, Vicki and Bill, her grandchildren, and her great-grandbaby.

“God has been good to me,” Kirchoff says. “That doesn’t mean we have had a bed of roses, but with the Lord’s help, you just handle the rough roads. We’ve been very faithful to Him. The Lord expects us to love one another and be good to people. If I can get one foot in front of me, I’m going to be there. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to bring happiness and encouragement to people. I’m hoping I will have made a difference in people’s lives.” 

 

Read more about Jefferson city’s active seniors here.