What others might consider roadblocks, Darlene Pfeiffer calls “divinely inspired moments.”
In the ’60s, when she was forced to quit her beloved job as a TWA flight attendant (for getting married), boredom with housewifery inspired her to look for a business opportunity.
She called on the owner of the Kentucky Fried Chicken in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio—who happened to be Dave Thomas, later of Wendy’s fame—and she was inspired to follow his advice to open a KFC franchise herself.
She bought a piece of property in upstate New York with the $24,000 she’d saved from her airline position. All she needed was a loan for the building.
The year was 1966.
“The banker told me my husband would have to be majority shareholder or they wouldn’t give me the money,” she said. “I asked why and he said, ‘Because you’re a woman. You’ll get pregnant and you’ll never pay us back.’”
She went along with it to get the franchise.
In a few years of hard work, she had four, then five franchises. That’s when her husband left his job as a casket distributor, and demanded complete control and ownership of her KFCs.
“We divorced,” she said. “He built four franchises with the equity from my five. I ended up with three, but I went on to be quite successful on my own.”
Pfeiffer was the first woman president of the Association of KFC Owners. Over the decades, she has employed hundreds of workers and still owns two franchises in Kingston and Poughkeepsie, New York.
Her role model has always been Colonel Sanders himself. “He was a great man,” she said. “He said, ‘I came into this world with nothing and that’s how I intend to leave it.’ I agree with that. I intend to give it all away, to those who really need it.”
Pfeiffer was responsible for expanding the Colonel’s Scholars program nationally and has a long personal history of funding scholarships for single mothers at the community college in Ulster, New York. She also created the Darlene L. Pfeiffer Center for Entrepreneurial Studies there.
At Lynn, her benevolence is inspired by her dear friend, Jan McArt. Since 2006, Pfeiffer has been funding scholarships for theater students in McArt’s name.
One is Jessica Quigley, a senior with Broadway dreams.
“It was such an honor to receive this scholarship,” she said.
“It meant the world to me and my parents.”
Pfeiffer said helping students like Jessica is the greatest reward of her life.
“I would much rather help young people than buy anything for myself. And, if it honors Jan, even better.”