YOUNGSTOWN - Three sisters led a quiet life in a modest home on Brookwood Avenue off Market Street until the last one passed away in 1998.
They left no children or widowers. After the better part of a century in the Mahoning Valley, they had no one to show for their efforts.
Yet the Kikel sisters' efforts, which totaled more than $12 million at the time of their deaths, continues to touch the lives of children they never had.
The $12 million is a fraction of the nearly $4 billion that the Mahoning Valley's 1,180 nonprofits are worth. It is one of many rooted in lucrative investments and frugal living.
''No one would know that they had that kind of wealth,'' said James Sisek, president and CEO of Farmers Trust Company.
Angela and Josephine worked as secretaries in the insurance business. Their sister Jenny, who suffered from severe arthritis, stayed home and took care of the house.
About 70 years ago, the sisters bought a single share of IBM stock. As the company launched its first calculator, the sisters began to double their investment.
''They bought, the story goes, one share of stock in IBM from Ted Powers back in the '40s or '50s, which became two shares, which became five shares, which became 10 shares,'' Sisek, who managed the women's trust for more than 30 years, said.
Sisek said the sisters' plans sometimes deviated, but their funds always benefited children.
Following their death, the Kikel Charitable Trust continued to serve its purpose.
The last revision of the their estate plan divided the Kikel sisters' assets evenly between two hospitals, Tod Children's Hospital and St. Elizabeth Health Center's children's unit.
Tod Children's Hospital came under the management of Akron Children's Hospital after Forum Health, which formerly ran it, filed chapter 11 bankruptcy.
As Forum Health scrambled to repay investors, Forum Health and the hospital's new management in Akron sought what the Kikels' accrued.
During the trial, few witnesses remained who knew of the sisters' secretive affairs.
''That was one of the issues at the trial,'' Sisek said. ''What happens is you try to approximate as closely as possible what the intent of the sisters would have been, had they been around.''
As Tod Children's Hospital ceased to exist, the trial and the sisters' charitable contributions centered around one heated question.
''Who gets the money?'' Sisek said.
Northside Hospital, which housed Tod Children's Hospital, was bought and managed by a for-profit entity. St. Elizabeth Heath Center threw its hat in the ring along with Akron Children's Hospital. Farmers Trust Company took to the sidelines and asked the court simply, ''Tell us who to pay the money to,'' Sisek said.
Tod Children's Hospital was specifically mentioned in the sisters' last testament, and the court granted the money to its successor, Akron Children's Hospital Mahoning Valley.
The sisters' intent and the intent of other donors who have passed away become a lightning rod for debate as hospitals change hands and businesses that cannibalize each other fight for assets.
With the speculation over who the women were, one thing remains certain. As the Kikel sisters' philanthropy continues, their secrets followed them to the grave.
Sisek remembers making a last visit to their home.
''We weren't allowed to send mail. We weren't allowed to send statements,'' Sisek said. ''Very secretive. They didn't want the mailman to know what was going on.''
He knocked on the front door. No answer. Looked through the window. No one was there. He entered the backdoor and walked into the kitchen.
''Honest to goodness,'' Sisek said, ''I don't think I saw a loaf of bread anywhere in the kitchen.''
Sisek contacted the sisters' attorney, James Mitchell, who died two years ago. The women were placed in Beeghly Oaks Skilled Nursing & Rehab Center. Angela and Jenny stayed in one room and Josephine in another.
Josephine and Jenny died one day apart in January 1998. Angela followed in December.