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Disability doesn't dampen Hampton woman's zest for life

| Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Kathy Csellar of Richland, who was born with a congenital condition on her right hand, does more with one handful of fingers than most people do with two, including playing the organ at Cross Road Presbyterian Church.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Kathy Csellar of Richland says her mother, Mary Lou Spindt, was the driving force behind her overcoming the obstacles in her life.
Deborah Deasy | Hampton Journal
Kathy Csellar of Richland is an accomplished seamstress as she is shown here doing an alteration for Savannah Sadd, 3, of Sewickley, who is going to be the flower girl in a wedding.

Dexterous Kathy Csellar does more with one handful of fingers than most people do with two.

With only traces of a right thumb, forefinger and pinkie, Csellar alters wedding dresses to jeans and performs Bach preludes to popular hymns.

She's the organist and choir director at Cross Roads Presbyterian Church in Pine.

Csellar also runs an alterations business out of her home, which sits atop a steep driveway off West Hardies Road in Hampton.

“She just does beautiful work,” said longtime client Marcia Ward of Shaler.

Ward wore a dress altered by Csellar to son Stephen Ward's 2008 wedding in Calistoga, Calif. Martha Stewart Weddings, the magazine, covered the nuptials.

“I just got so many compliments on my dress,” said Ward, who bought the dress at Greensburg bridal shop and then turned it over to Csellar for alterations.

At 66, Csellar still gets encouragement from her 94-year-old mother — Mary Lou Spindt of Hampton — who first helped Csellar figure out ways work around her “little hand's” shortcomings.

“My mother never told me there was anything I couldn't do. It was just, ‘We have to figure out a way,'” Csellar said, recalling her mother's reassuring words.

“She would always sit with me and figure out a way,” Csellar said. “She would not do it for me.”

Spindt initially felt distraught over her daughter's disability, a congenital condition.

“How did this happen?” Spindt asked herself. “They believe in a very early stage, the fingers were caught in a membrane and amputated,” she said.

With no memories of an accident or experience with a fully-formed right hand, Csellar simply adapted to using her “little hand.”

“She had a lot of determination,” said Spindt, who worked 26 years as a Hampton School District librarian.

Out of necessity, Csellar became left-handed.

“My mother said that I tried to pick up peas and Cheerios with my little hand and discovered that the big hand worked better,” Csellar said.

Csellar also is the daughter of the late Roderick Spindt, who worked as a Gulf Oil research chemist.

Csellar and her husband, Victor, have two children — Ed Csellar of Hampton and Debra Ott of Moon Township — and four grandchildren.

A University of Pittsburgh graduate, Csellar taught first-graders at the former Northway Elementary School in Ross before she became a self-employed seamstress and part-time church choir director and organist.

As a girl, Csellar made doll clothes and some of the clothes she wore to Hampton High School.

Csellar launched her alterations business in 1981 with a note posted on the community bulletin board at Shop 'n Save in Richland Mall.

“I pin to fit,” she said. “I've learned a lot by taking ready-made things apart.”

As a child, Csellar also took piano lessons before she became one of the area's top young French horn players and entered the Indiana University in Bloomington as a prospective music major. Two years later, Csellar transferred to Pitt and got her bachelor's degree in elementary education.

But Csellar recently obtained the professional equivalent of a bachelor's degree in music by passing the exam for certification as a colleague of the American Guild of Organists.

Ten years ago, Csellar became the organist at Cross Roads Presbyterian Church after performing the same role for 15 years at St. Thomas Church in-the-Fields in Richland.

Csellar took her first organ lessons in the 1989 with the late Harriett Hargus of Elfinwild Presbyterian Church in Shaler. She previously played first horn in the Allegheny Brass Band and sang with the Little Music Society of Richland.

“I was going to be French horn player, and then I discovered you have to devote your whole life to the practice room,” Csellar said. “I decided I had a life to live, and moved on.”

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or ddeasy@tribweb.com.

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