Named Big 50 in 1992, Shirley Landels lost her husband and business partner of 14 years, Cleon, less than a year later.

"Every subcontractor told me when he died that I wasn't allowed to quit," she says. "I said, 'I don't know how to do this and this,' and they said, 'We'll teach you.'"

They did. She scaled back to kitchens and baths, and besides her usual administration, sales, and marketing work, she now tears out, cleans up, designs, and manages a dozen subs, logging $250,000 annually at Landels Remodeling and Design.

Landels' husband left her a gift: He told her the best way to learn the trade was through associations. She became so involved in her NARI chapter one year that she chaired seven committees. It was her remodeler network that helped her through Cleon's death. Colleagues put carpenters at her disposal.

Because she relies on subs, Landels warns clients that all sorts of people will work in their homes. Should clients gripe about a sub's grooming habits, she has a ready line: "You're looking at the physical. Look at the heart."