Carole Gardner (Cathedral Class of 1950) – Alumni Achievement Award 2023

Carole Gardner - 2023 Alumni Achievement award recipient

Carole Gardner – 2023 Alumni Achievement award recipient

The poet Jack Gilbert defined true courage as, The beauty that is of many days. Steady and clear. It is the normal excellence, of long accomplishment.”

Carole Gardner has been a model of this sort of true courage in her dedication to her faith, her family, her business, and to Catholic education in Winona. 

Whether doing the books for 50 years at Westgate Bowl, or seeing the business through two difficult transitions, or raising her six children, or leading her weekly prayer groups and bible studies or singing in the St. Stan’s choir, Carole exudes a calm, cheerful presence. Her consistent work on behalf of others has left a deep and loving legacy at Cotter and throughout the community.

Childhood and Cathedral years

The depth of Carole’s ties to Cotter and Catholic education in Winona are nearly unmatched. Her parents were Sig and Sally (Ostrowski) Jeresek. Her father grew up in Pine Creek, Wisc. and attended Cotter, but when his brother’s went to World War I he had to drop out of school to work on the family farm.  Her older sisters Mary Jean and Elizabeth (Bette) and brother James (Jimmy) were also graduates of Cathedral and Cotter.

A stained glass image of Cathedral School from a window in St. Teresa Hall. The window was created by the Hauser Art Glass company.

Carole attended St. Stan’s and Cathedral High School for Girls,  where she was taught by the Sisters of Notre Dame. “One of the nuns I had at St. Stan’s, Sr. Victoria, was still there when my three oldest children were there. We lived so close to the school, I would see them all the time, the nuns were like part of our family,” Carole said. Cathedral High School was located on Center Street between Wabasha and Sanborn and was recently renovated to become part of WSU’s education village. Cotter and Cathedral merged into a co-educational school in 1952-53, after Carole had graduated. 

Carole Jeresek, Cathedral Class of 1950

“I loved going to an all girls school. We didn’t have to worry about boys during the day, and we would see them after school and there were dances every Friday at the Catholic Rec., but during the day we could just be ourselves and we had the opportunity to do everything and be leaders within the school,” Carole said. 

Carole figure skating in high school at the East End rink (Gardner family)

Moving on and Moving back

Winona Secretarial School ad in the Winona Republican Herald newspaper

After high school, Carole had intended to go to St. Catherine’s in St. Paul, but, due to a transcript mix-up, ended up attending St. Teresa’s. After a year, Carole was not enjoying the day student experience, so she and several friends enrolled at the Winona Secretarial School.  She subsequently worked as a medical secretary in the Twin Cities, then in Chicago, and then moved to Long Beach, California, where she met a young man in the Navy named Paul Wellington Gardner.

Sailor Paul in California in 1954

After a brief courtship Paul and Carole were married and moved briefly back to his hometown in Michigan. They soon, however, decided to relocate to Winona in 1955 where Carole’s father Sig and her brother Jimmy, who later became the CEO of Peerless Chain, were running Nash’s clothing store, “The center of fashion in the center of Winona”, at 4th and Center in downtown Winona.

An Nash’s ad in the Winona paper in the mid-1960s

Paul went to work at Nash’s as a salesman. The store was successful and Nash’s opened a women’s shop to partner with their men’s store. The Gardner family was also growing, as the couple was blessed with sons Paul (Cotter class of 1974) and Geoff (‘75) and daughter Julie (“77).  “I prayed to St. Anthony and St, Jude that I would find a good husband and that’s why my first two boys were named Paul Anthony and Geoffrey Jude.,” Carole said.  

The growing Gardner family in the late 1960s

A New Business in Winona

While Paul was doing well at Nash’s he dreamed of starting his own business and after doing some research and discovering that bowling was a growing industry due to an increase in American leisure time and spending, the Gardner’s arranged financing and, despite having three children under the age of 3,  opened Westgate Bowl in 1961. “Paul was a good salesman and with some help from friends and relatives and a good relationship with the people from Brunswick we were able to get the bowling alley up and running.  My role, in addition to taking care of the kids and running the house, was to do the books and make deposits and oversee the payroll,”  Carole said.

There was a lot of competition with the Athletic Club, Kegler’s Klub, Redman’s, St. Martin’s, and the Hal-Rod club all featuring bowling alleys, but the 16 lanes at Westgate and drive of the owners gave it an advantage. With the help of a few stalwart employees like Leona Lubinski and Bob Stein, and Paul hustling to get leagues going the business began to thrive. In addition to shifts of men’s leagues at night, Westgate started a women’s afternoon league, and Paul bought a school bus to go around town to pick up children for a junior league on the weekends.  Despite the pressures of getting a new business off the ground while raising a growing family, Paul and Carole made it work. 


Westgate Bowl – a fixture in Winona since 1961

A tragedy and a transition

Westgate Bowl and the Gardner family continued to grow. Jonathan (Cotter ‘1980), Christopher (‘85) and Sally (‘89) filled out the family and, bowling leagues were going full tilt. The Gardners added Westgate Liquor to the property to serve customers coming out of Randall’s grocery and other Westgate businesses. In 1976 Paul was killed in a car accident, leaving Carole with 6 children and a business to run. There was a steep learning curve and more decisions to be made. Carole hired Bob Skeels to oversee the day-to-day operation of the bowling alley and she continued to do the bookkeeping and attend to all her other responsibilities. In 1980, after graduating from Norther Colorado University, Geoff returned to take over Westgate Bowl.

She had a knack for listening to people and knowing the right thing to say and the right move to make that made sense and made people feel valued.

— Dave Hultgren

“I started working at Westgate Bowl in the spring of 1976,” said former Westgate Bowl manager Dave Hultgren. “Carole did the accounting and I still have some handwritten payroll stubs. After incredibly tragic life circumstances, she took care of her young family and the family’s business.  She did this with an inner strength and a deep conviction to her faith. She had a knack for listening to people and knowing the right thing to say and the right move to make that made sense and made people feel valued. They were then, and are now, a very loving, close family. I am very proud to think of them as my second family.”

On St. Patrick’s Day in 1988 Geoff, with Carole’s approval and support, opened Wellington’s Bar and Grill, adding another business to the family property.  “Opening a restaurant was always a dream of his father’s, and our extended family was proud when Geoff realized that dream,” Carole said.

Wellington’s opened in 1988

In 2007 tragedy struck again when Geoff died suddenly in the hospital while recuperating from a surgery, leaving his wife Julie (Biesanz) Gardner (Cotter class of 1981) and four children in a eerily similar predicament to the one Carole had been in 30 years earlier. Once again, Carole relied on her faith to pull her through and was a steady hand, continuing to do books at the business and helping Julie out as she learned the ropes of running the bowling alley and restaurant. Westgate and Wellingtons remain a vibrant piece of WInona’s social fabric, the businesses are constantly hosting leagues, birthday parties, and work and family gatherings.  This past weekend the annual Geoff Gardner Memorial Tournament filled the lanes, with the profits going to benefit youth bowling in Winona.

Faith built over a lifetime

For all of her life Carole has been a devoted member of St. Stanislaus parish. She was a member of the St. Stan’s choir for almost as long. “When I was  in school at St. Stan’s there was a 7:00, 7:30, and 8:00 daily mass before school, and we would be scheduled as a class once a month to sing for all three before school. We had to get dressed up and everything had to be perfect for the nuns. This was when we in 5th grade, I’m not sure you’d get today’s kids to do three masses before they went to school for the day,” Carole said.

St. Stan’s was erected in 1894. Carole has been a lifelong parishioner (detail of window by Hauser Art Glass)

St. Stan’s Choir director Ian Schultz (Cotter Class of 2013)  spoke of Carole’s contributions to the choir. “Carole was always there, dressed to the nines, and ready to sing. Carole was the person in the choir that everyone looked to for guidance, if they needed advice, or more importantly, for Kashubian pronunciations of the Polish hymns. One year I decided we should write out a phonetic guide to each Polish hymn. Carole was one of three people that donated a few full days that summer to sit and teach me every song. Although it was probably painful for her, since I decided to change some words for humor (Przybieżeli to Przybylski and Ojczystych to Fish Stick) she would merely roll her eyes, take a breath and say “Let’s try that again…”

The choir at St. Stan’s has had a lot of ups and downs, but Carole has been a constant through it all. Carole will always have my deepest admiration and respect

— Ian Schultz

Carole, along with Jeanette Speltz and Jean Galewski, transcribed the Polish lyrics into English to keep the tradition of the choir singing in Polish on special occasions alive.

Since the Basilica was built, Polish Christmas carols have been sung every year – even after the vernacular was switched to English from Latin, and people who didn’t speak Polish joined the church, which is now the vast majority of the congregation. However, people will tell you that they can hum along or sing a few Polish tunes because we sing them every year. The choir at St. Stan’s has had a lot of ups and downs, but Carole has been a constant through it all,” Schultz said. “Carole will always have my deepest admiration and respect. She has always had my back, supported whatever endeavor I have put in front of the choir, and has always shown up with a smile.”

Carole and her six children in the mid-1980s

In addition to her participation in the choir, another constant in Carole’s life has been prayer groups. Two in particular have been important to her. In 1989 Carole and a group of her friends took a vacation to Europe and one of the reasons for the trip was to make a pilgrimage to the town of Medjugorje in Bosnia, the site a of Catholic shrine on the site of a Marian appearance.  One of the traditions for visitors to Medjugorje is to pray and fast and for over 20 years, Carole’s group has done just that, meeting every week to pray and fast, and they bolstered by a return trip to the site in 1999.  

Carole also helps lead a Bible study group that has met every Wednesday for many years. The group often included friends Mary Jo Wiltgen, Nora Naas, Bette Raciti, Jeanette Speltz, Barb Feiten, Peg Carroll, Rose Smith, Mary Wieczorek,  and others. The group has dwindled in recent years as members have passed on, but they are still meeting, sometimes at Callista Court where a couple members of the group are living. 

Carole and her grandchildren

A lasting legacy

When she was notified that she would be receiving the Alumni Achievement award, Carole’s first reaction was “But I haven’t done anything.”  After thinking about for a minute, she said “Well, I guess I could accept it to represent the efforts of  all the wives and mothers and women who have always worked behind the scenes to help make the Catholic schools go.  My mom was part of group called Cotter Mothers that raised funds and planned events and volunteered at a time when there really wasn’t much money for anything.”

In addition to her siblings and children attending Cotter, all but two of Carole’s grandchildren have, or will, graduate from Cotter. Carole is still an active member of St. Stan’s, she attends her grandchildren’s soccer matches, basketball games, track meets, and other school events,  she is still attending her weekly prayer groups, and Westgate Bowl/Wellingtons is going strong after more than 6o years.

“When I look at my life, I always ask God, ‘Why me? Why have I been so lucky?’  I am so thankful for my family and friends and all the blessings I continue to have in my life. Thank you God for always directing my life”