Rotary Profile – Louise & Michelle Gardiner
Louise Gardiner spent her first decade in Montreal Quebec, but her parents’ decision to move to Kitchener would be a fateful choice. It’s where she would meet her future husband Graham, raise three great kids, Michelle, Matthew, and Trevor, and join—and eventually become the second female president of—the Rotary Club of Kitchener.
A member of the Kitchener-Westmount Rotary, her husband quickly got his family involved with the Youth Exchange program. Already a ‘Rotary household” Louise decided to join Rotary, but opted to forge her own path by joining the Rotary Club of Kitchener.
“Graham opened our ski shop, Select Sports, before we were married and became a Rotarian not long after as a way to give back to his community,” said Louise. “In our home, Rotary values were practiced daily. You could say our household motto was ‘Service above Self’”.
And the decision of her parents to become so involved with the Rotary community would be a fateful one for Louise’s daughter, Michelle, as well.
In her early twenties, Michelle not only followed in the family’s Rotary footsteps through her work with the Waterloo Rotaract Club, she forged her own strong identity. She held roles such as Vice President, Camp Enterprise Rotary Liaison and eventually President. In her role as President she worked closely with Mayor Brenda Halloran of Waterloo to ensure that ‘community’ underscored all Rotaract’s activities. The strong relationship between the municipality and the club continues today.
“We’ve always been a Rotary family,” said Michelle. “Both of my parents are past presidents of separate clubs in the city. This allowed me to see how different clubs function, but more importantly, it also showed me how they can work together—and the incredible energy that happens when they do.
Michelle credits her childhood Rotary experiences for shaping her into the young professional she is today.
“The three exchange students we hosted during my youth helped me understand and appreciate the differences between cultures. My parent’s community work showed me how fortunate we were to have a healthy, strong family and to live in such a supportive community. But my parents always reminded us of the importance of giving back. To make time to help those who weren’t as fortunate.”
Louise’s own Rotary path has been varied as well. She served on or led almost every committee over the last two decades. She joined the board early on and served for eight years. In 2002, she took on the role of President. That same year she was nominated for the KW Women of the Year award for her philanthropic activities. She has since received three Paul Harris Fellowship awards, one as a result of successfully securing a donation of 19,000 books from her fellow co-workers through the Sandals Foundation to fill the shelves of seven parish libraries and schools in impoverished Jamaican communities.
Professionally, Louise’s proudest achievement was her promotion to Senior Director Operations & Technology Solutions North American Leisure for Carlson Wagonlit Travel. In the role she oversees 150+ branch locations across Canada with over 800 personnel as well as the North American leisure technology needs for both external websites and internal intranet sites. She credits Rotary as a huge asset in her career development.
“Having been President gave me the opportunity to interact with very successful leaders in our community. This most certainly assisted me in my quest for advancement in the business world.”
When promoted to a national position within Carlson Wagonlit Travel, Louise suddenly had a daily commute to Toronto to contend with. More challenging than the drive, was the expectation of making her Rotary lunches. But her fellow Rotarians encouraged her to stay.
“Members support me and continue to respect my priorities,” said Louise, “and I am a better Rotarian for it.”
In 2013, Louise elected to lend her leadership capabilities to the board once again. She rejoined the Board of Directors and has great aspirations of what she might accomplish in her second act with the years of experience, insight, and dedication under her belt. District Governor? “Who knows; maybe,” she responded coyly. “I am not ruling anything out.”
Louise’s potential for leadership was something Rotarian Clay Hall had spotted early on. And her mentor Clay knows a little something about what it takes to be a leader. Clay was the Club President who laid the first cornerstone of the first Rotary Children’s Centre (now Kidsability) back in 1957.
His advice to the eager new Rotarian was: “family first, career second, Rotary third – keep your priorities in order and you will be a lifetime Rotarian.” And she has taken that advice to heart.
“My passion for Rotary lies in the fellowship that can be found in any Rotary initiative,” said Louise. “No matter whether I’m selling tickets at the St. Jacobs Market or cleaning up a trail, there are always great Rotary friends there to help!”
What would Louise say to someone considering Rotary membership? “Rotary membership is for everyone; if you are looking for fellowship, local community involvement, international philanthropy, vocational networking, mentoring, leadership opportunities then Rotary is for you. And don’t forget to get your family involved!
And to women who think that Rotary is an ‘old boys club’, Louise has to say: “When I joined Rotary in 1994 there were less than ten women in a club of 175. We were truly a minority. Today our club is vibrant with all different members; men, women, young, old, working, retired …. it’s the diversity that I enjoy. A diversity that I know other women embrace as well. We’ve come a long way since the Rotary Annes!”