CHIPPEWA FALLS — Carol Gienapp dedicated her life to serving the Chippewa Falls community through her work starting the Chippewa Area Mentor Program and later as leader of the Community Foundation of Chippewa County, along with a variety of other civic boards and organizations.
Gienapp, 74, died Friday. A funeral service is planned for Friday, Sept. 7.
Gienapp started the mentor program in 1988 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the West Hill of Chippewa Falls, and it now matches adult mentors with at-risk students for weekly get-togethers throughout the school year at schools in the Chippewa Falls school district as well as the McDonell Area Catholic Schools system.
Rich Chryst, a TTM Technologies engineer, has volunteered as a mentor for 25 years and worked alongside Gienapp for years.
“She was just a woman who cared about children,” Chryst said. “That program is still there because she cared about children so much. She was just someone with unbelievable passion for kids, especially at-risk children.”
Janet Maier, who replaced Gienapp as director of the mentoring program when Gienapp left to join the Community Foundation of Chippewa County, said she is stunned by the number of children who have been served by the mentoring program.
“She was just a true inspiration,” Maier said. “It was always about kids and trying to give them the best foundation possible. What a loss for the community. Carol was involved in so much. She was just such a genuine, caring person.”
Chippewa Falls schools Superintendent Heidi Taylor-Eliopoulos praised Gienapp for her devotion for starting the mentoring program.
“Carol’s fingerprints will be on our district for generations to come because of her care for and service to our children,” Taylor-Eliopoulos said. “Our community is blessed to have had her. She was an amazing woman. If I contribute half as much to this community as she did, I will consider my life a success.”
In the early 2000s, a group in Chippewa Falls wanted to start a nonprofit organization, the Community Foundation of Chippewa County, to raise money and establish endowments, said Northwestern Bank President Jerry Jacobson. Gienapp was the perfect fit to lead this new organization, he said.
“We wanted someone who was optimistic, with a smile,” Jacobson said. “She had such a rapport with the elderly and the business people; she was the right fit. When we took (her name) to the board, they said it was a no-brainer. She gave everything she possibly could to make the community better.”
Mary Jacobson, Jerry’s wife, echoed words of praise for Gienapp’s work in establishing the foundation.
“She is the reason our Community Foundation was a success right off the bat,” Mary Jacobson said. “People took stock in her integrity. They saw the qualities she had.”
Carol and her husband, Gary Gienapp, were chosen to be the Oktoberfest Festmeister and Festmeisterin in 2005 because of their service to the community. Every year at Oktoberfest, all the royal couples assemble for a large group photo. Gienapp is the first member of royalty to die.
Peggy Leinenkugel, also a former Festmeisterin, recalled Carol Gienapp for her selfless giving.
“I first got to really know Carol when Jake and I got involved in the Community Foundation of Chippewa County,” Leinenkugel said. “What hit me the most was her kindness, her caring — it just exuded from her body. It was pretty obvious that the caring filled every part of her life.”
Leinenkugel pointed to all the different projects Gienapp was involved with, and she said each organization was stronger because Gienapp was part of it.
“I feel blessed to have known her — to me, she’s a life changer,” Leinenkugel said. “She’s someone who touches your life, and you are better, forever.”
Leinenkugel described Gienapp as “quietly effective” in her role leading the foundation.
“Her biggest impact was sharing the purpose,” she said. “She did a wonderful job keeping people focused, without banging them over the head with a two-by-four. She was the epitome of servant leadership.”
Dick Hebert, Chippewa Falls director of parks, recreation and forestry, also is a former Festmeister and got to know Gienapp through her work on the Community Foundation of Chippewa County.
“She left a professional legacy at every organization she worked with,” Hebert said. “I was always really impressed with her commitment. Everyone loved Carol Gienapp. We are all thankful, and better people because we knew her.”
Mary Jacobson said Gienapp had been slowed by illness in recent years but she remained upbeat.
“She was probably the most genuine person I knew,” Mary Jacobson said. “There was never a pity party. She found joy in every day, every moment.”